Front Page
February 4, 2005

Just over a dozen placard-bearing parents and pupils picketed outside the Ministry of Education Monday to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed conversion of the 53-year-old Richmond Hill Government School from a primary to a secondary institution.{{more}}

The parents, who admitted they were acting independent of the school’s Parent/Teachers Association, called on the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves administration to find alternative measures and to leave the school alone. Some expressed concern that parents of over three hundred children will have to find alternative schools and their children may have to travel further to attend other schools. Some threatened to take serious action in an attempt to stop any demolition or refurbishment of the government-owned building.

“Leave The Richmond Hill School”, one placard read. “PM and IT Minister Please Do Your Homework Before Shutting Down the School”, and “Closing the Richmond Hill Primary School Is Not A Revolutionary Decision In Providing Quality Education”, other placards read.

The school’s PTA met with Ministry of Education officials last Friday and discussed the government’s proposed policy to provide 100 % access to secondary schools for the new school year.

PTA president, Joel Poyer last Wednesday night distanced his association from Monday’s picket. He said the PTA did not support the picket action because dialogue was continuing with the Ministry and expressed belief that the parents who picketed were influenced by politicians and a particular communication medium.

But, even as he criticized the picket, he chided the Ministry for the manner in which it has dealt with the issue.

“I agree fully with the policy. But, I don’t agree with the way it is being implemented. The execution is very poor”, Poyer told Searchlight.

He said that Senior Education Officer Dr. Alson Jack informed the school earlier this year about the proposed conversion. Consequently, the school’s PTA wrote to the Ministry of Education seeking dialogue on the matter and also wrote to the Teachers’ Union requesting that they sit in on a meeting.

Poyer said that following last Friday’s meeting, the Education Minister promised to take the PTA’s concerns to Cabinet for discussions and promised also to sit in on a PTA meeting. But, the minister then went on radio and said the PTA was coming around to accepting the proposed conversion. As a result, parents became agitated.

Poyer said the concerns of the PTA include the proximity of the school to the road and traffic, the amount of work which will have to be done on the school and the time available, and the use of the CW Prescott School as an alternative.

He explained that it would be rather difficult to transform the school between June and August because of factors such as the amount of construction work needed to be done, the reduced amount of skilled labourers now available, the hurricane or rainy season.

Poyer also said that the CW Prescott School was the better choice for conversion because of its facilities already in place and its general condition. But, he said, the Ministry feels Richmond Hill is the better choice because it has fewer students to transfer since it has a population of just over 460 as opposed to over 890 at C W Prescott.

“The technocrats are the ones creating the problems. It seems they are for quantity and

not quality. If we are serious about compulsory education, we cannot water-down the whole issue because of some grant we may be getting. The C W Prescott is really the secondary school. It has a music programme, a laboratory and other things. They are concerned about compulsory secondary education and not compulsory primary education. But if we are going to increase access to secondary education, we also need to look at providing adequate institutions for tertiary education”, Poyer said.

Asked what level of support the Teachers Union was giving the PTA, Poyer said, “The union said they were going to have a general meeting and then they would go back to the ministry”.

Asked what further step, if any, the PTA intended to take in the event the government remains adamant the school will be converted this year, Poyer said serious strategies would be considered to let the Ministry know his Association was serious about the issue. He noted, however, that dialogue was continuing and such serious strategies would only be implemented if there is a breakdown in dialogue.