The Suburban, December 24th, 2013

The English Montreal School Board’s ambitious new school project Wallenberg Academy will not open next year, having fallen far short of the minimum number of students required to “comfortably begin” an academic program at the former Wagar high school facility in Côte St. Luc.

Plans had called for Wallenberg to open for the 2014-2015 academic year for Secondary I and II students with a focus on sports, heritage languages and enriched programming. The numbers however, just weren’t there, even as the board struggled to give the school its distinct focus and not just replicate other schools.

EMSB commissioner Syd Wise – who chaired the task force working to open the school –agreed that the board “alienated about 50 percent of parents who turned out for the information meetings” by focusing on special programs which required accelerated academics, targeting those students at the top third of their class. Otherwise, he said, “I could have given you the names of 150 parents,” he told council at last week’s commissioners meeting.

EMSB schools turn away students

Wise also noted, ironically, that the board lost 554 students this past year, yet turned away more than that from only two of its schools, FACE and Royal West. These students overwhelmingly choose the private sector. Board Chair Angela Mancini also noted the turn-way factor and remarked, twice, that expansion of these schools – perhaps an annex for Royal West – could be a solution.

Wise said for Wallenberg Academy to have any degree of credibility and inspire confidence, it should address parents’ reluctance to commit to a school without assurances that it will actually open. He did say however, that official community support was paramount and he got it, namely from the city of Côte St. Luc and its Mayor Anthony Housefather.

In his report, Wise lamented the lack of unanimity on council to support the plan. Without naming names, several commissioners, including Mancini and Bernard Praw, congratulated Wise for his efforts and made veiled reference to “detractors” and “those who did not want this school to succeed.” Despite the cryptic mud-slinging, Wise also acknowledged the board’s greatest misstep, launching a venture laden with so many conditions. “You cannot bring parents on board by telling them that if we achieve a viable number and should certain admission criteria prevail that then we will consider opening the school, which cannot be given the green light until it is finally approved by council.”

He emphasized that the most profound issue that faced the EMSB five years ago and continues to serve as a challenge is the “slow, but relentless, contraction of the number of students serviced by the English public school system.” He said the current downward spiral in anglo education demands an attempt to tackle the problem. “Unlike all other boards in North America, we are struggling for linguistic survival and that means stopping the bleeding…If we do nothing, then we will have failed the anglo community.”

The project is on the backburner, he said, but will definitely be back for consideration again. “After all, the name Wallenberg personifies survival.”

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