Thursday, October 15, 2009

Daily News gets creative

Full marks, kudos, high-fives, etc. to the Chatham Daily News for its editorial penned by Andrew Cornell and posted Thursday. It concerns accommodation reviews initiated by the Lambton-Kent District School Board for schools within the single-tier municipality of Chatham-Kent. Specifically, the ones now underway in Dresden and Ridgetown. As an interesting aside, Ridgetown was the birthplace of the Coalition of Small Schools, who we've heard little from lately.
From the editorial:
So let's get creative. We have valuable public buildings. How can we make better use of them? Well, the school board can rent unused sections or the gymnasium after hours. Given the safety and security of students, potential uses are limited. Still, colleges and universities can use them as satellite campuses for evening classes. How about drama, dance and music lessons? Municipal, provincial and federal governments can use vacant areas to maintain their presence in those communities. That's a few things just off the top of my head.
High schools are extremely important to the viability of a community. Elementary schools less so. If an elementary school is to close, how about having Grades 7 and 8 students attend Lambton-Kent Composite School or Ridgetown District High School? The idea was rejected in Ridgetown a few years ago, but it's worth another look. There's precedent. District School Board Ontario North East did it four years ago at Kirkland Lake District Composite School. Grades 7 and 8 students take classes in one wing and cross over to the rest of the school to use the shops, computer labs, library, cafeteria, art room and music room.
Yes, closing an aging elementary school with declining enrolment might be the wisest move if expensive renovations are needed. But the decision can not be all about dollars and cents. The life blood of communities is its gathering places: town halls, legions, community centres, schools and churches.
We have no more local municipal councils. Legion and community halls are not always owned by the public. Churches are closing. Which leaves our schools.
In communities such as Wallaceburg, Dresden, Ridgetown, Blenheim and Tilbury, high schools are often the busiest and most vibrant places in town. Let's keep them that way.
This is a great position for this writer and newspaper to take at the start of these reviews. It goes beyond the quick hit of simply going to those opposing closure and quoting the oft-cited, passionate reasons why a community facility should remain open (a story I now try and avoid writing because I can write it in my sleep, simply changing the names and locations to match the current situation). Or pandering to the complaints of the most-vocal that they're not being listened to when they themselves refuse to listen to any perspective but their own. It challenges those same communities to become involved.
My media colleagues should all take note, as should other municipalities and communities facing new reviews.