Ron LeClair

General Amherst High School celebrates its 96th annual graduation



By Ron Giofu


A total of 162 students have now concluded their high school careers at General Amherst High School.

General Amherst held its 96th annual graduation ceremony last Thursday evening at the Libro Centre and while some students will return to high school for a fifth year, most are saying farewell as they start college, university or a new career.

Ron LeClair, Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) trustee for Amherstburg and LaSalle, congratulated the graduates as well as their families.

“You have an incredible support network,” LeClair told the graduates. “You didn’t get here alone.”

General Amherst valedictorian Aiden Bradwell delivers his address during the school’s 96th annual graduation June 28 at the Libro Centre.

LeClair, who is also vice chair of the GECDSB, encouraged the students to thank their parents, grandparents, family members and teachers for their support in getting them this far. He urged students to stay involved and “take advantage of the opportunities before you.” The opportunities are limitless, he said, restricted only by the graduates’ imaginations.

“Be a lifelong learner,” he added. “Be passionate about your future.”

Dr. Clara Howitt, superintendent of education, congratulated the Class of 2018 on their hard work, perseverance and commitment to learning. She said “our board has the most talented teachers in the province of Ontario” and that applies to General Amherst as well.


General Amherst graduates proceed into the commencement ceremony during the 96th annual commencement ceremony June 28.

Howitt thanked the teachers for their work in educating the graduates and also thanked the parents for their efforts. She even quoted actor Henry Winkler who said, “if you will it, it will be.”

Julie Wingerden, parent council chair at General Amherst, offered various words of wisdom for the graduates.

“I hope you guys take a few minutes and realize you worked hard to get here,” said Wingerden. “You need to take a few minutes and appreciate it.”

Wingerden challenged the graduates to map out their futures and make a plan on how they will achieve their goals. Among the words of encouragement Wingerden had were to “be grateful for the things you have, both good and bad” and that people are never too old to ask for advice from those around them.

Principal Melissa DeBruyne also offered her best wishes to the Class of 2018.

Superintendent of education Dr. Clara Howitt takes a picture as Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Ron LeClair delivers his remarks to the graduates at General Amherst’s commencement ceremony.

“Thank you to the teachers who guided the graduates these last four years,” said DeBruyne.

DeBruyne indicated there is more learning ahead and hoped the skills and knowledge obtained while the students were at General Amherst will serve them well.

“Your future is what you make of it,” said DeBruyne. “You never know where life will take you.”

Valedictorian Aiden Bradwell recalled the four-year experience at General Amherst and said “I’d like to congratulate all of us.”

“I have no doubt everyone at this school will be the best in everything that they try to do,” he said.

Bradwell believed they will always carry a piece of their high school experience and memories with them.

“I am going to miss these days at General Amherst High School,” he said.

For more photos, please visit our Facebook album.

Local volunteer recognized as a “Champion for Education”


By Ron Giofu


Darrie-Ann Richard has been volunteering at Anderdon Public School for about nine years and that has led her to winning an award.

Richard was one of ten people or groups recognized by the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) as a “Champion for Education” during the public board’s April 17 meeting.

“I’m very overwhelmed,” said Richard. “I received an e-mail (notifying her that she was a recipient) three weeks ago.”

Awards were accompanied by certificates with reasoning of why the “Champions for Education” were nominated. They were read aloud at the board meeting by GECDSB public relations officer Scott Scantlebury.

Darrie-Ann Richard was one of the “Champions for Education” that were recognized last Tuesday night by the Greater Essex County District School Board. From left: director of education Erin Kelly, board chair Kim McKinley, Richard and board vice-chair and Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Ron LeClair.

“Darrie-Ann has a profound appreciation for literature and the arts, both of which she has helped spread throughout the Anderdon Public School community,” Scantlebury read. “She’s the parent of two students, an Anderdon graduate and a current Mustang. But a perceptive youngster has discerned her secret identity. She is the Book Fairy.”

Richard was described as “an enthusiastic co-ordinator of the school’s annual book fair” for over nine years. She has also served as a guest reader in classrooms and has staged school events as birthday parties for Dr. Seuss.

Richard joked the staff at Anderdon is “sneaky” and that if she had known they were going to nominate her, she wouldn’t have let them. Much of the staff attended the board meeting in support of Richard.

“I just like being at the school with the kids,” she said. “It’s nice being part of the community.”

Darrie-Ann Richard is surrounded by her family as well as Anderdon Public School staff and students after being recognized as a “Champion for Education” April 17.

The staff allows her to be around the students and work with the kids, she said. Richard also helps with the school plays, as Anderdon is staging “Willy Wonka Jr.” May 2-4.

“The staff is outstanding,” said Richard. “It’s a special place. They are a very supportive bunch. To have them all here was a little bit overwhelming. They made me feel welcome from the very first day.”

Richard added her husband travels for his job and she uses her time helping the students at Anderdon Public School. She noted she enjoys being involved with literacy and the arts at the Middle Side Road elementary school.

“It’s fun to be a part of it,” she said.

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.

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.”

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.”