The fate of J.H. Sissons School has yo-yo’d over the years from possible closure to cannon fodder in the territorial government’s lengthy court battle with the French school board to today’s prospect of a phoenix-like rebirth into a completely rebuilt school.
It was not even five years ago that parents and students faced the very real possibility that Sissons would close its doors for good due to low enrolment through the school district. Enrolment at Yk1 in 2013 had tanked to 64 per cent with 1,829 students total. Sissons, at 63 per cent and 215 students, was faring better than other schools but its age made it a liable and there was serious talk of moving Yk1’s French immersion program to either NJ Macpherson or Range Lake North.
Facing opposition from parents,Yk1 ultimately decided not to close or hand over any school. The GNWT, which was pressuring the district to hand over a school with a gymnasium to the French school district to honour the French district’s successful lawsuit asking for a bigger school, eventually caved as well.
Yk1’s enrolment has steadily recovered in recent years, growing to 2,102 this year with 345 students attending Sissons. And the French school district, never enamoured with the idea of accepting a Yk1 hand-me down, elected to expand its existing school at Ecole Allain St-Cyr.
In November 2017, the GNWT agreed to replace aging Sissons School, built in 1975.
Now comes the hard part. Parents are rightly concerned about how their children will be affected by reconstruction, which is expected to begin in August 2020 and take two years to complete.
Last week, the school board elected to adopt the GNWT’s recommendation to rebuild the school on its existing footprint, which means students will have to be sent to other schools in the interim.
Trustee Terry Brookes, the lone holdout, argued vehemently that this recommendation cannot be found in the government-ordered geotechnical survey examining the school site. He would like the school to be rebuilt elsewhere on Sissons property so students can continue to use the existing school while waiting for the new one to be built.
The GNWT also made its case, insisting the very technically-written survey does indeed point to rebuilding the school in its current location as the most sound and cost-effective solution.
From our perspective, either way presents a number of pros and cons. Pro — the current location makes the most sense, it is the most attractive and would require the least amount of work. Con: parents, students and staff are in for a big disruption next year.
In any event, given the history until now, we will point to the good news – Sissons will be rebuilt and will be better than ever once complete.
Parents should take a page from Ecole Allain St. Cyr’s where staff, parents and students waited more than 13 years for the expansion of their school, which now houses a gymnasium. During that time, students had to go to classes next door at the William McDonald Middle School, the gymnastics club, Multiplex and other spaces around town and have come out no worse for wear; and with a brand-new gym to boot.
Two years may seem like a long time to have students displaced from their school but the end result should be well worth the wait.
In the meantime, Yk1 and the GNWT need to keep the lines of communication open and make sure they are communicating with parents. A rough road awaits but sound communication and regularly progress reports will make that road just a little bit smoother.