Saturday, June 5, 2010

NDSS' last call

There are a few other irons in the fire right now, but this alert just came across the screen and given the many posts in this space, I would be delinquent to put this off or simply leave it for another day. In a matter of weeks the last cohorts of students will walk the halls of Niagara District Secondary School. This week, Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky refused the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake council's request to consider a "right-sized," "centre of excellence" school in the town.
From the Standard article (and I would note my many posts here would be nothing were it not for the sustained and pertinent reporting of both the Standard and the Advance):
"The ministry does not have the authority to overturn boards' decisions about school closures, attendance boundaries and programming choices in their respective communities," it stated.
The town and the NDSS strategy committee submitted a 100-page petition to Dombrowsky in April that called for a stay of closure in order to support a new, environmentally friendly "centre of excellence" that was an appropriate size for the town at the current NDSS site. The mayor also asked for a meeting between the minister and members of the committee through a request by Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor.
"While we recognized there are some limitations on what the minister can do about school closures, we are deeply disappointed that she would not formally meet with us to gain a fuller understanding of the impact this closure has on the community," said (NOTL Lord Mayor Gary) Burrows.
Despite the many twists and turns the future of this school has taken within this community, I do empathize with those who believed this proposal was going to be the one that kept the school open. I'm not surprised by the minister's response, in fact, may have predicted it in this space many months ago.
The province, particularly the minister, may issue prescriptive guidelines that channel these school-closure processes down a particular path that puts high schools such as NDSS (or one in my own coverage area also set to close in a few weeks) but it will never intervene. The day the province intervenes and reverses the decision made by a district board of education is the day you can kiss the last remaining elements of local control over publicly funded schools goodbye.
So many already claim that so much in education is controlled out of the ministry offices on Bay Street. Do we really want the mandarins there to control street-level decisions on where schools should be? The moment the minister reverses a school closure you'd have every slighted community in Ontario asking her to do the same. Then, in essence, you'd have every school-closure decision being made by the Ministry of Education and not the locally elected district school board trustees.
I'm sure the minister and the government are quite aware of this. They may make trustees feel like they're handcuffed on these (and other) decisions, but they won't take that final step.
As to the NDSS community-- the centre of excellence model should have been promoted with the vigour it has been this year from the moment it was first conceived. It wasn't. When the school board made its unique decision to give the school a year's reprieve and allow the community to make good on its word that enrolment would grow, this plan was backburnered. It was only resurrected when the Oct. 31, 2009, countdate was unavoidable and the enrolment had not grown (as predicted by board personnel, I might add).
Alas, there are no more reasonable options and the school will close. For the few -- and I hope students are not in this group -- who still believed the doors would reopen this September, it's time to focus on transition. On helping the families and students make good choices for the schools that lie ahead.
For the rest of us, this storyline is full of lessons. Don't wait until the accommodation review process begins. Communities, school councils and municipal councils need to be monitoring student populations. Medium- and long-term planning should include elements and developments to support stable student-aged populations. Options need to be developed and pursued when that high school's student numbers start to dip towards 400 (in southern Ontario English-language boards, of course). By the time it reaches 300, 250 or lower, it may be too late.


Anonymous said...

just hope that now the "final" word has come from the Ministry, the very vocal MINORITY in NOTL will accept the DSBN to give NOTL high school students the same quality education other areas have had for the last 10 years that NDSS has been left to suffer.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 6 June 18:25

I'm sure this is the final word from the province. What else could it be asked for given the board's decision to close takes effect in three weeks?

Course selections for 2010-11 are more than done, with the exception of some last-minute tweaking. Students and families, I hope, are prepared for what lies ahead.