On March 19, 2012, the gym at Pangman School was filled with anxious, dedicated and curious community members who came out to support Pangman School in its bid to save Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 from possible closure. Approximately 125 parents, students, business owners, MLA Dustin Duncan, area residents and the Southeast Cornerstone School Division Board sat face to face. Though emotions were close to the surface, the entire meeting took place in a respectful atmosphere. There was no threats, no yelling, only heartfelt, factual presentations supported by applause and sometimes standing ovations.
Carol Flynn, Chair of the Southeast Cornerstone School Board opened the meeting, introducing the Board members and explaining the process that has been followed since September 26, 2011, when Pangman School was put under review. Pangman School is currently running with 70 students, 18 under the magic number set by the government. Projections presented by the school board showed Pangman would continue to lose students numbers over the coming years. It did not seem to matter that within the school’s catchment area there are actually over 100 students. Students have been permitted to attend other schools for various reasons diminishing the numbers from Pangman School.
After her opening remarks, the microphone was turned over to those in attendance to present their reasons for keeping Pangman School a K-12 school as it is currently.
Chuck Jakes, Reeve of the RM of Norton welcomed the School Division Board and asked everyone in attendance to act with understanding and respect. “It’s not about the money,” stated Jakes. “It’s about the best education we can give our children.” He asked the questions: What is best for students? What is important to the students, parents and family values? Have the bus routes truly been looked at? Jakes went on to point out the time it took to drive one of the routes – 2 hours. Jakes closed his comments by requesting 3 years for the community to bring school numbers up to government requirements.
Andrea Lillejord (Grade 12), Brea Nyhus (Grade 12), Christie Jesse (Grade 10) and Luis Ruiz-Reyes (Grade 10) shared some accomplishments and activities Pangman students have participated in.
They include: an anti-bullying group; an inhouse mentoring program that matches an older students with a younger one; upcoming pink tee shirt day; the Recycle my cell contest where the students collected the most phones and received a $500 Blackberry for their efforts; the Terry Fox Run raised over $700.00. Without Grades 9-12 some of these benefits and events will be lost to the school and students.
Eileen Tunall named local employers and pointed out if students are bussed out, it will prevent them from being able to work locally after school. This hurts the community and takes away an important opportunity for students to gain work experience.
Pam Rowland spoke of how important quick response time can be to any emergency and the fact Pangman has available trained personnel and ambulance. Response time to the school is less than a minute.
Rod Rowland, Mayor of Pangman stated, “We believe in our village.” Over the past few years Pangman has seen many changes including: growth in population and infrastructure; a new water system; a new Day Care facility; the paving of Main Street to name a few. “The school is the hub of the community. With this difficult decision, the right decision can be made.”
Gary Penner spoke of his surprise and delight when he and his wife moved to Pangman six years ago. “I expected a dying town and was surprised at the heart and soul I found here.” He went on to site some of the significant people that have grown up in the area and their accomplishments saying, “It is because they came from a small town, not in spite of being from a small town.” (That they accomplished what they did.)
Penner voiced another thought to the board. “I attended a School Board meeting a couple of months ago and came away feeling we weren’t heard and we don’t matter.
He then encouraged the Board to “hear” the messages presented during the meeting.
Gladys and Brian Jesse spoke on behalf of Charity Farms and the work and funds raised that have benefited the community, school, and South East Cornerstone School Division itself. The Community Kitchen; new stage; the land donated by the village to the adjoining Day Care – how all of this vastly improved the look and viability of Pangman School. Charity Farms were led to believe this (the Kitchen) would assist in keeping their school open.
Curtis Bourassa (E. Bourassa and Sons) and Don Gursky (Pangman Co-op) brought support for the retention of Grades 9-12 from the business community. They pointed out Pangman is seeing growth and they wish to see this continue. Gursky summed it up with the comment, “If you take away the school, you close the town. Leave our children here.”
A number of other speakers approached the microphone, each with reasons for the school to be allowed to keep Grades 9-12 classes: The amount of time kids will have to spend on the bus; the fact that families will have children of different age groups schooling in different towns; that small rural schools are not obsolete; after school activities will suffer; there will be increased stress on families; that people want children to be able to attend one school in the community. Questions were raised: What will happen to the mentorship program; How will kids get after school work experience if they are on a bus for up to 2 hours? How will the closure of Grades 9-12 affect the day care? Will people continue to move to Pangman?
Elwood White, Chair of the Pangman School Review committee spoke, thanking the School Division for continuing Kindergarten through Grade 8 in the community. He spoke for the best quality education the kids could receive and encouraged the board to think about the big picture – that Southeast Saskatchewan is growing. He reminded the board that there is no difference between the curriculum taught in Pangman and other schools; to consider the travel time for students and questioned whether it is fiscally responsible to have to hire more buses and drivers.
James Carpenter, a developer from Alberta requested he face both the audience and school board, introducing himself to everyone. He also announced his upcoming marriage to a former valedictorian from Pangman. Carpenter challenged the school board, saying they were looking at a short term solution, that growth would be assured of coming to Pangman. “You need this school. This school is part of the cornerstone in the southeast. If you pull the school you hurt Pangman and the School Division.” Carpenter pulled no punches with his words. He also encouraged the School Division Board by saying, “There is hope, there is change – embrace it – anticipate growth.”
Carpenter summarized the feelings of those present by telling the School Division Board there were good reasons to keep Pangman School as it stands. He said, “When you go home, think hard and vote with your conscience. Let’s be a cornerstone together.” The community rose with a standing ovation and the energy and emotion of everyone in attendance came through in the clapping of hands.
Carol Flynn thanked everyone for their respect and presentations. The meeting adjourned at 8:30 p.m. with an invitation to stay and have coffee and visit. MLA Dustin Duncan added his comments when I spoke with him at the completion of the meeting. “As MLA for this area, I am very proud of the community for the way they have approached this and for the way they have put their care forward to the Board. I think the Board deserves credit too, for being open during this process and for being here tonight to hear the concerns of the community. Obviously this is a difficult and concerning time for the community and it can’t be easy for the Board either – they don’t come to this point lightly.”
“I have received lots of letters from the community and they have been individually written, heartfelt and I’m working hard to respond to each of them.”
The South East Cornerstone School Board will receive written submissions up to and including March 30, 2012, at 4:30 p.m. The Board will make its final decision on the consideration of the grade continuance for Grades 9 – 12 at its regular Board Meeting on April 19, 2013.