Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Keep 'em open: Ottawa-Carleton DSB

An update to a high school review in east-end Ottawa that I have written about here before-- the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has voted to keep Rideau High School open and directed staff members to examine all options to even out enrolment in the area. The school, which has 1,000 students in its prescribed attendance area, sees approximately half that many attending classes within its walls. From the Ottawa Citizen piece:
Trustee Bronwyn Funiciello, who represents Rideau-Rockcliffe/Alta Vista, introduced the motion supporting the ARC recommendations and requested a comprehensive plan to address long-term enrolment and the needs of students and the community, including consultation with the communities served by low-enrolment schools “to identify and resolve root causes of enrolment issues.”
The plan would include “program pathways” to schools to increase their appeal to students, including non-semestered options at low-enrolment schools.
She also wanted the board to review the impact of previous and future boundary changes and additional funding for low-enrolment schools.
Low enrolment has dogged Rideau and has been a factor in identifying it as the school to close. Although it has a capacity of 966 students, the projected enrolment next year is only 476 students.
As a result of this decision, parents of students who attend Colonel By Secondary and Gloucester High schools (readers here may remember I indicated at one point I could see Gloucester HS from the window of my old bedroom at my parents' house) are now wondering what the impact of this decision will be on their schools. As they should be.
This wasn't a case of an under-enrolled school due to low population within its attendance area. This was the case of a school being under-enrolled because its students are inflating attendance at other schools. In some cases, I might even suggest that cross-border attendance is what has kept those schools open this long. Pre-1998, Colonel By and Gloucester were from the predecessor suburban Carleton Board of Education, when programs were introduced at Colonel By to attract out-of-area students in order to keep enrolment at a reasonable level.
I think of other situations in Ontario where the students exist within the attendance area (*cough*cough*NOTL*cough*cough*) but choose to enroll elsewhere. The OCDSB trustees' decision here shows a willingness to take a look at why that might be happening and see what options exist to 'correct' the situation. The 'target' of a closure scenario might shift as a result, but then it might also end up where it should have been aimed in the first place.


Anonymous said...

What's inspiring in this case is that rather than close they're willing to look at ways to boost enrollment first.

A step that I think is missing in way too many closures. Not all, but some communities could work to attract students rather than shut them out via a closure.

Unfortunately, some communities feel, rightly or wrongly that they have no choice or alternatives and that the board comes to the table with their Capital Plan and stick to that plan.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 8 Dec. 12:17

This situation is unique, because from one point of view, Gloucester and Colonel By (and other schools) have been "poaching" Rideau students for years and administrators and the board have been letting it happen. I would say Niagara District Secondary School was in a similar situation, with 700ish eligible but only 250 in attendance. This masks where the actual populations come from and leads to closure considerations for what I feel could be the wrong reasons (IE: You're school isn't 'good enough').

That's different from a situation where the available pool of students from within the attendance area is too small to allow for effective programming with the resources available. Attracting new students to a school in that scenario means attracting families to settle in that geographic area— a much more difficult thing school boards cannot do alone and that takes time. More time than is fair to keep the existing school running, in some cases.


RetDir said...

That should get an interesting reaction, ER, since the advocates of choice like the concept that schools should attract for reasons of quality, and if that means schools of lesser quality close that's just the market in action.
One of the reasons boards have boundaries is to avoid this kind of selection, partially for the practical reason that it would be physically impossible to house all the students who might want to go to one building, but also because the popularity of the school is largely reliant on the popularity of its staff, and program in certain cases (especially in secondary schools) and as staffs change so do the dynamics that brought students to the school in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Ret.Dir. Enlighten the "advocates of choice" if you will and point to those schools that you know of which have been closed because of "lesser quality". You'll be hard pressed I imagine to do so.

Boundaries or not. ER recognized that in Ottawa the board allowed cross-bordering to happen.

In my own community even though the board has established boundaries parents outside of the catchment will still drive their kids to the "better" school.

Anonymous said...

To Anon. 9:13 - Cross-border shopping for the "better" school happens in my small town also. What's interesting now, is that because of the closure of one of the public schools(we had two) and the moving of Grade 7 & 8 students to the high-school parents are shopping between the Catholic and remaining public school.

If parents which French Immersion and to send their children to a K-8 school under one roof, and block-scheduling with the traditional lunch and two recesses they may choose the Catholic elementary. (The real-estate fellow who sold us our home recommended the Catholic school because that's where the professionals send their kids).

If a parent wanted a K-6 school with a Balanced School Day they can choose the public school.

I do know of families who live outside of my town whose children attend the town's public elementary or secondary schools.

When I lived in Ottawa one of my friends went to Gloucester HS but lived elsewhere in the city. From what I gathered Gloucester had a very good reputation.

Time for coffee #2!


Anonymous said...

Anon. 9:13,

Nothing Ret.Dir. suggests re: market education is wrong. The suggestion that school choice advocates alone support a market driven education system isn't new. It's also not entirely correct. I'm pretty sure more than just choice advocates would suggest that if a school is under-performing year after year that something must be done. Closure
may be the answer in some cases but certainly not all.

The Ont. MOE must be thinking in terms of improvement for under-performing schools in literacy given the glut of money and people invested in the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat.

For those who would like to read more about how market education works and how it's been woven throughout education history might want to read "Market Education - The Unknown History" by Andrew J. Coulson (a transplated Canadian).

Mr. Coulson was one of the speakers at a School Choice conference held in Mississauga in April 2001, which saw over 250 attendees including many board directors and educators.

Curiosity about school choice is ramping up again among parents as more and more educate themselves to the choices at their disposal.


Education Reporter said...

Interesting gamut of commentary.

My one issue with school choice and market forces is that I have a lot of difficulty accepting a school closure because it's not "good enough." You abandon the kids who couldn't choose other choices for a variety of reasons and attend these schools because it's the neighbourhood school. How is that equitable and fair, to close a school because it's not "good enough."

Declining enrolment is tricky enough to deal with on its own without this complicating factor.


Anonymous said...

ER - what defines a "good" school?
I do believe even the education experts are still trying to answer THAT one.

What's "good" for you may not be "good" for me.


Anonymous said...

Off Topic - but I'll be signing off the computer after tomorrow for the holidays.

Thanks for putting lots of work into this blog ER. It's respectful(usually) and gives us plenty to think about.

Cheers!(no fruitcake please)

Anonymous said...

Good School = Good Outcomes for kids. The question then becomes who defines what good outcomes are. Parents? Society? The kids? Teachers? A mix of the above?

Education Reporter said...

The grapevine informs me mdare has been unable to post this:

I tried to post the following comment, but can't seem to manage it.

I highly recommend that you read the following article: http://www.aims.ca/library/hayek.pdf, as it explains, better than I possibly could, exactly why school boards should not be drawn into making enrollment decisions on behalf of their students. If you don't have time to read the whole article, the section entitled "The Abstract Principle" is the most relevant.

So posted.