Western Secondary School

New school year officially underway



By Jolene Perron


Buses, enrollment and education, oh my!

The 2017-18 school year has officially kicked off, and both of the school boards as well as Sharp Bus Lines are gearing up for what they plan to be another fantastic year.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth in French Immersion, especially at St. Joseph in River Canard, as well as in our International Baccalaureate programs (at Assumption and Cardinal Carter) and academy programs,” explained Stephen Fields, communications coordinator for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board. “In fact, we now have 457 students in our sports academies. The really nice thing about the growth in French Immersion at St. Joseph is that, as we add new grades for those students as they advance, they will be able to go directly into the Villanova French Immersion program after completing elementary school, which will help solidify the high school’s French program.”



Fields went on to say they have done some hiring in the elementary and secondary panels, as well as make additions to their occasional teachers list. Last spring they also announced the creation of a new construction academy at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Windsor, which will see 20 new students starting there in September. The goal is to help address a skills gap in local trades. Additionally, they are launching a new STREAM – Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics- Academy at Holy Names. They currently have about 65 students registered.

“At Villanova, we continue to build on the strengths of our very successful robotics team, which performed admirably in both national and international competitions last year,” said Fields. “We received some new funding to create an Apple Mac lab there, which really enhances our existing computer tech courses, where students are doing coding and building apps within the context of those courses. This will really provide a great foundation for these students as they move into post secondary education and eventually, related careers. This is also connected to the coding programs that are being integrated into our elementary curriculum at St. Joseph and Stella Maris.”

In the public school board, public relations officer Scott Scantlebury said after years of declining enrolment, they have finally stabilized, particularly at the secondary level. There has been some hiring of teachers over the past couple years, however, Scantlebury said they will have a better idea what their needs are for this year once they see enrolment numbers. As for major development, Scantlebury noted their new cloud-based learning program – Edsby.

“After piloting the system at a number of schools, this year parents at all schools in the Board will be able to sign up and have real-time communication with teachers and track their student’s academic achievement, attendance, etc.,” said Scantlebury. “It’s a great tool for parent engagement and involvement. As well we have expanded the access to the elementary literacy programs Lexia and Empower…we’ve seen, where it’s been used, positive impacts on kids’ reading levels, especially with students who were struggling with literacy. We also have changed the way we deliver English as a Second Language in elementary schools. Students will now receive the program at their home schools rather than at a central site, before graduating to their home school.”


Grade 9 orientation at General Amherst High School featured fun activities.

As for the location of the new school, Scantlebury said they have not finalized their plans. Their original projections, which he said they have discussed at the funding announcement for the opening, are still the same. Once the board has a site, a design and approval from the Ministry of Education, the construction will be tendered, which Scantlebury said takes about 14-16 months to build a school once work begins.

Not only are the school boards gearing up for the school year, but Sharp Bus Lines has been preparing as well and is asking a few things from students, parents and motorists.

“Students should arrive at their bus stops 10 minutes prior to pick up time,” said Crystal Williamson, regional manager for Sharp Bus Lines. “Wait at your designated stop in a safe spot, standing back from the curb or roadside yet visible to your bus driver, always remember to stay away from the danger zones outside of the bus, if required to cross watch for your driver to signal it’s safe to do so not before this and the crossing gate extended as well as the overheads and stop arm activated.”

Williamson said they are also asking motorists to keep in mind that school is back in session and asks them to slow down and be very cautious when approaching stopped school buses because “a child who may be running late for their stop could appear out of nowhere and cross the street.”

Over the summer, Williamson they have been preparing by taking all of the buses into the shop for the mechanics to go through, making sure the fleet of buses are safe for the students. The routes are checked for directional errors and timing, to ensure everyone arrives safely and in a timely fashion. Additionally, drivers come in to cover off refreshers and go over new routes.

“We love kids,” said Williamson. “Patience and kindness are the major things that we look for in our drivers.  Children have bad days just like adults so sometimes we need to cut them some slack.  We have hired/trained 8 new drivers over the summer and we are always looking for those special individuals to fill the seat.  As we always tell our drivers – they may be the first smile a child sees in the morning.  Make their day.”

So whether you’re a new or returning student, a parent, or even a fellow motorist, school is back in session and both the school boards, as well as Sharp Bus Lines hope everyone has a safe and happy 2017-18 school year.

Western Secondary School honours the Class of 2017


By Ron Giofu


Western Secondary School students, parents, families and staff had a chance to celebrate last Wednesday night.

Western held its graduation ceremony at the school where the 51 graduates were awarded their high school diplomas and other awards they earned during this year and the past four years.

Brent Webster, a teacher at the school and master of ceremonies for the evening, said it may be the end of the formal educational process for some, but that doesn’t mean they stop being educated.

“Today doesn’t mean you stop learning,” Webster told the graduates last Wednesday evening. “You will learn in new and exciting ways.”

Western Secondary School honours the Class of 2017.

Western Secondary School honours the Class of 2017.

Lynn McLaughlin, a superintendent with the Greater Essex County District School Board, said she believed the graduates were ready for the next phase of their lives.

“I know you are, you know you are,” she said.

McLaughlin expressed pride in the graduates, noting they have evolved over their four years at Western.

“I’m so proud of who you have become,” McLaughlin told the class of 2017.

Principal Melissa DeBruyne also expressed pride, stating she was proud to be the principal at Western Secondary School for the last four years and watch the students grow into adults.

“Embrace your next journey,” DeBruyne told the graduates. “Your future is what you make of it.”

DeBruyne, who takes over as principal at General Amherst High School in the fall, told the Western graduates that they will always have a team to rely on regardless of where they go in life.

Principal Melissa DeBruyne speaks to the graduates and their families at Western Secondary School's graduation June 28.

Principal Melissa DeBruyne speaks to the graduates and their families at Western Secondary School’s graduation June 28.

“It takes teamwork to survive every day. A team will always be there to help you,” said DeBruyne.

Valedictorian Noah Schaafsma said “high school is where you find yourself. It’s where you decide what kind of student you want to be.”

Schaafsma expressed pride in the time he spent as a student at Western Secondary School.

“Western left us with some of the best memories we have in life,” he told his fellow graduates. “Though sadness comes with leaving, new hope comes with our future.”

The graduates file in at the start of the ceremony.

The graduates file in at the start of the ceremony.

Schaafsma added that Western has “an amazing staff” that told them to embrace life and who they are.

“Being a student at Western comes with a stigma but being a Warrior comes with pride,” he said, noting the school’s nickname.

Schaafsma also encouraged his fellow graduates to not be afraid of adventure as they go through their lives.

Public board approves space template for new high school



By Ron Giofu


The new public high school is one step closer.

The Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) approved the space template for the new school last week.

“The space template is designed to determine the number of square feet you need based on the programs you would like to offer,” explained Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Ron LeClair.

LeClair said now that the board has gone through the space template process, it will be sent to the province for approval.

According to the report that went before the public board, the new public high school would have 21 classrooms, five science laboratories, a music room, a graphics/visual arts room, three computer rooms, a triple gym, a culinary/hospitality room, cafeteria, library, weight room, and technical spaces for transportation technology, welding/manufacturing, communications technology, cosmetology and construction.

There would also be a special education room, but that would bring the projected total capacity to 828 students, up nine pupils from the approved 819 that the new school had been approved for. The administrative report noted that the board made an error and did not originally include a special education room in the business plan but the report added the room “will be designed with some flexibility to ensure that they can accommodate changes in the population.”


LeClair said they are hoping the template gets approved within the money given by the province.

The new dual campus school will have emphasis on technology and shops, something that many of the 218 respondents to the board’s recent survey emphasized as necessary to prepare students for the future. A total of 73 respondents said “trade options and programs” were requires with 38 stating technology.

“There is a significant technological footprint within the school, certainly much larger than the ones we’ve recently built,” said LeClair, adding there will be outside partners sought for other opportunities that won’t be provided at the school.

As for how the school will be built and whether or not the General Amherst and Western students will be blended or kept in different sections of the new building, that has not been determined. If the template is approved, an architect will be engaged and the board and administration will have to hammer out how the school will be utilized in terms of operating as a dual campus.

“That’s something that is a little bit down the road yet,” said LeClair.

It is “premature” to identify any possible location for the school, he added, noting they are moving forward but negotiations haven’t been finalized.

The public board has made consistent progress since the resolution on building a new, dual campus school was passed. The biggest hurdle, he believed, was getting the funding.

“We’ve got that and I’m very positive about the process moving forward in a timely manner,” said LeClair. “I’m confident the process is moving forward and we’ll have a very nice school to house both General Amherst and Western Secondary.”

General Amherst principal calling it a career



By Ron Giofu


The end of the 2016-17 school year will also be the end of Hazel Keefner’s career in education.

Keefner’s last official day as the General Amherst High School principal is June 30 as she is retiring after a 29-year career, all but one of those years with the Greater Essex County District School Board.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Keefner, as her final day approaches. “I’ve been going to school since I was four-years-old. It’ll be strange not to go to school anymore.”

Keefner said she discovered at the end of last year that if she didn’t return to school, she would still have enough in her life to keep her busy. Things that will be keeping her busy in her retirement include travelling, spending time with family and volunteering.

After finishing teacher’s college, Keefner took a “four-year detour” in law school before a position in teaching opened up at Holy Names for the 1988-89 school year. She spent one year at Holy Names before coming to the public board when she was hired to teach at General Amherst by then-principal Rod Paulin.

“I got hired in this very office,” she told the RTT during an interview last Wednesday in the principal’s office.

In 1990, she was transferred to Essex District High School where spent the next 14 years teaching law. Among her accomplishments there were having classes take part in the Canadian Bar Association’s mock trial competitions and teaching many future police officers.

Hazel Keefner is retiring at the end of the 2016-17 school year, with her last official day being June 30. She has spent the last five years as the principal of General Amherst High School.

Hazel Keefner is retiring at the end of the 2016-17 school year, with her last official day being June 30. She has spent the last five years as the principal of General Amherst High School.

Keefner moved to Western Secondary School in 2004 and spent the next two years as vice principal. In 2006, she became the vice principal at Kingsville District High School and spent two years there as well.

In 2008, Keefner became the principal at Riverside Secondary School and spent four years there before coming to back General Amherst as principal in 2012.

In her 13 years in administration, one of her highlights was General Amherst surviving the Program and Accommodation Review Committee (PARC) process and getting approved for a new build in Amherstburg to accommodate General Amherst and Western.

“When they start the process, you never know what is going to happen,” said Keefner. “My own children went here so it’s near and dear to my heart.”

Current Western principal Melissa DeBruyne will transfer to General Amherst in September and Keefner believes DeBruyne will be an asset for when the Amherst and Western staff and student populations will come under one roof.

Keefner thanked the parents for their support during her time at General Amherst.

“When home and school work together, we can accomplish so much more,” she said.

The staff at General Amherst also receives Keefner’s praise.

“The staff has been an absolute pleasure to work with,” she said. “They are very dedicated and they care about the students they teach.”

General Amherst is a strong school for academics, athletics and the arts and Keefner added “it’s nice to end (my career) at a school where academics, athletics and arts are done so well.”

The town itself was also thanked.

“The community is so supportive of its high school,” said Keefner. “It makes the principal’s job a little bit easier.”

Keefner said the end of her career is “bittersweet” for her.

“I’m going to miss people like crazy,” she said. “I’ve been very lucky to have worked here.”

Public school board seeking input into design of new high school


By Ron Giofu

A site has yet to be announced for the new public high school, but the Greater Essex County District School Board wants input on what the public wants the school to look like.

The public school board has posted a survey to its website (www.publicboard.ca) as well as the websites of General Amherst High School, Western Secondary School and all public elementary schools in Essex County asking for feedback on “the way they feel the school could prepare students for the future and how this new building can play a role in the community.”

Scott Scantlebury, public relations officer with the Greater Essex County District School Board, noted that all elementary schools in Essex County were included in the survey due to the fact that there are students who may consider the specialized IPRC learning program that is offered at Western Secondary School.

Scantlebury noted the survey is “generally about design” with questions designed to be open-ended. The first question centres on what the public believes is important in a school to prepare students for the future.

General Amherst High School

General Amherst High School

Scantlebury said that could include classroom spaces, technology, skilled trades opportunities and other amenities that could assist student learning.

“Those are the kinds of ideas we are looking for,” he said.

There is a “general site plan template,” Scantlebury noted, but the size of the school will also be determined by whatever site is chosen. The second question is regarding layout of the building, he stated.

“Since this is the consolidation of two school communities, there could be varying opinions of what the layout should look like,” said Scantlebury.

Whether Western students and General Amherst students would have their own specific parts of the building has not been decided yet, Scantlebury added, though public opinion through the survey could help figure that out. He noted size and budgetary considerations will also factor into that decision.

“Those things have yet to be determined,” he said.

The third question pertains to community partnerships and how the school could best serve the community.

Western Secondary School

Western Secondary School

Scantlebury indicated a decision on where the school will be located could come relatively soon.

“We are getting close,” he said of the site selection decision.

There is no timeline for a decision, he said, but the public board would like to move forward “as soon as possible.”

Potential sites have been narrowed down, Scantlebury noted. There has been talk of the school either being located at Centennial Park or as part of the Libro Centre property, but Scantlebury said he couldn’t speak on specific locations. Once a site is chosen, “it’s a matter of completing the negotiations.”

It will likely be several years before a new school is open to students.

“There are a number of steps,” said Scantlebury, noting the site plan template has to be approved by the board and province once that plan is finalized.

“Once we have acquired the land, the architects will take over the design phase,” he said.

The design phase can take anywhere from nine months to one year, he added, with the overall design also needing approval of the board of trustees and the province.

From there, the project would go to tender and the actual construction is likely to take 14-16 months.

Funding from the Ontario government for a new public high school in Amherstburg was announced Oct. 31, 2016. The Greater Essex County District School Board announced it received $23.8 million for a new public high school that will combine General Amherst High School and Western Secondary School. The new building will be able to accommodate 819 students.

The survey is open for submissions until June 9.