Tonight my Twitter feed exploded with news I had been dreading: Georgetown Elementary School recommended for closure!
This is devastating news for my proud hometown and is being treated as such by parents, students and community members. The media is reporting that one female Georgetonian told the trustees where to go, and how to get there…without parsing her words for political correctness. While the social media world has judged this action rather harshly, it does indicate just how emotional and divisive this issue has become.
When people feel their community is under attack they get emotional. They get angry. Tonight my hometown is sad, mad, disappointed and disgusted. But only because they love their school.
Georgetown is proud with a rich history. And yes the town is struggling right now, but we’ve been down before. We have bounced back because we are resilient. We have embraced our reality but we don’t feel that we have to be strangled by it. We have the proper mindset. We have the determination.
But Georgetown can’t do it alone. They need some help. They need a few assets and tools to help us along in our journey. The school is one of the biggest assets. That is why they have been fighting so hard to keep it.
There will be those who will suggest that the unelected, government-appointed trustees found a reasonable compromise by closing one Charlottetown school and one rural school, while maintaining Belfast and the two western schools. Many have already suggested that the board, through a flawed and disjointed process, did their best to put reason above emotion. And perhaps those who make those suggestions may well be right.
Tonight that is cold comfort for Georgetown. From the moment the school appeared (this is the 3rd time Georgetown was slated for closure) on the kill list, residents knew they were playing a weak hand.
Georgetown knew they needed a friend.
They knew, we all knew, if the current board, and by extension the Department of Education/Public School Board, wouldn’t emphasize rezoning first, that their hand would only be weakened. They didn’t rezone first.
They knew, we all knew, that politics wasn’t in their favour, having sent a PC MLA to Charlottetown every election since 1996(when the first school closure effort surfaced). MLA Steven Myers was vocal, strong, supportive and fierce in his fight to help, but he in the end, he doesn’t sit in cabinet.
They knew, we all knew, that people from the city would say things like “you can’t have a school with 50 kids” and “schools aren’t economic structures”. It was said over and over.
Weakened as it was, they played the hand they had and they played it with grace, convinction, heart and passion.
They demonstrated why they were special and why they needed someone to care about them as much as they care about each other.
They showed their students were learning well, performing well and benefiting from their small town community culture. While experts pointed out things the students were missing, nobody seemed interested in seeing just what the Georgetown students are getting or how beneficial it can be to walk home for lunch, or how small class sizes are actually good for students.
They tried to show them that they weren’t just the host community of both Georgetown Conferences – highlighting the importance of working together, revitalizing, building on our assets – they were actually taking it to heart. They are doing new and exciting things.
They tried to show them that although the trends have been working against them, they were in it for the long haul. They refused to be defined by the current status. They were determined to turn it around.
They knew that when a government closes a school, they stay closed forever. They never get re-opened.
They knew that even though they would play their hand and play it well, they weren’t likely to successfully convince the board to change their minds.
Deep down they knew, from the very start, they needed a friend.
Someone who believed in them.
Someone who might see what we can be; someone who might work with them, cheer for them and help them along in the journey.
Someone who might be willing to bet on them, see the potential, match the enthusiasm, believe in the vision and invest in the future.
The final decision falls to one person. That person has deep roots in Georgetown. His father remains a legend and an icon in Georgetown
This person was the founder amd co-chair of the Georgetown Conference. That person is our Premier.
Tonight, around the kitchen tables in the homes of my proud hometown, over sips of tea, in between the tears of sadness and the outbursts of anger , they cling to a faint flicker of hope.
They are looking for a friend.