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Etienne Brule will no longer be an elementary school

The remaining 50 students attending Etienne Brule Public School will be transferred to near-by schools in September 2014, the Algoma District School Board decided at its meeting Tuesday evening.
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The remaining 50 students attending Etienne Brule Public School will be transferred to near-by schools in September 2014, the Algoma District School Board decided at its meeting Tuesday evening.

But the building will not be closed says board Chair Jennifer Sarlo.

The board made a commitment to continue to work with people in the community to see what role the building should take in the revitalization of the city's downtown core.

"First we'll look internally," says board Director Lucia Reece. "There may be programs we would like to relocate there."

Reece said the board will then, if there is space for more programs, consult the community to see what would work well in the building.

"We're not mothballing this building," she said. "It will continue to be maintained and used." 

The board is just not sure for what at this time.

"One thing I saw around the table tonight, something I haven't seen before in this process and something that gives me hope, is emotion," said Reverend Pamela Rayment (pictured) from St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church.

Rayment, a member of the Etienne Brule Accommodation Review Committee, has been involved in the process of deciding what should be done with the school from the beginning and she's been advocating for it's continuation as a school.

On Tuesday evening she said the board's decision to close Etienne Brule Public School, the last elementary school in the Sault's downtown core, didn't really come as much of a surprise. 

"I think we all saw this coming," she said after the meeting. "But something we didn't see before was this depth of feeling. I don't think people understood how seriously they (the board) took this decision." 

Board Chair Jennifer Sarlo said the board has always been emotional about decisions to close schools and this decision was no exception.

"We all think about this very carefully throughout the process. It's never an easy decision but we have to consider the best interests of the students," she said. "That's what we're here for."

Reece agreed, saying the goal is never to close a school but, instead, to set students up for success.

"The reality is that the population of the downtown core is declining and much of what's left is transient," she told the board. "When we started to see triple grades in the school, we knew we had to take a look at it."

Just four days after the board announced the school was under review for possible closure, (in June, 2013), it became one of only 12 schools in the province to win the Premier's Award for Accepting Schools. 

As reported earlier by SooToday.com, community members and Ward 4 Councillor Lou Turco advocated for the school, saying it was a vital part of the downtown core.

Sarlo said a decision to close a school is always more difficult when we see that the community or parents feel so strongly about the school's continued existence as a place of education for children and the board would love to make them happy by keeping the school running, but it isn't possible.

The board wouldn't be able to afford it and the students' education would be limited. 

In this case, because the building is so important to the community and in good condition the board decided not to close it but to change it.

There may be programs that need a bigger home and perhaps other programs out there that would be a good fit for both the building and the community, said Reece.

"We have an opportunity to do more. We could offer programs and services to support families living in poverty; to help educate them," she told the board. "It's an opportunity to improve programming for our students [by transferring them to near-by schools] to all learners, and to the community."

Parents and guardians of students currently attending Etienne Brule will be consulted to see which of three area schools they would like to send the students to in September. 

(PHOTO: Reverend Pamela Rayment speaks to Algoma District School Board March 24, 2014 at Etienne Brule School. SooToday.com/Donna Hopper)



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Carol Martin

About the Author: Carol Martin

Carol Martin has had a 17-year career in journalism. Born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Carol has also lived and worked in Constance Lake First Nation, Sudbury and Kingston.
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