A new addition of nine new classrooms costing $6 million is now open at École élémentaire publique Nouvel-Horizon in Hawkesbury.

On Tuesday, September 20, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, and Glengarry-Prescott and Russell Member of Parliament Stéphane Sarrazin officially opened the new expansion, which includes nine classrooms, bathroom facilities, and maintenance space.

The $6 million expansion of the school was announced in March 2021 and the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO) received $4.6 million from the province for the project. The expansion also made it possible to expand the daycare service offered at the school and accommodate 15 more children.

Lecce had positive comments on the significant use of technology in the classrooms at Nouvel-Horizon, and that the new addition has a ventilation and air purification system that exceeds the HEPA filters schools were being retrofitted with since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Nouvel-Horizon is located behind the Robert Hartley Sports Complex and the Hawkesbury Public Library. Lecce said he likes the location of an elementary school near other facilities for students to use.

“That’s what I try to promote at the school, it’s a one-stop shop,” said Principal Lissa Côté.

Students at Nouvel-Horizon regularly make use of the rink and pool at the sports complex, and the public library, Côté said.

During the 2021-2022 school year, Nouvel-Horizon had 286 students. This school year, enrolment is at 315 students.

Lecce praised the high-quality of education offered by French-language schools across Ontario and said proof of that high quality is shown in the results of standardized tests administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO).

“I know in our EQAO data, our French schools always outperform our English schools,” said Lecce.

He said the strong results in the French-language schools are being used as incentive to English-language schools.

“We’re trying to inspire the other boards,” the Minister said.

During his tour of École élémentaire publique Nouvel-Horizon, Lecce also promoted the government’s $26.6 billion in education funding for the 2022-2023 school year, and the Plan to Catch Up, which aims to bring as many students as possible back to classroom learning after two years of online or interrupted classroom learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan includes $175 million for enhanced tutoring support programs, updates to the curriculum, additional funding for new school construction, and $90 million for student mental health programs.

However, like many areas of society currently, there is a shortage of labour in public education in both classroom and support roles. Locally, there is a particular shortage of school bus drivers. At St. Jude Catholic School near Vankleek Hill, school bus routes have been cancelled on four days since the beginning of the school year due to a shortage of drivers.

“It’s a long-standing challenge,” Lecce acknowledged about the bus driver shortage, especially as the government is emphasizing having students back in the classroom.

Lecce said the government has established a driver retention program with funding equal to a 15 per cent raise and is working with School Bus Ontario on efforts to retain and attract more bus drivers. The Minister said school bus drivers are an important part of education.

“They’re good people in our communities and I want to see more of them in our schools,” Lecce said.

The Minister also said the government has a strategy to address shortages of teachers, especially because demand for French-language education is high. Lecce said the government is also taking measures to attract more Educational Assistants and Early Childhood Educators.

“We’re try to encourage them all and encourage them to enter what’s a very honourable career,” Lecce said.

The new nine classroom addition to École élémentaire publique Nouvel-Horizon in Hawkesbury was officially opened on Tuesday, September 20. From left to right: Nouvel-Horizon Principal Lissa Côté,CEPEO Superintendent of Education Carl Dussault, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, CEPEO Director of Education Sylvie C.R. Tremblay, MPP Stéphane Sarrazin, CEPEO Trustee Gilles Fournier, and CEPEO Superintendent of Business Stéphane Vachon. Photo: James Morgan