Sunday, November 1, 2009

All options expire for NDSS

I've been delinquent in posting here this week for a variety of reasons I won't spend a lot of time discussing. There are only so many hours in a day.
However, Oct. 30 was the calendar date by which Niagara District Secondary School in Niagara-on-the-Lake needed to have 350 registered pupils in order to avoid closure at the end of the 2009-10 year. Tiffany Mayer has been on the NDSS story at the St. Catharines Standard since the departure of Samantha Craggs last December, and published a fantastic article Saturday. This is extraordinarily good reporting from Mayer, showing the depth and context that only good newspaper journalism can do. She covered all the bases, speaking to trustees (for and against allowing the June 2008 motion to stand), community activists, the Lord Mayor and even students at NDSS.
But (District School Board of Niagara) education director Warren Hoshizaki said the board did what it could for the beleaguered secondary school.
"Because the results were not as they would have liked -- as we would have liked -- I think we forget how much work that (superintendent) John Stainsby and the transition committee have really done to try to boost the enrolment in that school. We worked a long time with them," Hoshizaki said.
There were also brainstorming sessions between trustees and town councillors to find solutions.An international baccalaureate program, golf academy, football and agriculture courses were added or were in the works when NDSS's last lifeline ran out this week. None were able to produce results in time for today, though many lobbied for an enrolment target deadline extension to give them a chance to flourish.
The odds just weren't in NDSS's favour, Hoshizaki noted.
Half of Grade 8 students in the community opt to go elsewhere for high school -- an anomaly, he said.
So is this really it for NDSS?
"Yup," trustee Dalton Clark said, even before the question was out. "I think we have to move on and start giving kids a quality eduction."
Often accused by NDSS supporters of being the ring leader of trustees who voted to spike any chance of NDSS's survival, Clark's conviction isn't necessarily arbitrary.
The board's projected enrolment for the next five years paints a grim picture. NDSS is expected to have only 203 students by 2014 -- not enough to offer a solid range of programming, the board maintains.
At the moment, the town's elementary schools have 276 students in junior kindergarten to Grade 2. Come high school, they would be divided up between NDSS, the Catholic board and Eden, board spokesman Brett Sweeney said.
Had the new program additions shown any sign of boosting the population, Clark said he would have considered that.
"I just based my vote on the fact that, in spite of all of the efforts of the community and the fact that courtesy busing has been taken away, that the enrolment dropped anyway. I don't see any way the school could ever get back to being a viable operation," Clark said. "And in the meantime, every year that we put it off, 200-plus kids are underserved by our board."
The key figure there? The JK-2 student population in the catchment area. The first of those students is only six years away from Grade 9, and if they follow the pattern of current Grade 8 students, not enough of them will choose NDSS to keep the programs and facility viable. The comment section at the end of the story says it right, when the poster indicates all the families and parents who chose other schools over NDSS over the past decade share responsibility in this outcome as well. It's an important point that shouldn't be forgotten.
The community should be commended for its efforts. Now it needs to focus on continuing to participate in the discussions between now and September 2010. It needs to keep playing a part in ensuring its students are welcomed in their receiving schools and that the program and facility advantages they couldn't access at NDSS exist for them elsewhere.
However, this and other similar-population high schools should take note. Don't wait for the accommodation review to begin to start working on program options and other enticements to boost student enrolment at your school. If you're an English-language, public high school in southern Ontario and your student population in Grades 9-12 is nearing between 300 and 400 students, it's time to start working on those things now. Not tomorrow, not next year. Now. Now's the time to start talking to the local municipality and other public-sector groups who might be able to lease vacant space in the facility. Now's the time to start searching for partnership opportunities that can enhance programming and facility at the school.
If you choose to wait for another day, it might be too late.


Dr Paul Bennett said...

Dear Education Reporter,

Your reporting on the struggle to save NDSS has provided a real insight into the challenges faced by SOS and its supporters. It looks as if few options remain for keeping the NOTL high school open.

You were quite correct about Tiffany Mayer's piece in The Standard. It gives a comprehensive review of the whole struggle.

Thank you for covering the education beat and filing such timely reports. I am researching school closings across Canada and have found your news tips valuable in keeping me abreast of developments in southwestern Ontario.

Dr. Paul W. Bennett
Schoolhouse Consulting
Halifax, Nova Scotia.

RetDir said...

Dead on ER - it will be fascinating to see how school closures play out in Toronto - the G and M referred to it as class warfare - and the unintended implication of the headline will be interesting to follow.

educ8m said...

This decision will be extremely short-sighted in the long run. NOTL is becoming a destination of choice for many Ontarians, mostly active retirees, to live.

There will be a need, however, to provided increased services for those people--and that requires a population of younger people to do so. If there is no school for families, it will be difficult to attract them to the area. This is true for many small and/or rural communities around the province.