Wednesday, January 12, 2011

ARCs aplenty

Three different school-closure reviews, three different situations, three different articles.
The first, from the Orillia Packet & Times, repeats an oft-said concern about these reviews-- that they unfairly target rural schools. In this case, the schools in rural villages between Barrie and Orillia.
(Simcoe County District School Board trustee Jodie) Lloyd believes all schools, both urban and rural, are important, but like everything else, it comes down to finances. She said education is fighting against health care for every cent of provincial funding.
The SCDSC is a board that has a lot of smaller schools, many of which are facing aging infrastructure.
"We, as a board, have a very difficult time supporting these schools. It doesn't mean it's right, it doesn't mean it's the way we'd like to go. But it is a challenge we're having," Lloyd said.
Eileen Leishman, principal of Marchmont Public School, said she has seen both sides of the coin -- working in both rural and urban schools. Both are equally valuable, she said.
"I think every school has its own culture... That's the uniqueness of every building.''
Rural or not, every student, teacher, administrator, and parent loves their local school. Any school facing closure in any community would feel an impact, but it's all part of a process bigger than the individual school, she added.
I think Leishman's comment bears repeating often. I've been in many school-closure review committee meetings where rural communities (hello, Community Schools Alliance...) feel they have the monopoly on community.They don't. Every school is its own community and creates its own culture. Those cultures are different, but I've never accepted the statement that just because a school is in a rural setting its culture is automatically better.
Next up is Dunnville Chronicle coverage of the last meeting of a school-closure review in that region just beyond the Niagara Peninsula. The article reads somewhat like a blow-by-blow account of the meeting in chronological order, but the key point is that the meeting devolved into a shouting match. Rather unfortunate those in attendance were unable (or unwilling?) to discuss the issues at hand in a rational way. There's a claim the committee's vote on its report was swayed when one of the trustees on the committee announced her vote before the rest of the committee voted-- which without looking at the policies and procedures for that board wouldn't resolve whether such a practice is not allowed or simply discouraged. These reviews are important to all those involved, but no one gets anywhere, or anything, by allowing the process to be hijacked by shouting and yelling.
The third, courtesy of the Owen Sound Sun Times, is something I think every one of the over 440 municipalities in Ontario should be sent so councils could read it and consider their own actions. It's a review in the Chesley / Hanover area of the Bluewater District School Board (whose current term of trustees have promised to do better).
"Our job as the ARC is to look at those options, but we can also come up with more options of our own," (review committee co-chair Jason) Eke said. "As a committee, we need to receive public input, prepare and study the alternatives and then prepare a final report with recommendations to the Bluewater Board."
The first of at least four public meetings planned to discuss the future of Chesley's two schools, along with Hanover's three schools -- John Diefenbaker Secondary School, Dawnview Public School and Hanover Heights Community School -- will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Chesley Community Centre.
"I'll be there and I urge as many members of council as possible to be there as well," Mayor Paul Eagleson said. "This is a very important issue for Arran-Elderslie."
In other words, the municipalities should be at the table-- not just warming a chair, but bringing their own ideas, their own resources, their own recommendations. School boards must now meet with municipalities and other stakeholders annually to discuss partnership opportunities (how that looks like will differ from board to board) that might be available in schools that have excess capacity. Municipalities need to understand they have a role to play in providing recommendations, not just in complaining when the trustees don't choose the particular option(s) that either review committees or municipalities endorse.


Anonymous said...

I don't think rural communities would unanimously agree that their school culture is better, different is the key word here and on the the brink of extinction is the cry for preservation. Communities thrive and are proud of their uniqueness and distinctiveness, to disregard our cultural fabric in all its forms strictly on the basis of common CENTS will cause irreparable damage.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 13 Jan. 14:16

Good point. It's not always better or worse or whatever. It's unique. My point was that it exists-- since I've left the room many times after covering a rural review feeling like I was evil because I went to an urban school, or that I have no character because since my school was urban it had no community.

If we value preserving it, we need to do a lot more than save schools in rural areas. The schools are undoubtedly part of the mix, but they're not the single-source solution. When a rural school closes, look at what other amenities remain-- often (not always) the school is among the last to leave. The services have left, the bigger business have left, the people have left. We need to think about urbanization strategies that don't turn small villages into exclusive communities where only those who can afford a half-acre lot residence with a septic system have the money to live there. (I could go on and on and on here...)

The other question I ask is when does the need to preserve that culture, that community, take precedence over equity of access? Why are we forcing communities to make this a mutually exclusive choice? How can we have families able to access the best/newest technologies, teaching strategies, program spaces, etc. etc. in their schools without forking over a never-ending amount of a finite resource so that every cluster of houses and farms has a school around the corner?

We need a sense of balance. Not cookie-cutter schools, but a recognition that not every rural school -- whether a school consolidated in the 50s/60s or the expanded version of the one- or two-room schoolhouses of yore -- needs to exist (same can be said for some urban schools) where it does today for the culture and community of a rural school to be perpetuated.

If people refuse to participate in the school-closure review process, then that will never happen.


Anonymous said...

Hi Hugo,

Here's something on the Bluewater ARC from our local radio station.

Having covered the local Accommodation Review process actually BEFORE it even got started, I believe helped the process run as smoothly as it did for folks here.

The board would like NEVER admit it but I believe that media attention ahead of, during and post-reviews sometimes can help steer things and explain things better and from a perspective from the outside looking in.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your coverage of the Accommodation Review in Chesley/Hanover. I believe it's important to keep in perspective the valuation framework established by board policy. This includes the value of the school to the student, the community, the board, and the local economy. It's also important to keep in focus, not only the educational programming but also the well-being of the students.
You can follow the Hanover/Chesley Accommodation Review from the Arran-Elderslie perspective at

- Jason Eke
Co-Chair Chesley/Hanover ARC

Education Reporter said...

CC: Boards admitting that media can shape one of their policy or political processes in a positive way? What a shocker. :)

Thanks for your comment. My observation over the last three years, and one of the things I would remove from the provincial guidelines entirely, is the valuation exercise. It's a waste of committee time that doesn't bring any valuable options to the table. What community is ever going to give a low grade to at least three of the four components used to determine a school's supposed value? Could you see an ARC ever saying, "The value of our school to the student is nothing," or "We believe the value of our school to the community is negligible."? I would have a litter of kittens if I ever saw a school community say that.

Schools are valuable to their communities, period.

The questions school-closure reviews need to tackle is to develop a series of suggestions on how to keep that school viable on a five- to 10-year horizon (at least) given the condition of the physical building and the challenges posed by declining student populations and educational program needs.

Getting distracted by trying to characterize and quantify how much you value your school has, based on my observations, often proven quite redundant.


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