Hume Park elementary to close for good

Crystal Smith, the president of the Parents Advisory Council, and her children Kyson and Aayla, were hoping to plant a community garden at Hume Park community school to symbolize its future growth. But that won
Crystal Smith, the president of the Parents Advisory Council, and her children Kyson and Aayla, were hoping to plant a community garden at Hume Park community school to symbolize its future growth. But that won't happen now that the New Westminster school district has decided to close the school.
— image credit: Mario Bartel/NewsLeader file photo

Hume Park elementary has been on the New Westminster school district chopping block for five years. It was dealt its final blow Tuesday.

The board of education unanimously decided to close the tiny east side school for the 2014-15 school year to save $76,000. It currently has 24 students in kindergarten to Grade 5 taught by two teachers.

District staff recommended closing the school in 2009 when it had 66 students. But a narrow 4-3 vote by the board after lobbying by parents saved the school. The district estimated at that time closing the school would yield an annual saving of $240,000.

No Hume Park parents showed up for Tuesday's final decision.

"We were worried what might happen if the school [population] continued to go down," said superintendent/CEO John Gaiptman. "Right now we have two teachers for the six grades, [and there was a question of] whether or not we'd have to do one teacher for the six grades. There were some issues that we were worried about."

Gaiptman said the parents and students were given the choice of what school they wanted to attend. Most, but not all, chose Sir Richard McBride, the closest elementary to Hume Park, said Gaiptman.

"We worked individually with the parents to ensure they could go to the school of their choice if at all possible," said Gaiptman.

In the past McBride has been overflowing with students, but Gaiptman said there is room now.

Board chair Jonina Campbell said the decision was an unfortunate one.

"You never want to close a school," said Campbell. "The numbers are just not where they need to be."

She said the board wrestled with the decision because of the significant impact on families. "In the end it was a decision that needed to be made."

Campbell was elected in 2011 and wasn't part of the early decisions on Hume Park.

"In retrospect it's easier to say at that time we could have made those savings. It would not be fair with me not being on the board at that time for me to comment on their decision," said Campbell. "Some of the trustees made their comment that delaying making those decisions didn't allow it to thrive.

"I wouldn't want to cast my judgment [of the decision] at that time. But I do think it's been a roller coaster for the parents and the community."

She noted Connaught Heights and F.W. Howay elementary schools are small sized schools. But closing them is not on the board's radar, said Campbell.

Vice-chair Michael Ewen said on his Twitter account the board's "dithering" over the years drove Hume Park's numbers down. He claimed the 2009 projections were for the school to have more than 90 students.

Teachers union president Grant Osborne said it’s always sad to see a neighbourhood school close. Even though the union fought the closure five years ago its fate seemed to have been sealed.

“Teachers saw it as inevitable. Once you start talking about closing a school there are inevitable directions it takes,” said Osborne. “At least the property has been repurposed.”

The district has based its home learners program in the empty rooms and it will continue to operate there.

SD40 may regret decision

Nikki Binns says the school district may regret closing Hume.

Binns is the parent that led the successful community charge to convince the board of education to keep the school open in 2009.

“It’s very, very sad and disappointing. It’s kind of hard [to keep it open] when there’s only a few kids in there. I don’t think all of an effort was put in there to make the school grow,” said Binns of the board’s decision on Tuesday.

“You could see the end coming this year, and it’s really disappointing and sad because I know that area is growing too and McBride is going to fall apart.”

Binns said the Sapperton Green project being planned for between the park and the Braid SkyTrain station will be family oriented and bring in new students.

“When it does [get built] I don’t know where they’re going to put the kids. It’s a waste of space. They could do so much. There are many options they could have done to create a new learning environment in New Westminster.”

Binns suggested the district could have created an outdoor learning program for Hume that would have attracted students.

“When people would phone they were discouraged not to go to Hume Park. There was a lot of negativity and not a lot of support from some people,” said Binns.

“The board promised to help to rebuild the school and I don’t think we saw anything like that happen.”

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