Merger of PCHS and Riverdale akin to closing two schools, say critics

Plans to rename Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School after Riverdale closes has struck a nerve with parents and alumni

Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School is facing an uncertain future since it has been asked to merge with Riverdale by the next school year. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

First, Riverdale High School was forced to walk the plank after 54 years. Now, Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School is facing an uncertain future after the current school calendar ends.

For West Islanders tested by the pangs of declining student enrolment in Quebec’s English education system, that would be two Pierrefonds-based high schools in less than a month than would cease to exist under their former names by the time school lets out in June.

The Riverdale situation came about last month after Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge used his executive powers to transfer the underused high school on Sources Blvd. from the Lester B. Pearson School Board to the French system to deal with an overcrowding issue.

But the LBPSB’s subsequent decision to launch a process that would see PCHS renamed and rebranded in a bid to welcome Riverdale students next September is upsetting some parents and alumni who don’t see why PCHS should also lose its identity amid the turmoil of Riverdale’s closure.

“Why erase the success of Pierrefonds Comprehensive to ease the pain of Riverdale?” said Barbara Sholzberg, a Dollard-des-Ormeaux resident who has served on local school committees.

“Let’s be clear: This is a terrible situation for all schools and students in the English boards and the unfortunate reality of our times,” Sholzberg said in an email.

“What is to be gained by making unilateral decisions without consulting Governing Boards, parents, the teachers who teach the kids and erasing the history of two schools instead of dealing with the loss of just one?”

The pushback has now taken the form of an online petition (”Say No to closing and rebranding PCHS”) which garnered more than 2,000 names in just over a day.

Eric Van der Wee, a PCHS graduate (Class of 1992) who later taught at the school, said the school board should reconsider its practice of rebranding/renaming merged schools.

“I understand why the school board would want to make the Riverdale students feel welcome at PCHS, but erasing the identity of two schools is not the answer,” said Van der Wee, who now teaches at Dawson College and has a daughter attending Grade 8 classes at PCHS.

Van der Wee said it would be a needless mistake to toss two schools into a blender in order to come up with a fresh identity. He said it appears a proper consultation process with parents was skirted in a bid to proceed with the merger.

“I only found out afterwards, however, that Pierrefonds Comprehensive was going to have its deed revoked and made into something new because they want to merge the two populations.”

He noted that PCHS is on the upswing academically. “It’s got a better reputation now than when I went there as a student. It even has a better reputation now than when I was there as a teacher (from 1998-2006) because of my former colleagues.”

Asked to describe PC’s reputation from his student days, Van der Wee said: “It was unfair. I had great teachers, but people looked at the building and it looks oppressive because there is a lack of windows, that kind of thing. And there was this idea that in that area, Pierrefonds, as opposed to some other areas in the West Island, a stigma got attached there, too. But those of us in the building knew we had great teachers.

“If you listen to Terry DiMonte (on CHOM radio) talk about going to PC (in the 1970s), he knows he had a great high school experience.

“The current group of people there now have made that inner reality understood as the outer reality.”

He said a lot of goodwill exists toward the soon-to-be displaced Riverdale students, but he stressed they can be welcomed and accommodated without PCHS losing its own identity.

Pearson chairman Noel Burke has said the merger process is designed to marry the best attributes of the two “founding” schools.

“It’s a symbolic gesture.  It’s about identities,” he said.

Riverdale opened in 1965, while PCHS opened in 1971, then as a Catholic school, separated into French and English sides.

Burke said there have been proposals to place the sports banners won by the two founding schools in the PCHS gym, and a plaque commemorating the schools at the main entrance.

Burke said he understands not everyone likes the rebranding of merged schools.

“It affects people different ways. Some people are upset by it and carry that with them. Some are not.”

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