Friday 9 December 2011

Fate of Royal Vale School has communities squabbling

Screen image from a video of a Nov. 23 march against a proposed move of Royal Vale's high school from NDG to Côte Saint-Luc. (

Reported on

December 5, 2011

Against a backdrop of declining English Montreal School Board enrolment, attempts to re-establish a public high school in Côte Saint-Luc are getting ugly.

A resolution to transfer the high school component of Royal Vale School to the former Wagar High School building, renamed the Giovanni Palatucci Educational Centre, was proposed in April 2011, to be voted on early in 2012. Wagar, Côte Saint-Luc’s last public secondary school, was closed in 2005 due to low enrolment.

But Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather said his is the third largest city on Montreal island, with thousands of kids eligible for English schooling but no public high school. He points out that Côte Saint-Luc citizens pay school taxes and have been lobbying the English Montreal School Board for a new school for years. “I believe we have the right to a mainstream public high school in our community,” Housefather said.

The Palatucci facility is near Côte Saint-Luc’s new $18 million Aquatic and Community Centre, in an area featuring arenas, a gymnasium, and an auxiliary branch of the renowned civic library. It’s ideal for student activities, according to Housefather, who’s even pledging to resurface the school’s six tennis courts to sweeten the deal.

But Royal Vale parents and students are massively against a move says Karen J’bari, a Royal Vale School governing board member for about seven years. Her son graduated from the high school in 2010.

J’bari says her board voted unanimously against the proposed move because 88 per cent of parents and 75 per cent of students reject it. The parents’ survey had a 37.5 per cent response rate, which she calls “good for industry standards.”

She also says Royal Vale principal Chantal Martin has worked hard the past few years to improve the cohesiveness of the school’s kindergarten to Grade 11 program. “It blows my mind that they are thinking of splitting the school,” J’bari said.

In addition to rending the Royal Vale School social fabric, J’bari calls the school board’s proposal fiscally irresponsible, and lacking in costing or market analysis. Last spring’s attempt to gauge demand for a new Côte Saint-Luc public high school garnered interest from only 45 families, she points out.

Housefather is convinced that, to paraphrase W.P. Kinsella, if you transfer it, they will come. Local school commissioner Syd Wise concurs. He says the English Montreal School Board must meet the challenge from private schools in the area. The best way to do that is “to present parents with an enriched program like Royal Vale’s.” Wise says a school board consultation showed Côte Saint-Luc parents are looking for a more challenging curriculum than a regular high school provides.

Housefather agrees that the high school at Royal Vale “is just what parents in Côte Saint-Luc want.” He lists the fact the school accepts students regardless of where they live, has French immersion, and math and science programs.

J’bari insists that “there’s no proof a new high school would attract families” from the private schools.

On Nov. 7, Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame de Grace borough council voted unanimously against the school board’s proposed move of Royal Vale high school. Public discussion subsequently took a turn for the worse after borough Mayor Michael Applebaum, was quoted saying, “I can tell you that we wield a big stick. … If [the move] happens, there will be consequences.”

School board chair Angela Mancini demanded an apology, calling Applebaum’s remarks “inflammatory, offensive and threatening.”

The school board’s commissioners are to hold public consultations on more than 10 major school change resolutions Dec. 5 to 8; the Royal Vale School discussion is scheduled for Dec. 6. Resolutions will be voted on Jan. 11. All meetings will take place at the English Montreal School Board’s Administration building, at 6000 Fielding Ave., at 6 p.m.

Beverly Akerman was involved in a parent movement to prevent the EMSB relocating Royal Vale School to Wagar in 2005. She is the author of The Meaning Of Children

Originally posted at OpenFileMTL.

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