Saturday, September 12, 2009

Quick, create 100 more high school students!

News from the Standard posted Friday showing Niagara District Secondary School is still 100 pupils short of a 350-pupil goal set by trustees in the spring of 2008. If the goal isn't met by the Oct. 31 Ministry of Education count date, the original motion called for NDSS to close at the end of this school year.
The goal is business as usual.
“Obviously, we’re working towards that end,” Cockburn said. “We want the kids to have an extremely good year and the staff likewise. Everybody’s energized.”
Meanwhile, supporters are trying to come up with ways to give the school a reprieve.
Lord Mayor Gary Burroughs said he’s trying to meet with the director of the school board and chair of the board to introduce the town’s new CAO and find out what they have to say about NDSS.
He said he wants an extension to the Oct. 31 dealine.
The decision by District School Board of Niagara was a unique one when it came down just over 18 months ago. The community presented all of its rationale for why NDSS is a superior learning environment and could be even better with more students if the community and the school had a chance to do some real recruiting and boost enrolment. In the midst of covering my own review of a 250-pupil high school in a single-school rural community (far more rural and not at all as touristy as NOTL) where advocates had devised a boundary solution that would temporarily alleviate low enrolment, I advocated for similar flexibility in a column published in the early summer of 2008. No one listened to it on the local board, but 16 months later, I'm not that offended given the outcomes in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
NDSS supporters were given that chance-- but the school's enrolment has been hovering around the 250 mark for the 2008-09 and, but by the looks of it, 2009-10 school years. Below the target and the number some in the community said quite confidently they'd reach.
Burroughs told the Standard in 2008 the community would have no problem raising $100,000 a year to give entry scholarships to Grade 9 students-- I don't know if this actually happened, someone please enlighten me. Service clubs pledged their support. An IB program is coming to the school (it may be too late, as the school might close before the first IB credit starts) and even football was seen as a saviour. Friday's article speaks of a team itself too short on players to even compete.
From the same 2008 article, note the following prescient comment:
St. Catharines trustee Dalton Clark wasn't happy with the outcome. Demanding a certain level of enrolment puts the onus on the community, when it is the board's job to make tough decisions, he said. This decision means trustees "don't have to be the bad guys tonight.
"We can all walk away tonight with the crowd cheering us, but what are we putting on that community?"
So, here the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake now lies, with NDSS' enrolment being pretty darn near where its projections said it would be. The petition did nothing, the Community Schools Alliance and its 'smart' moratorium, even with two NOTL civic politicians on the executive committee, hasn't changed NDSS' fate. Not even screwing the school board out of a preferred site for a new Virgil school -- OMB hearing pending -- has changed anything about this outcome whose date is circled on the calendar. There still aren't enough students to meet the 350 target and erase 'last day of classes, ever' off the NDSS June 2010 calendar.
The community has failed in its efforts.
Could they do it with more time? I don't have an answer to that question.
It's one trustees will face this fall, likely, and it will be interesting to see how many remember Clark's words from 2008. Also interesting whether the result -- an extension, if granted -- would produce any different result, or just extend into some unknown future time the same arguments that are happening today.
Maybe someone will be able to turn up that recipe to instantly bake up some 14- to 18-year-olds. A dash of lethargy, a pinch of vanity, a smidgen of youthful exuberance... I know I had that formula around here somewhere. Where did I put it?


RetDir said...

NOL is not unique - a very common response from communities facing school closures is that there are ways of increasing enrolment, and if boards would only take the time to do so then closure wouldn't be necessary. Often this takes the form of specialty secondary schools (e.g., agriculture in co-operation with U of G, etc.). The reality is that kids and parents aren't going to move from where they are unless there is a compelling reason to do so. When we researched why kids chose schools and programs, the only consistent (and overwhelming) response was friendships - it's where my friends are going. It's why there never is a significant transfer of kids from school to school or system to system based on parental politics (see Bluewater for a prime example) - kids rule, and they are going to stay with their friends. The sole exception (in my experience) is really bad staff - they can drive students from buildings. Conversely, especially in secondary schools, really good individual teachers can create programs of such strength that they attract students - this, however, is rare.

Education Reporter said...

Retdir: Interesting points. The teenage mind is an interesting one and the prominence of the social group over all else is bang-on-- as anyone who's had (not me) or worked extensively with (me) teenagers has witnessed.
I would even guess secondary school kids' answers on that would be different than elementary school kids.
I'm familiar with a few schools where the innovative programs and dynamite teachers were in place and well-established yet enrolments still stagnated and dropped leading to reviews. One in my coverage area (I've referred to it a few times) and one in Ottawa near my own former high school that was part of a review last year.
The one question that remains unanswered to me -- although some have tried in previous comments -- is the difference between the 250 enrolment at NDSS and the 775 youths in the 2006 census ID'd in the 10-14 age group, most of whom would be in high school by now.
Where are they? Why aren't they attending NDSS? Is there a solution there?

Anonymous said...

It may be true in rural or small towns that rarely will families move just so their kids can attend a certain school.

However I know many parents in larger centres who choose schools outside of their boundaries and make every effort to commute the student to that school.

Dalton McGuinty being just one of those parents who sent his kids to Samuel Genais in East Ottawa a school a fair distance away from Ottawa Centre.

If the school's that good and has a good reputation parents will do what's necessary to see their kids get there.

In rural/small towns it's made more difficult because of distance, but having said that,
I do know parents who live quite a distance away, who drive their kids into my town so that they could attend a town school which they deemed better than the school near them.

RetDir said...

Anon's comment about urban school choice is very true - I know people who have bought houses in certain neighbourhoods in Toronto because of the school (one wonders what they do if the reputation of the school goes downhill), and others who do go to schools outside of their local school's boundaries.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 13 Sept. 9:51:
Careful-- I believe Samuel-Genest was the only option for French Catholic high school for kids from Ottawa South when McGuinty's children were going through school.
Currently, those neighbourhoods would attend Centre professionel et technique Minto, or the Franco-Cite school. Franco-Cite was opened in 1994.
Those were different times and a knowledge of the school landscape at the time helps.

Anonymous said...

Of course, but he still made a choice for his kids and got his kids to that school right?

I know plenty about Ottawa schools back then. You see, Samuel Genais sent a huge representation from their school community to a Charter Schools conference held in Toronto in I think it was 1997, or '98. That school community wanted to achieve charter status at the time.

Besides that, that is where I got my post-secondary education and worked in the schools in conjunction with my discipline.

My best friend's dad was in Trudeau's cabinet - his gov't whip.
She and her siblings attended Genais.

Believe me I wouldn't put it out there without caution or knowledge of what went on back then.

Education Reporter said...

Point taken.
He exercised an ability to have his kids attend a French-language Catholic school.
I wonder, given some recent clarification, whether they would still qualify for admission today?