Monday, May 11, 2009

NDSS coverage, cont'd

This St. Catharines story was posted Sunday online and published Monday, regarding the "what size is the best size" discussion for high schools with a focus on Niagara District Secondary School in Niagara-on-the-Lake. There's nothing earth-shattering here in terms of who the reporter spoke to, nor this particular issue. The only thing that popped out was this comment:
NDSS's enrolment will again be a topic of discussion at Tuesday's board meeting when trustee Gary Atamanyk will ask for a one-year extension to hit the board-imposed target of 350 students to spare the school's shuttering.
This is the peril facing the board that came up with a very unique decision-- a time line and challenge to boost enrolment at NDSS. However, if the challenge isn't met, how many times should the time line be extended?
Before the Gerard Kennedy requested moratorium on school closures, the funding formula-driven accommodation reviews of the day were big on numbers. The range of 900 was always identified in Ontario as being the range where a high school hits its glorious peak in terms of being able to offer a breadth and depth of program. However, while I suspect there are more students attending schools with populations larger than 900 in Ontario, I also suspect there are far more schools in the province whose student population settles in somewhere between 400 and 700.
These mid-size schools can offer a depth and breadth of programming to serve all the relevant pathways in the curriculum.
However-- the question not asked in this article (it has come up in prior coverage of NDSS and other small high schools) is how small is too small? A population of 250 gives a distribution of about 50-60 students per grade with the exception of Grade 12 with its average 20-30 per cent return rate making it a larger cohort.
Fifty students per grade means two sections of the mandatory courses such as English, Math, Science, etc. Not as much of a challenge for students in Grade 9 and 10 who have little flexibility with their schedule anyway. A different story in Grades 11-12 however-- student schedules have more room for elective credits and the streams increase from three to five depending on the student's post-secondary destination (college, university, workplace, etc.)
Several things can happen: Subconsciuosly the school starts tilting is credit offerings to one end of the scale (usually college and university) pushing all the other students out to other, larger, schools that can serve their pathway. Or, the school ends up multi-grading or multi-levelling its classes. So you'll never get a standalone Grade 11 university French. You'll get a Grade 11/12 split class, or a Grade 11 class with university and college students. Or, horribly for the teacher, both scenarios in the same class.
The article almost seems to suggest the former-- quoting a school supporter saying the school should concentrate on academics, but also noting the NOTL area has 700 high-school aged students. Hrm. It leaves one to wonder where the 450-500 students not attending NDSS are going and why (a football team? Sorry, couldn't resist).
There are of course ways to run small schools-- go north of Thunder Bay or Sudbury / Timmins and every high school would be considered tiny by southern Ontario standards. Those schools make it work, some how. Or look at French-language schools in the large pockets of southern Ontario where there is no established Francophone community. A local French Catholic high school in my area has 75 students in Grades 9-12.
I would suspect a big part of the reasons why the solutions in place at those schools aren't being attempted or finding success at other schools is money.


Anonymous said...

I attended a Toronto girls' Catholic high school in the 1970's that had 400 students and we had lots of classes and activities.
My own daughter attended a private girls' school that was the same size and was the same excellent school.

Size only matters if it fits the MOE's bill.

Anonymous said...

Something else that needs consideration is that some families, by choice, choose small towns and rural locations to live and like the small schools.

As far as I'm concerned there hasn't been enough of a push to market that fact or small schools.

Education Reporter said...

Anon #1. The curriculum in the 1970s was vastly different-- the school-to-work kids went to "tech" schools and your school could concentrate on the academic and other folks. Even my school in the 1990s could survive, and we only had three streams.
Second, please DON'T compare private schools to small publicly funded schools. There is no comparison when it comes to the resources they have available to them. Even if tuition is low, they often have deep pockets of alumni support that provide megabucks used to supplement facility and program. Also, are there any school-to-work students at your daughter's school? I highly doubt it.
I'm not discrediting your choice or your daughter's school. Each parent makes decisions in the best interest of their child(ren).

Anon #2 -- I do realize that-- but my question (partially answered during the NDSS ARC process itself) is why the majority of the 700+ high school-aged kids in NOTL don't attend NDSS. I'm sure it's a fantastic place with fantastic people, but there has to be some good reasons why almost 500 kids don't attend the school when they could.

Anonymous said...

to answer the question as to why students aren't attending NDSS in Niagara-on-the-lake, the answer is because the District School Board of Niagara has been threatening to close our one and only high school for the past 10 years. The school board has not put any money into the school, and will allow students to attend any high school they wish to, sometimes with free bussing.

Our town loses almost 200 students to a publicly-funded faith based school named Eden High School. It was once a private school run by the Mennonites, but has since become a public school. Up until last year, these kids were bussed for free right past NDSS, to St. Catharines, our neighbouring city! The students must attend a daily chapel that commences before the school day. I think that parents believe that because it is a religious school, and there are uniforms and it was once private, that it is somehow superior to our local high school.

And what do you think of that? Wonder what John Tory thinks of our faith-based school??