QHS and St. Pat’s parents unite for new superschool

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Photo: Peter Black

Members of the joint committee on the new school project are: (standing) David Eden, Ian O'Gallagher, Mario Cusson and Jay Manek, all representing St. Pat's; (seated) Susan McBain and Jean-Luc Trahan, representing QHS.

It’s been in the wind for several months, but now it’s official. The governing boards of St. Patrick’s High School and Quebec High School (QHS) have united to push for a brand new superschool to replace the two aging English-language institutions.

Two sites are being considered for a proposed new building, one on Rue Frank-Carrel, north of CEGEP Champlain–St. Lawrence; the other would be near St. Vincent's Elementary School, on two potential properties: either south of St. Vincent’s, between Rue de la Picardie and Boulevard Hochelaga on land owned by the Department of National Defence, or adjacent to St. Vincent’s on a plot of land owned by a private school and some surrounding land belonging to the city.

Members of the two schools’ governing boards and Central Quebec School Board (CQSB) officials unveiled what has been dubbed “The Project” at an exclusive briefing for the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph last week. Going public with the plan is the next step in what could be a long process to gain government approval and funding for a new school.

Attending the session were: Jean-Luc Trahan, chair of the QHS governing board, along with member Susan McBain; representing St. Pat’s were governing board chair Ian O’Gallagher, and parent members Mario Cusson and David Eden. Jay Manek represented St. Pat’s alumni. Members of a joint committee on the project, but not at the meeting, are Jill Gagnon, a parent on the QHS board, alumni members Bruce Laurie and Michael Boden from QHS, and Brian Fiset from St. Pat’s.

Chairman of the CQSB Council of Commissioners Stephen Burke, vice-chair Jean Robert and CQSB director general Stephen Pigeon, a former principal of St. Pat’s, also took part in the briefing which featured a power-point presentation titled “Future of English High School in Quebec City.”

The Project has been the subject of increasingly serious discussion for months, driven by parents representing both schools. Last June, at a joint meeting of the governing boards, there was unanimous agreement to move forward with the idea of combining the two schools in a new facility.

“If we’re in the same buildings in 50 years, we might not exist in 50 years. So that was our starting point,” said O’Gallagher.

According to board figures, each year between 10 and 20 per cent of students eligible for English public education are leaving Grade 6 and going to Secondary I at French-language public or private schools. If this trend persists, says O’Gallagher, “the government might not be interested in paying for a new school for 500.”

The committee has identified the reasons for the exodus to French high schools as the lack of options and programs, limited number of extracurricular activities, long commute, and critically, the lack of infrastructure such as proper sports facilities from swimming pools, to gymnasiums, to artificial playing fields.

“We can’t compete with the big French high schools,” said O’Gallagher.

Director general Pigeon said discussion of a new combined school is not a reflection on the current quality of education in the existing institutions, which have a total student population of between 900 and 1,000. “Both schools have a healthy enrolment, both schools are doing well, have great numbers and graduation success rates. Both are doing fine. [The new school plan] is not to help one or help the other.”

“If we want something done for the future we have to start now,” said O’Gallagher. “So let’s get the ball rolling now.”

The committee promoting The Project looked at what the many French high schools in the region offer parents shopping around for a school once their children graduate from English elementary.

Jean-Luc Trahan cited the example of Polyvalente de l’Ancienne-Lorette, whose 922 students have access to an auditorium, climbing wall, multiple gyms, synthetic field, aquagym, nearby arena and sports complex, plus ample parking.

Trahan said students participating in sports programs at St. Pat’s and QHS are penalized because they don’t have the numbers for competitive teams. “By having more students we can participate in more divisions.”

The committee’s checklist for the new school features better integration for special needs, new labs, auditorium, modern library/resource centre, larger triple gym, synthetic sports field, a central location to reduce travel times, cafeteria, recording studio and a pool.

Mario Cusson, from the St. Pat’s governing board said, “I’ve been paying school taxes for 27 years and what do I get for what I pay? When I look at what the others have, we didn’t get anything.”

St. Pat's celebrates the centennial of its construction next year, with the only addition to the school since then done in 1956. QHS was built in 1941 and opened for the 1941-42 school year. Chairman Burke said, “We don’t want anybody to think that without this there won’t be quality education in our schools. But we, as Anglophones, feel we should have the same services. Why don’t we have schools equivalent to the ones the French have?”

Burke cited an analogy he had made at a recent conference attended by Minister Proulx. Comparing English and French high schools in terms of movies, he said, “It’s like Back To The Future versus Star Wars.”