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Trustees sound off on recommendations to close rural Thames Valley schools

Thames Valley District School Board special meeting, April 11, 2017.
Thames Valley District School Board special meeting, April 11, 2017. AM980 London

Parents and community members filled the gallery of the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) Tuesday night for a special meeting to review a report recommending several rural school closures.

Trustees asked questions about the report that recommends elementary schools in Sparta, New Sarum, Springfield, South Dorchester, and Westminster Central be closed in the coming years.

It also calls for two new schools to be built in southeast St. Thomas and Belmont.

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Declining enrollment and the cost to keep the schools open are the board’s main concerns, but many parents and community members say having schools in their local communities is more important than the bottom line.

“Rural schools, I believe, have their own culture and they have their own values, that are most often different from values of the bigger city schools, the urban schools,” said Trustee Phil Skylar.

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“Bigger, in my eyes, is not always better.”

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Trustee James Todd said many parents are concerned the loss of smaller schools will mean less attention for individual students’ needs.

“The loss of rural schools means the loss of that community’s function, that community’s setting,” he said.

Todd’s sentiment was echoed by Skylar.

“I can see that some should be closed, perhaps, but not all. In ministry, I’ve seen churches close and it’s disrupted the fabric of that community. Similarly, when you close a rural school, it disrupts the fabric of that community,” said Skylar.

The TVDSB will hold a public participation meeting on the report on May 2, with a final board vote on May 23.