Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Gloves Come Off In The Battle For Schools

As printed in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, June 17, 2015, by Sara Jewell.



The most eye-opening part of the school board vs. rural schools battle isn’t that the board rejected the HUB school proposals or that the government is vowing not to interfere; the surprising part is the passion with which the affected communities are vowing not to give up.
“The gloves are off,” declared author and River John spokesperson Sheree Fitch the day after the board voted to close elementary schools in her community as well as in Maitland and Wentworth.
The school board and the government need to pay attention; this bare-knuckled movement has momentum. And a new theme song.
After battling impossible odds, unrealistic criteria and the expectation they would fail, the committees fighting the school closures continue to believe that HUB school idea is best for their rural community. They are demanding innovation instead of stagnation.
In a Facebook post, the River John Save Our Schools group wrote: “With our HUB model, we can make a difference. We can create something that would be beneficial to all of the children of the north shore.”
“Typical Nova Scotia policy, climbing on the back of a bus that’s going nowhere,” one commenter replied. “Big box schools don’t work.”
Another person wrote, “This issue may not be important to the premier and minister but it’s of utmost importance to three communities, to the more than 100 children and their families.”
Carol Hyslop has been leading the charge to save the school in Wentworth because her roots run very deep under that building: it’s where she began her teaching career in the early 60’s, before there was a school board or a teachers’ union.
“The school was new, provided by the government, and the community was pleased with and proud of that school,” she says.
She went away for six years then returned in 1970 and was rehired by the new school board. She noticed changes immediately. She says when the school first opened, there was a fleet of feeder buses driven by local people bringing students to school.
“When I came back, there was one big bus.”
She also remembers the caretaker, who lived next door and knew the school furnace inside out, being told he could no longer fix it; he had to call someone in Springhill.
“So often [change] is made under the guise of being progressive, of making things easier for us,” says Hyslop about government decisions. “Now it’s come to the point where small communities have no rights.”
The chickens have come home to roost. For decades, we have asked the government to do more for us and in return, have allowed it to take more, shrugging our shoulders and accepting the “inevitable decline of rural areas”. When attacked, we chose flight instead of fight.
Until now.
Keeping open these rural schools is about more than just maintaining a community; it’s about taking a stand, finally, against the “bigger is better” model that has been the basis of government and corporate decisions for decades.
A model we haven’t had the guts for or interest in resisting.
Until now. 
Backed into a corner, people are reacting with defiant calls to action: “Insurrection! Get communities to stop paying provincial taxes. We’re changing the education act. Little ripples turn into big waves. This isn’t the end; it’s just the beginning.”
Carol Hyslop likes the idea of the gloves coming off.
“It’s not a one-time thing,” Hyslop says about the fight to save the school in Wentworth. “We don’t have a plan in Wentworth yet but I’m hearing little rumbles.”
I’m hearing a little rumble myself. As I typed this column, I realized I was humming an 80’s rock anthem by Twisted Sister, “We’re Not Gonna Take It!” 
The perfect theme song for the concerned, committed and spittin' mad rural citizens who make up the Save Our Schools movement.


* The ending of this version of the column is different than in the paper because, long after deadline, I found myself objecting to my own final sentence. So I've rewritten it here to better reflect what I meant by using the word "feisty" in the newspaper copy.

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