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Thursday, October 8, 2015

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Wallenberg name the choice for school at Wagar site

Syd Wise

MONTREAL — Wallenberg Academy is the name the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has chosen for its proposed new high school in Côte St. Luc.

The name honours the memory of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who is credited with saving up to 100,000 Jews during the Holocaust while serving in Budapest, Hungary.

The EMSB invited the public to select a name for the former Wagar High School via an online forum last fall. Its suggestions were Côte St. Luc, Parkhaven (the street on which the school is located), Wallenberg or going back to Wagar.

However, the board did allow for other ideas, and a spirited contest ensued after Beverly Akerman, a research scientist, author and mother, proposed that the school by named for Mordecai Richler.

Max Layton, eldest son of poet Irving Layton, quickly jumped into the fray, insisting that the school would be more appropriately named for his father, who had, after all, lived in Côte St. Luc in the 1950s and ’60s and died there, at Maimonides Geriatric Centre, in 2006.

Wallenberg Academy is scheduled to begin operations for the 2014-2015 academic year, provided at least 60 students are enrolled by next fall.

The building is currently called the Giovanni Palatucci Facility after an Italian policeman who rescued thousands of Jews during World War II. It houses John Grant High School for children with special needs, Marymount Adult Education Centre, and the EMSB’s book processing centre.

Wagar High School closed in 2005.

EMSB commissioner Syd Wise, who heads the project’s task force, noted that there is a “natural connection” between the names of Palatucci and Wallenberg, which makes the latter suitable.

Montreal has, for many years, also been the site of much Wallenberg commemoration, thanks largely to the efforts of the indefatigable Russian emigrée Vera Parnes, founder of the Raoul Wallenberg International Movement for Humanity, who died in 2010. One of her enduring achievements is Wallenberg Square in downtown Montreal.

But when questioned by fellow commissioner Julien Feldman at the EMSB’s most recent board meeting,  Wise admitted that Wallenberg was not the name that received the most votes in the online consultation.

It was third behind the two late Montreal literary greats. Wise, a former Wagar principal, said Wallenberg was chosen because the name is well known and his heroism is highly respected among residents of the area. Keeping with the theme of honouring those who helped Jews in the Holocaust also made sense, he said.

Whether there ever will be a mainstream EMSB high school in Côte Stw. Luc again is still uncertain.

More than two years ago, the board failed to garner much parental support for the project, despite having the backing of the city of Côte St. Luc, which is eager to attract young families.

Among Wallenberg Academy’s features would be a Jewish heritage program and enriched science curriculum, as the EMSB tries to lure kids away from the Jewish day school system, whose growth was a factor in Wagar’s demise.

EMSB chair Angela Mancini said it’s hoped the current attempt will be successful, because more time has been allowed to prepare the school’s curriculum, as well as to provide information to families, including through a public information meeting next month and an open house early next fall.

The new school would initially share the facility with the current programs the Palatucci facility houses and start with a Secondary I class. The plan is that the Wallenberg Academy would offer other heritage programs, a sports concentration and possibly extra English and music programming.

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