Stella Maris School

Local schools open their doors for prospective JK students

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Local elementary schools opened their doors recently to welcome prospective new students.

Open houses were held to showcase the schools and what they have to offer. For Amherstburg Public School, they are now accepting registration for the second year of its French Immersion program. Principal Mark Campbell said there has been a lot of interest again in the French Immersion program, but a lot of interest for the traditional English-stream as well.

Joshua Sutton pedals a tricycle around the gymnasium at Stella Maris School during the Catholic elementary school’s recent open house.

Joshua Sutton pedals a tricycle around the gymnasium at Stella Maris School during the Catholic elementary school’s recent open house.

The first year of the French Immersion program at Amherstburg Public School has gone well, he stated, with 21 students currently enrolled.

“We’re happy with where we’re at,” said Campbell. “We’re hopeful to have 20-25 kids in the program next year.”

Campbell estimated that roughly 15 families expressed interest in French Immersion during the open house. He said another 20-25 students would help keep the program sustainable. Eventually, the plan would see French Immersion run from JK-Grade 8 in addition to the English stream.

Students who choose to take French Immersion could write a French proficiency test once they arrive at high school, Campbell added.

Chloe Maziak tries her hand at some of the musical instruments at Amherstburg Public School’s recent open house.

Chloe Maziak tries her hand at some of the musical instruments at Amherstburg Public School’s recent open house.

“It opens a door for them if they follow through with it,” said Campbell.

There was interest split between the English and French Immersion streams, he said.

“It’s (the families’) choice and they can register for whichever they prefer,” said Campbell.

“Both are fantastic programs,” added vice principal Christina Pottie.

Stella Maris School also welcomed possible new students and principal Sophie DiPaolo reported it was a good turnout there as well.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in and take packages,” said DiPaolo.

Now that students from the former St. Bernard School have integrated into Stella Maris, DiPaolo believes it led to a higher turnout.

Journey Laframboise creates some artwork during the recent JK open house at Amherstburg Public School.

Journey Laframboise creates some artwork during the recent JK open house at Amherstburg Public School.

“I would say it’s up from previous years,” she said.

DiPaolo said she loves seeing the children excited to come to school in the fall and said they enjoyed the activities and tour of the school, which is an indication they are doing something right.

“They liked being here and they liked the interactive activities,” said DiPaolo.

Stella Maris School students, staff enjoying newly expanded building

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Staff and students are enjoying their newly expanded building at Stella Maris School.

The new addition opened last month and features four new classrooms, expanded classrooms in other parts of the building and three new storage areas. One of the new storage areas allows for better storage of musical instruments.

A senior class at Stella Maris School work in their new classroom (above) while the electric guitars are stored in the new music instrument storage room. The expansion was completed late last month.

A senior class at Stella Maris School work in their new classroom. The expansion was completed late last month.

The construction at the Catholic elementary school also included a new bus bay and parking lot that were completed earlier this year, with the latter including a “Kiss & Ride” lane to allow parents a safer option when dropping their children off.

The entire renovation was $1.5 million.

Principal Sophie DiPaolo said the new classrooms are going over well. She said it has been a different school year so far as they have had to mesh two schools together as well as deal with construction in the aftermath of the closure of St. Bernard School and the transfer of most of those students to Stella Maris.

The hallway in the new section of Stella Maris School.

The hallway in the new section of Stella Maris School.

“Staff, students and families have been supportive. It’s been great,” said DiPaolo. “It’s been a true team effort.”

There are still a few things left to be done but those odds and ends don’t impact the learning the students are doing daily. Three senior classes no longer have to be housed in the school’s gymnasium though DiPaolo said the teachers collaborated well during the time their classes were in the gym.

“The kids deserve credit for that too,” said DiPaolo. “We have an amazing group of kids.”

The construction period wasn’t always easy, she noted, but all parties involved helped smooth the transition.

“Everyone made it work,” said DiPaolo. “It hasn’t been easy but it’s been good.”

Electric guitars are stored in the new music instrument storage room.

Electric guitars are stored in the new music instrument storage room.

Stella Maris received support from board officials, their trustee, the superintendent and others to ensure things went smoothly “because the kids come first.”

Jenna Cole, a Grade 8 teacher at Stella Maris, said the new classrooms allow the students to have their own space and improves their concentration. She said the students were “fabulous” during the transition period but the new classrooms allow the students to better do their own activities.

Town, WECDSB “iron out” traffic study issues, Stella Maris construction soon to begin

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Construction on a four-classroom addition at Stella Maris School could start as soon as early next week after issues relating to the traffic study were “ironed out.”

Stephen Fields, communication co-ordinator with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said the board is pleased to have satisfied the needs of what the town was looking for and said construction could start as soon as Monday.

“The goal is to have the bus bay and parking lot done by the start of school,” said Fields, noting that is weather permitting.

The four-classroom addition should be done by October or November, he added. While there will be students housed temporarily in the gymnasium during construction, Fields said Stella Maris has a good principal in Sophie DiPaolo and that the board is confident she will do everything possible to ensure the comfort of the students and staff.

“I’m sure she’ll work with staff and students to make sure they are accommodated properly,” said Fields. “There’s going to be creative solutions so the students get their daily physical activity and to ensure they get all their academic requirements met.”

Once the addition is complete, “we will have a really great school for the community,” said Fields. He hopes parents and students will be patient as the consolidation of Stella Maris and St. Bernard School comes together.

Stella Maris School

Stella Maris School

Town council delayed approval of the site plan last Monday and designated authority to execute the site plan to CAO John Miceli and director of planning, development and legislative Mark Galvin. The town’s concerns centered around busing and the “assumption that 100 per cent of the St. Bernard students will ride the bus, representing full compliance.” That concern was relayed as part of an administrative report to town council which added that current Stella Maris compliance was 60 per cent. Administration also wanted further validation of the number of buses that would be needed to accommodate all students.

Miceli confirmed that the town was in receipt of additional information from the board and the board’s consultants with Galvin indicating mid-week that the situation was “close to being ironed out.” Galvin said the town had to look over the information but believed the situation was soon to be remedied.

“I don’t expect it’s going to take more than a few days,” he said. “We’ve been working very closely together (with the board). We’re working very hard to get it finished.”

WECDSB, town council debate possible school closure

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The issue of the possible consolidation of Stella Maris School and St. Bernard School at the former’s site went to the public again Monday night.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board’s (WECDSB) trustees heard from members of the public at St. Thomas of Villanova in a second public meeting with one of the two delegations coming from Amherstburg CAO John Miceli. However, the content of Miceli’s presentation to the board was a bone of contention at a special council meeting held just prior to the WECDSB meeting.

Miceli told town council he was providing comments to the board’s recommendation, something he said he was previously asked to do by council.

“From the town’s perspective, we don’t want any school to close,” said Miceli.

Miceli outlined his business case, one that leaned towards maintaining St. Bernard over Stella Maris if one school did, in fact, have to close this June. He said maintaining Stella Maris would require that school to build bus bays and expand parking, something he said could be difficult given there is 5.14 acres at that site, one acre less than St. Bernard. St. Bernard has some strategic advantages over Stella Maris, he added, noting the latter is surrounded by homes on three sides and an industry on the other.

St. Bernard is also located directly across from 30-acre Centennial Park, the CAO continued.

Keeping Stella Maris as the lone Catholic elementary school would also mean additional busing and thus more strain on the town’s roads, Miceli added. Eighty-one per cent of students that attend St. Bernard walk, as opposed to seven per cent at Stella Maris. St. Bernard is fed by three main roads while Stella Maris is fed by two, he added.

“We’re trying to provide a walkable, livable community,” said Miceli.

Subdivisions such as the Hunt Club Creek development and the Smith subdivision would bring a combined 1,400 homes to the town once complete, he added.

Both buildings are similar in age with St. Bernard being slightly bigger, Miceli added, with that school also being used more outside of school hours including its gymnasium.

“This, in my opinion, provides more of a community hub,” said Miceli.

Miceli also believed there would be a need for six new classrooms should a consolidation occur at Stella Maris, as opposed to four at St. Bernard. There are also “environmental concerns,” Miceli added, noting the mosquito problem that has been an issue in the Fraserville area of Amherstburg.

“Once again, we’d prefer that no school be closed,” said Miceli.

Not all council members stayed for what proved to be a preview of Miceli’s presentation to the board. Councillors Rick Fryer and Jason Lavigne both declared conflict early in the presentation, citing the fact both have children attending Stella Maris School.

“We don’t want Stella Maris closed either,” said Fryer. “I’d like both schools to stay open. What I’m hearing is it’s more conducive to close Stella Maris than St. Bernard.”

Lavigne believed the CAO’s report was pitting one school against another school and believing otherwise was “a little naive.” He said after the meeting he was “a little taken aback” by the presentation and said he didn’t recall administration being approved to give a report like that. Lavigne believed Stella Maris parents should ask the opinions of the council members who voted to allow Miceli to proceed with the presentation to the WECDSB.

“From what I saw, it seemed administration wanted to close Stella Maris and keep St. Bernard open,” said Lavigne.

Lavigne added it was always students that suffer when enrollment drops, asking that board officials look to other means to address funding issues including cutting back at the board office.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she was against the timing of the report, noting Miceli’s report was brought back to council right before the board meeting.

“It didn’t give us a chance to discuss it.”

Councillor Joan Courtney, a former Catholic trustee, said Miceli was directed to gather information to keep St. Bernard open and said the CAO was offering suggestions to the current board of trustees.

“With all due respect to my colleagues, you’ve had two months to step up, go to meetings and nothing has been done,” said Courtney.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo didn’t think it was town administration that was pitting the schools against each other, it was the school board that was doing it.

“They did pit the schools against each other,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo believed that it was likely that one school is going to close “and there is not much we can do about that.” He said Miceli’s report was a business case.

“It will be perceived as it is perceived,” the mayor said.

Councillor Leo Meloche wanted Miceli at the meeting, believing if the CAO didn’t go that it would send the wrong message.

“If he doesn’t show up, it shows we are not interested,” said Meloche. “We need to make the presentation.”

Meloche added that the school board is in a tough spot due to enrollment.

“It’s a sign of the times. Our enrollment continues to decline,” said Meloche.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale believed Miceli’s report offered “good information” for those who read it.

“I think it’s going to be good for those who use the information. It gives our position as a town,” said DiPasquale.

Chief Administrative Officer John Miceli addresses the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School Monday night. Miceli’s presentation on the possible consolidation of St. Bernard School and Stella Maris School was debated at a special council meeting earlier in the night.

Chief Administrative Officer John Miceli addresses the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School Monday night. Miceli’s presentation on the possible consolidation of St. Bernard School and Stella Maris School was debated at a special council meeting earlier in the night.

The board meeting itself saw roughly 35-40 attend, up from the 10-12 people that attended a meeting in January at Villanova. There were two delegations, one from Miceli and the other from parent Frank Cleminson.

Cleminson said he was trying to put a “positive spin” on the matter but did have questions over start times for students if the schools were combined. He acknowledged board officials likely didn’t have an answer yet to that question.

As for portables, “my idea of a portable is something of a short-term duration,” he added. Director of education Paul Picard indicated the plan would be to use portables for up to one year with the WECSDB to pursue provincial funding for an expanded building at Stella Maris should the board recommendation be approved.

Cleminson also would like to see the savings reinvested into the school. He added that he has high praise for staffs at both Stella Maris, where his twin sons attend, and St. Bernard School.

Picard noted his belief that the Stella Maris option was his preference, noting the current scenario that the board is faced with calls for only one Catholic elementary school in the core of Amherstburg.

“Overall, the student demographic decline is significant and will continue to drop,” he said.

Even with new homes projected for the town, it would take an “extremely large number” of families enrolling with the Catholic board to make two schools feasible.

French Immersion at St. Joseph School in River Canard also draws students away from the two other schools. Picard envisioned a “triangle” of schools in the area, with the three schools comprising that “triangle” being St. Joseph, Stella Maris and St. Anthony in Harrow.

Picard added the WECSDB is aiming to fulfill a goal of having faith-based education in each community.

Vice chair Mary DiMenna said they visited Stella Maris earlier in the day and also noted parking is limited. She wanted to know if board administration had studied the busing scenario and planned to devote money to that.

Picard said they are aware of the issues and are looking at addressing them in a future report. He said the size of the lot at Stella Maris would be the “envy of many schools in the city.”

DiMenna also wanted busing costs factored into future reports.

Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Frank DiTomasso said he was concerned about the impact on youth, including those in sports and other after-school activities.

“What I worry about is youth,” he said, “our children being moved from one school to another.”
DiTomasso questioned what would happen if a school has an after-school activity and their parents didn’t have a vehicle to take them home in should the consolidation at Stella Maris take place. Picard said the board would have to allocate budget dollars to allow for some form of transportation during after-school times, though admitted the town’s loss of a taxi service could present additional challenges.

Father Larry Brunet worried about student retention, with Picard stating there may be some who value location versus Catholic education.

“I have to respect that,” he said.

Picard said he hopes parents, guardians and students see the value of Catholic education and realize “we are offering something very valuable.”
The WECDSB will make its final decision on the matter April 5.

Public consultation meeting over possible St. Bernard-Stella Maris consolidation Jan. 20

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The next step in the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board’s (WECDSB) plan to consolidate St. Bernard School and Stella Maris School comes Jan. 20.

A public consultation meeting will be held that night at 6 p.m. at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School to discuss the recommendation to merge the two local Catholic elementary schools at the Stella Maris site with an addition being built or portables added to house the influx of students.

Stephen Fields, communications co-ordinator with the WECDSB, said there will be a presentation prior to the public having an opportunity to speak. He said the administrative recommendation will be outlined to the public and information will be gathered.

A public consultation meeting regarding the proposed merger of St. Bernard School (pictured) and Stella Maris School is scheduled for Jan. 20 at Villanova.

A public consultation meeting regarding the proposed merger of St. Bernard School (pictured) and Stella Maris School is scheduled for Jan. 20 at Villanova.

While trustees may attend the meeting, they would be doing so as members of the audience, said Fields. No decision would be made that night on the future of the schools.

“This is just an opportunity for administration to explain to the residents what the board’s recommendations are,” said Fields. “We want to gather information from the public on the recommendations. It’s very important for us that we listen to public input and get a sense of what they want.”

The WECDSB is stating that residents who wish to speak have to register as a delegation. It is unclear as of this time how long delegates will have to speak, but Fields indicated further details would be available on the board’s website this week.

“We are very open to listening and taking very seriously what the public has to say,” said Fields.

Fields added it is his understanding that the final result of the accommodation review process is often different than what is originally recommended.

According to a report from WECDSB director of education Paul Picard that was originally issued last November, enrolment at St. Bernard for 2015-16 is 171 students with 272 being enrolled at Stella Maris. That equates to 54.46 per cent and 94.4 per cent utilization rates respectively.

That same report states that ten-year renewal costs for St. Bernard exceed $3.5 million while Stella Maris’ renewal costs are approaching $2.4 million.

“The St. Bernard and Stella Maris sites are 2.5 kilometres apart, well within the distance criteria for the modified (accommodation review) process,” Picard’s report also stated.

Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Frank DiTomasso voted against proceeding with an accommodation review at the board’s November meeting, citing concerns over losing students to the Greater Essex County District School Board.

Following the Jan. 20 meeting, the accommodation review process calls for a final staff report to be posted to the WECDSB’s website Feb. 9. A board of trustee delegation meeting is scheduled for Feb. 29, also at Villanova, starting at 7 p.m.

The final decision will be made at a meeting that is currently scheduled to be held at the Catholic Education Centre, located at 1325 California Ave. in Windsor, April 5 at 7 p.m.

To register as a delegation, residents can visit www.wecdsb.on.ca/pdf/board/Delegation%20Request%20Form.pdf or go to the website, clicking on the “Board” tab and then clicking on the “Meetings” tab.