It was an evening of celebration and relief Monday night when—in an unprecedented move—the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) reversed their decision and voted 12-to-1 to keep Lachine’s Lakeside Academy open indefinitely.
With tears streaming down her face, Jennifer Park, the mother who spearheaded the #SaveLakeside movement the last seven months, embraced LBPSB chair, Suanne Stein Day after the decision.
Lakeside Academy put together a 200-page document outlining its strengths and plans for the school, and gathered an 11,500 signature petition in January to prove they should remain open.
The Sherbrooke St. high school and also Riverview Elementary, in Verdun, had been given one year reprieves until December, when the board would reconsider their decision to close the schools, but parents asked that they vote sooner in order to better plan their school year.
“Having that dark cloud lifted off our shoulders—it really will make the difference,” said Park. “This way we would know and if [the vote] had gone negative we would have been able to focus on the students and the teachers.”
Grade 7 enrolment is already at 86 students, twice what the school expected. When it was put on the chopping block, enrolment was at 37 per cent. “People enrolling into Lakeside knowing that there was the potential of it closing really puts it into perspective,” said Park.
Stein Day admitted that the one year reprieve was a mistake.
“The real problem was this one year decision wasn’t going to change anything,” she explained. “How can we expect an open house to take place when parents would come in and say ‘Are you staying open another year?’”
Dwindling enrolment and budget cuts saw school mergers in LaSalle, Pierrefonds and Beaconsfield as a result of the LBPSB Major School Change process. With no more budget cuts expected, Stein Day said that keeping Lakeside and Riverview open should not have a financial impact.
“I think it was a sound decision in December . . . what’s different today is we learned a lot, we brought a community together, we brought ideas,” explained Stein Day, who was touched by the community mobilization.
The board will consider reforming the Major School Change process. No more school closures are expected for now, and the board’s mandate ends in 2018.
International Baccalaureate and special needs programs at Lakeside Academy set the school apart, and plans to add new programs to the only English high school in the Lachine-Dorval territory are in the works.
“It truly is a unique and special school,” said Jennifer Woolley, who has been a librarian at the school for 30 years. “There are many reasons why it deserves to stay open, it does remarkably important work with the student body that we have.”
The next Lakeside Academy open house will take place in October.