An international high school is set to open its doors at the former D.A. Gordon Public School in Wallaceburg.
Jessica Brooks, the newly hired principal at the Edward International Academy, told the Sydenham Current there has been construction going on for several months at the King Street building.
“The whole west wing that used to be the portables is now dormitories,” Brooks said.
“We’re going to be boarding students here. We’ve added a cafeteria, a dining room area. We’ve changed around the office space a little bit, but for the most part the classrooms are still the same.”
Brooks said currently there are eight students taking an English as a second language class at the school.
“We’re going to be an international high school,” she said.
“We’ll be running classes from Grade 9 to Grade 12. The first batch of students are coming from China, but we’re hoping to get students from other areas of the world and domestic students as well. It has been pretty frantic, there is a lot going on. A lot of face-lifting to do, walls changing around. Now we’re working on landscaping and making it presentable on the outside.”
Brooks said she has been an administrator in private schools for over 20 years.
“Running private schools in Ontario is very different than the public school principals,” she said.
“The way that you interact with the Ministry of Education is all different. We are handing out the Ontario Secondary School diploma, so there are things we have to do with the Ministry to get permission to do that. It’s a unique skill set.”
Brooks added: “I happen to be living in Dresden, so I saw an ad for a private school principal in Wallaceburg and I had to double check that it was Wallaceburg, Ontario. So I’ve been on board for about a month and things have been working out well. I’ve been meeting with the Ministry of Education, making sure we’ve got all our ducks in a row there, making sure we are compliant with the Fire Code and all of those great things that go along with running an institution.”
Brooks said having Edward International Academy in Wallaceburg will provide a boost to the community.
“It’s a great building,’ she said.
“One of the things I would like to do is have some kind of display honouring the history of the D.A. Gordon school. As we’re rummaging around the basement, finding the things we need, it’s almost like a time capsule the things we have found down there. I think there is great heritage there. It’s a wonderful old building. It has preserved well and I think this could be a bonus for the Wallaceburg area.”
Brooks said they have already hired a number of local people to do various tasks.
“We just had a job fair a little while ago and we had 33 people showed up for a number of different positions.,” she said.
“I think this will be a really, really good thing for Wallaceburg. The draw for students is it is not Toronto, it’s not Montreal, it’s a quiet town, a friendly town, they can wonder around safely and that is what parents are looking for. Somewhere safe and not distracting for their kids to study.”
D.A. Gordon Public School officially closed its doors in June of 2014.
The decision was made to close the school after a lengthy accommodation review process by the Lambton-Kent District School Board.
The school was sold to a Toronto man the following spring.
He had planned to turn the location into a private school as well.
Eric Tian, a spokesperson for the management team for the Edward International Academy, told the Sydenham Current back in April school was still in good condition and local government officials in Chatham-Kent have been helpful.
“The community is a good community,” he said.
“It’s quiet and welcoming. We feel after the kids come here they will feel safe. The scenery is beautiful, it’s pretty. That is another bonus. Also, the community has been welcoming. We’ve spoken to a lot of local people and they are very nice and they wish to help. That is why we selected the property.”
Tian said they are hoping for 20 to 30 kids to be at the school come September.
Wallaceburg Coun. Jeff Wesley told the Sydenham Current back in April he hopes the proposed plan works out.
“It is positive for the community and the south side, where I grew up and I was a student at D.A. Gordon, to have the former D.A. Gordon school being used in a productive and community contributing way,” Wesley said.
“Best wishes that their plans all come to fruition since any positive use will benefit the community and local businesses.”
An official grand opening is set to take place at Edward International Academy on Sunday, July 22.
“We have another batch of students coming in from China and some other professionals are coming in from some of the other Chinese school, just to see what we’re up to,” Brooks added.
“We’ll have a ribbon cutting, a sign unveiling… it is a welcoming and a celebration of the re-opening of this building and the start of Edward International Academy.”
The ceremony takes place at 1 p.m.