Erin Kelly

New public high school location revealed

By Ron Giofu

 

The location of the new public high school has finally been revealed.

The town will sell 15 acres of the southern portion of Centennial Park to the Greater Essex County District School Board for $2,457,000 with the town putting the proceeds into a parkland reserve. The town will retain 12 acres on the northern end of the park.

The new 819-student high school will house both General Amherst High School students and Western Secondary School students with the estimated opening date being Sept. 2020.

“Amherstburg is getting a single location, dual high school that will be state of the art,” said Mayor Aldo DiCarlo. “We’re ecstatic.”

Greater Essex County District School Board and town officials were pleased with the announcement that Centennial Park will house the new school to replace the current General Amherst and Western. From left: board chair Kim McKinley, CAO John Miceli, GECDSB director of education Erin Kelly, Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Ron LeClair.

DiCarlo said the location is close to the downtown area and keeps students close to downtown businesses. It also enables many students to continue to walk to school, he noted.

The mayor called it “incredible” news and gave his thanks to the school board officials.

(UPDATE – As for the fate of the pool, tennis courts and baseball diamonds, DiCarlo told the RTT Wednesday afternoon: “All of these amenities are being considered in the context of the parks master plan and where they will be located.”)

Erin Kelly, director of education with the Greater Essex County District School Board, said the board has selected an architect and will be moving forward with the design process. She believed they would be able to combine the two schools and meet the needs of all the students.

Kelly said they will try and get a shovel in the ground as soon as possible.

“There’s a lot of decisions to be made,” she noted.

CAO John Miceli said the town is “really excited” because of the fact the new school will provide additional opportunities for the municipality. Additional community use could arise with the new school and programming could be developed for after-school hours.

The Ontario government has already put $24.3-million towards the new public high school. As for the current building, Miceli indicated the town has its eyes on it and the board has its ears open for those plans.

“It’s in a strategic location in the Town of Amherstburg,” said Miceli. “The board is willing to listen.”

The CAO added: “There’s more to come.”

Miceli also thanked the public board’s administration for working with the town to arrive at the agreement.

Ron LeClair, trustee for Amherstburg and LaSalle, indicated there are opportunities for co-operative education that will be within walking distance for students.

“This is wonderful news for the board and the Town of Amherstburg,” he said. “This is a win-win for the board and the town.”

While admitting “I can’t wait to get a shovel in the ground,” LeClair also said they have to complete the design phase first.

Councillor Leo Meloche noted the importance of the school to the community, and said parents and students alike appreciate the effort. Councillor Diane Pouget also offered praise to the public board for working with the town.

“It’s a special spot for many of us,” she said.

Pouget added there is work being done that would eventually allow for over 1,700 building lots to be created in town, but Kelly noted they have to build based on the students they currently have. If an addition were needed in the future, the board could seek further funding from the province, she suggested.

Councillor Rick Fryer said the new school’s inclusion of skilled trades for students is important and called it “an excellent idea.”

The announcement to sell 15 of the 27 acres in Centennial Park to the public board was met with applause by those in attendance at Monday night’s meeting.

General Amherst High School celebrates 95th annual graduation

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Approximately 160 students have bid farewell to General Amherst High School.

The public high school’s 95th commencement ceremony was held Thursday night at the Libro Centre. The students will be off to a wide variety of post-secondary education opportunities in the fall but reflected on their four years as General Amherst Bulldogs.

Valedictorian Ruben Tar told his fellow graduates “we did it!” and that four years of hard work paid off. He told his fellow graduates and the large crowd of parents, grandparents, guardians and siblings that it was 1,389 days since they entered General Amherst High School for the first time as students.

Valedictorian Ruben Tar gives a thumbs up during his address at the June 29 General Amherst graduation.

Valedictorian Ruben Tar gives a thumbs up during his address at the June 29 General Amherst graduation.

Those first days were awkward, he recalled, as they didn’t know where to go but they also enjoyed newfound freedoms.

Tar noted the growth they made over their four years of high school, sharing memories along the way of events both in and out of the classroom.

“It couldn’t have been the best four years of my life without the unforgettable memories with all of you,” said Tar.

It is “now time to move forward,” said Tar, noting that while many of the graduates will never cross paths again, their “Bulldog pride” will forever bind them together.

“Your hopes, dreams and goals are now attainable because of who you are,” said Tar. “It is up to you to overcome your fears and make your dreams a reality.”

Ashley Matlock not only graduated , but she also sang “O Canada” prior to the start of General Amherst’s graduation at the Libro Centre.

Ashley Matlock not only graduated , but she also sang “O Canada” prior to the start of General Amherst’s graduation at the Libro Centre.

Tar added he was proud of his fellow graduates and believed they have the strength and passion to lead others.

Principal Hazel Keefner, speaking at her final graduation before she retired, recalled the students being told that they would get out of high school what you put into it. Keefner encouraged the graduates to use the skills they learned during their four years at General Amherst and apply them going forward.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” said Keefner. “That advice is from our friend Dr. Seuss.”

Keefner said she was proud to have been the head of General Amherst during the graduates’ four years.

“It has truly been an honour being your principal and I wish you all the best,” Keefner told the class of 2017.

General Amherst principal Hazel Keefner addresses the graduates and their parents. Keefner has now retired.

General Amherst principal Hazel Keefner addresses the graduates and their parents in what was her final graduation before retirement.

Erin Kelly, director of education with the Greater Essex County District School Board, noted that Keefner was “graduating in a different way” and said she was a fine role model for the students.

The graduates were undergoing a “rite of passage,” said Kelly, adding thanks also goes to the families of the graduates for their support as well as the teachers who taught them.

“Be proud of where you have been and where you are going,” Kelly told the graduates.

Kelly also urged graduates to challenge ideas and to make the world a better place.

“Be kind to others,” Kelly added. “Kindness will always get you far.”

Funding for new public high school announced

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Funding for a new public high school has been announced but General Amherst and Western students will not be moving just yet.

The Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) announced it has received $23.8 million for a new public high school. The building will combine General Amherst High School and Western Secondary School, be able to accommodate 819 students, and is consistent with a motion put forth by Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Ron LeClair at the final PARC meeting last October.

“We’re all very excited about today,” said Erin Kelly, director of education with the GECDSB. She also announced $9 million plus land acquisition costs for a new Prince Andrew Public School in LaSalle.

In addition to the $23.8 million, the board also disclosed the province will cover land costs to accommodate a new high school. Kelly noted this is “one of many steps in the process” before the new building opens its doors and welcomes students.

Greater Essex County District School Board director of education Erin Kelly announces funding for a consolidated General Amherst and Western high school as well as a new Prince Andrew Public School in LaSalle during a news conference Monday.

Greater Essex County District School Board director of education Erin Kelly announces funding for a consolidated General Amherst and Western high school as well as a new Prince Andrew Public School in LaSalle during a news conference Monday.

LeClair called it “a memorable day for the town of Amherstburg and the town of LaSalle” and noted the board has opened nine new schools since 2005, are currently building a new high school in Leamington and will open four more schools within three years.

“A new school is an exciting opportunity and can revitalize a community,” he said. “It can create a host of opportunities for everyone. Today is a wonderful day not just for the areas I represent but for the entire Greater Essex County District School Board.”

LeClair, who is also vice-chairperson of the GECDSB, thanked the Ministry of Education for the funding as the public board has one of the oldest inventories of buildings in the province.

“There is still a lot of work for us,” said LeClair.

There is no preferred site for the new high school, he said, and both the board and town are working towards finding a “suitable” site. The design phase will be a “critical element,” he added, with his motion having called for General Amherst and Western to function as individual and distinct schools.

“I’m very happy the motion in 2015 has taken one step closer,” he said. “It’s a very happy day and very happy day in Amherstburg. Amherstburg is on a roll.”

Todd Awender, superintendent of education for accommodations, outlined the work that needs to be done and estimated it will be at least three years before a new high school is ready to open.

“This is a wonderful announcement but we are not moving into the school tomorrow,” said Awender.

Awender said the board is “in talks” with both Amherstburg and LaSalle about sites for their respective schools. Once sites are selected, an architectural firm is selected and it heads into the design phase in which consultation will be done. It would then go tender, before finally being constructed.

“Be assured we are working very hard at this,” said Awender.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said “two or three” sites are being looked at in consultation with the board. Centennial Park and near the Libro Centre have both been mentioned in the past with DiCarlo stating minimum standards from the board are met at both.

Having a local high school “is absolutely essential” to attract new families to Amherstburg, he said. He added businesses have been spoken to in the vicinity of the current school but said “I think you have to look at the bigger picture” and that growth will allow the town to move out to a new school location, wherever that may be.

“Exciting is an understatement,” the mayor said of Monday’s announcement. “Communities are losing schools. Amherstburg just anchored two schools in one new facility. It will continue to keep Amherstburg as one of the best places to live and raise a family.”

The principals of the two local schools were also pleased with the announcement.

Ron LeClair, Greater Essex County District School Board trustee for Amherstburg/LaSalle, speaks at the announcement for new school funding Oct. 31 in front of General Amherst High School. LeClair is also vice-chair of the public board.

Ron LeClair, Greater Essex County District School Board trustee for Amherstburg/LaSalle, speaks at the announcement for new school funding Oct. 31 in front of General Amherst High School. LeClair is also vice-chair of the public board.

“It will be a wonderful new building for our students,” said Western principal Melissa DeBruyne. “It’s exciting.”

DeBruyne said she has no preference for a location, stating she wants “whatever works for the students.” She believed the students will be excited about getting a new building as well.

“It’s about the programming and services we already offer,” she added. “It’s an exciting opportunity to build on that.”

General Amherst principal Hazel Keefner said it will be nice for the students to not have to go for a walk before playing a football game as the new school will have its own facilities. She also looks forward to an accessible building so that more students can be welcomed.

Keefner believes there are opportunities for new and expanded programs with the two schools being combined into one. She also didn’t have a preference as to a location, stating “whatever is best for the students, staff and community.”

Western Secondary School, Harrow District High School recommended to be closed

Western Secondary School

Western Secondary School

 

By RTT Staff

Could this be the final school year for students and staff at both Western Secondary School and Harrow District High School?

If the majority of trustees with the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) endorse the recommendations they will be receiving from their administration, it will be. Trustees will receive a report co-authored by director of education Erin Kelly and superintendent of education – accommodations Todd Awender Tuesday night which recommends, among other things, closure of the two schools.

The report states that: “All the locally developed curriculum course (LDCC) students will transition to their local in-district high school based on their residence. All high schools in the GECDSB offer the LDCC programming.”

Another recommendation would call for a business case to be presented to the province for a new General Amherst High School building. Amherst, if the recommendations are approved, would be one of three schools to offer adaptive basic (AB) programming for Western students with the other schools being Kingsville District High School and Belle River District High School.

General Amherst’s boundaries for students in the adaptive basic programming would be those living in current boundaries for General Amherst, Sandwich Secondary and Colchester North Public School.

If approved, Grade 7 and 8 students in Harrow would transfer back to Harrow Public School while the high school students would be sent to Kingsville.

Another of the report’s recommendations calls for a business case be sent to the Ministry of Education for the proposed new JK-12 consolidated Harrow District High School, Kingsville District High School, Western Secondary School LDCC and AB students in the proposed new boundaries.” That school would also incorporate Kingsville Public School and Jack Minor Public School.

The public board has cited declining enrollment and increasing renewal costs during the PARC process.

Similar to any PARC process, there is an abundance of information, data, and emotion,” the report notes. “In the end, the Director’s recommendations are based on what is best for our system. Recommending the closure of any school is not a condemnation of the people or the excellent things that are happening in a building. Senior administration firmly believes that excellence is pervasive at all of our schools. To ensure that we can continue to support that excellence throughout our entire system, we are challenged to make some very difficult decisions.”

The full director’s report can be found at https://publicboard.ca/Parents/Accommodations/2015%20PARC/Documents/Director’s%20Recommendations.pdf

The board of trustees is expected to receive the report at Tuesday night’s meeting with the actual vote taking place Oct. 13.