In a June 16 vote, an overwhelming majority of Beacon Christian High School parents and members — 86 per cent — voted to close the St. Catharines school at the end of this year, yet hope for the future remains bright.
The decision recognizes the financial pressures and declining enrolment at Beacon, says principal Darryl Gillespie, but it also marks a new path for Christian education in the region in partnership with Smithville District Christian High School .
Smithville principal Ted Harris says when parents from Beacon High walked into Smithville for an information session related to the potential closing of their school on June 13, quiet and somber faces wore looks of resignation.
When they came out following the meeting, heads were held high and hopeful conversations sprung back and forth.
“The words are ‘transition’ and ‘coming together,’” says Gillespie, “and not so much the words ‘stopping’ and ‘closing.’”
He says the transparency of the board throughout the process leading up to Thursday’ vote is to be commended.
“Everybody knew about all the financial pressures and the enrolment pressures,” Gillespie says. “All the numbers and scenarios were placed clearly before the membership.”
The relationship with Smithville Christian High was also clearly laid out, and Gillespie says both Beacon Elementary and Smithville will become stronger through the upcoming transition.
“Even in the midst of the sadness there was a sense that it was not like the neck was cut off, it was more like a new direction was forged that we hope will ultimately be stronger and better for Niagara ,” says Gillespie.
Harris agrees the decision reflects the desire to determine the best vision possible for Christian high school education in the region.
“It’s a good way for two schools that really need each other to form an alliance,” says Harris.
A boost in size at Smithville will boost economy, he says, and bring new vibrancy and offer new opportunities for children at Beacon Elementary. They’ll roll into the Smithville community where fresh relationships will grow as they join children from three other partner schools.
“It’s two communities forming a new community together, and despite all of the emotions surrounding closing a school, it is also very exciting to enter into something new,” says Harris.