Wednesday, February 17, 2010

NOTL / NDSS wrap

I would have loved to be all over posting about the coverage last week's Niagara-on-the-Lake special council meeting generated, but circumstances didn't allow. It was one of those moments where the moniker part-time blogger falls prey to scheduling and the priorities of paid work.
However, a look back provides a snapshot of the issues at play and how they've been handled. The Niagara Advance has most of the coverage (as it should, being the local weekly), and also most of the criticism. It's an example of the role of local media-- are we boosters? Or do we still have a responsibility to provide fair coverage of events as they unfold, leaving it to the reader to weigh the information presented? These are delineations that are a little clearer and a little wider at most daily newspapers, however many weeklies feel they can't make the same delineations. I disagree-- regardless of size or publishing frequency, the role of community media is the same as it is for provincial and national media.
The Advance's coverage of the meeting and report had multiple angles.
They included Penny Coles' brief opinion piece on the report itself.
In the hysteria of reaction to the report and the threat some of the options are perceived to present, the fact that none of it is particularly new or radical also seems to have been forgotten. A Mennonite pastor has already offered to come on board, and Eden students for years studied their Grade 13 courses at NDSS. There are other schools in our board and across the province, highly lauded, combining Catholic and public education on one site. And there are schools within our board also drawing praise for combining elementary and high school education. The strategy committee is presenting possible solutions to boost NDSS enrolment with various programming options hoping for an extension. The difference is it now wants to take those options to the province.
It all seems so simple, so obvious. Let's hope the ministry of education sees the report and gets that.
This was supplemented by Matt Day's coverage of the council meeting where the report was presented and input received. I received a small flood of e-mails after the meeting and in the few days following. It seems council backpedalled a bit when faced with a gallery of people all of a sudden brought into the Niagara District Secondary School issue because the council report reached into their own backyards.
(Coun. Gary) Zalepa defended the strategy, saying a lot of work went into preparing the document and to have the recommendations thrown out would be a waste of time.
"The committee is focused on keeping a high school in our community. Simply, that's it... We need to move quickly and with everything we've heard tonight, I think we can accommodate and facilitate those needs to make the document stronger," he said.
Zalepa said the idea of creating a campus school is to fix the problems that currently drive students away from NDSS site. He said a new school of an appropriate size would attract students, but when the facility is left to slowly deteriorate, as it has been for the last decade, students will seek education in other places.
"We have almost 800 kids eligible for high school in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I'm not saying the brief suggests forcing anybody to go anywhere. We think we should at least have the facility to attract students as it's proven when a facility is poor, it pushes them away."
The field-of-dreams analogy was a nice one. However, I don't know whether the province will bite at investing in this campus without some sort of proof it will actually attract the high school students to make it viable. Given secondary school is open choice in Ontario (you can attend the high school of your choice, with caveats), I wonder whether Zalepa and the report's other authors place too much emphasis on this hope. I've seen it in other reviews, where a recommendation to shift boundaries would boost enrolment in the short-term but no plan was presented to maintain that enrolment in an environment of declining enrolment.

Of course, the report's detractors also had their moment in the sun.
Christine Lett is a mother of three students at Virgil Public School and is of Mennonite background.
She said she would not like to see her children being a part of a proposed mega school as it goes against what many people in the community want.
She is also concerned discussions about locating the new elementary school—for public school students from Col. John Butler and Virgil—will delay a new school.
"Over the last two years, this council has shown it cares only about the future of NDSS and has ignored elementary students, parents and the community. Now is the time to show that you are listening and willing to act on behalf of all people because we will not be ignored in the fall." 
This is the other issue many have with the report and with NDSS supporters' tactics. They ignore that the elementary school communities in NOTL told the District School Board of Niagara what they wanted and some of those requests are in different phases of implementation. The drive to save the high school ignores saving the model of education many parents have also supported in other facilities. The folks at SOS do a consistent job of advocating for all (and presenting all the information they can get their hands on), supporting schooling within the municipality at all levels, not just the ones that favour one particular facility.
The development of this report has also drawn interest among locals of filing a request to the town's closed-meeting investigator, since the report was developed by a committee of council that met, likely illegally, behind closed doors. I have offered some support to those individuals considering this and hope they follow through so council can get a spanking if it merits one.


Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me!

We all support all levels of schooling.

The town paid for the new gym and entrance at Virgil public over 20 years ago.

I have made the DSBN come to the school several times because of water leaks and bad air...etc.

your very one sided HUGO and you shouldn't rely on one source of information from SOS ppl don't you have other sources???

Education Reporter said...

Anon 19 Feb. 07:10
I do have other sources-- they e-mail me.

I link to SOS because they've been consistent in supporting all schools. Their criticism of the town report is that it ignores the wish of others -- in fact sacrifices it -- to sustain NDSS.

If that's the one sentence you're choosing to harp on, feel free. Re-read the rest of the post however, which presents -- based on local media coverage -- other information.

So no, I'm not kidding you.