Sunday, November 27, 2011

Browser tab roundup

All the latest in my browser tabs.
  • The Barrie Examiner on a new school-closure review for Catholic elementary schools in north Barrie;
  • The Kincardine News on the Bluewater DSB and the Gideons' distribution of Bibles;
  • The Sudbury Star on a Rainbow DSB decision to keep French immersion at a city school;
  • The Brantford Expositor on pending school-closure review(s) in the Brant-Haldimand-Nofolk Catholic DSB;
  • The Chatham Daily News on saving a French immersion program in Blenheim;
  • The Hanover Post on post-school review work within the Bluewater DSB to setup two K-12 schools;
  • The Fort Erie Times on a school-closure review underway in that area;
  • The Goderich Signal-Star on an Avon Maitland DSB response to a school-closure committee's request to keep one rural school open; and,
  • The North Bay Nugget runs a letter to the editor from a Near North DSB trustee speaking to the recent censure of another trustee by the board.
There are still a few more tabs open, but one is on full-day kindergarten wraparound programs in Ottawa -- to which I've also received an email from someone in Waterloo Region that deals with the same issues. The other is the recent early learning report, which really does deserve its own post and which I haven't finished reading.
Happy clicking and reading, for those who do.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Charts and more charts

The Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School folk forwarded me an interesting chart this week.
It didn't convert well to GoogleDocs, but I've posted the .xlsx document there anyway.
As the rallies continued before a board meeting Thursday, this document is being circulated.
If I've interpreted its aim correctly -- and I didn't ask for clarification -- the idea here is to shift the closure of a Peterborough school between the options available to the school-closure review committee and trustees as the latter chose an administrative recommendation to axe PCVS.
Shift which school closes and the numbers change.
Play with the number of students -- and from what the chart shows only one such survey has been conducted -- that might leave the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB and go to the Catholic system (which from what I can tell has no comparable arts program) and the numbers on the rest of the chart change. Play with the numbers from the Catholic system that have chosen PCVS' arts program in the past and the numbers change.
Why? My guess is they're trying to show a belief that closing PCVS and moving the arts programming to another school equals a loss of students to the KPRDSB.
Interestingly, though it takes these from the board-provided stats, the number that never changes is the projected student populations.
As wary as some might be to depend on projections, they're usually quite solid for high schools. The students who will attend high school in five years already exist-- they're in Grade 3 or 4 right now. Heck, the students in Grade 1 today will be in high school starting in 2019. With some variables (such as population shift/migration) to take into account, these numbers won't dramatically change. Boards also know the average number of credits taken by a high school student (since these schools are funded on figure based on the provincial average number of credits taken by a high school student). They also know, after more than five years, the average rate of Grade 12 students who return for a fifth year of high school. For most Ontario boards that I've heard of, that figure is around a 30% to 35% return rate.
Looking at the chart, 2009-10 enrolment at five schools is 4,099 FTE. In 2014-15, it's predicted to be 3,238. That's 800 fewer FTE, which in many boards across the province is larger than the average high school's population.
That's a number that shouldn't be forgotten and that won't be growing enough to change the rationale for why the review was started in the first place.
Don't trust the board numbers? OK. Let's look at the most recent census stats available from 2006 (to be updated in March 2012 from the 2011 census). You used to be able to embed the chart, but it's here.
Accounting for the five-year difference, for our purposes we take the 10-14 age cohort as the 15-19 cohort today. In 2006, there were 4,490. Going five years down the age range, it drops to 3,650. Hitting the age group that will be in high school towards the end of the date range from the board figures, the number in 2006 was 3,345. That's a difference of 1,145 to split between all the city's high schools.
My point here is you can chart and chart and chart, but nothing changes the reality that there will be far fewer high school students in five-to-10 years than there are today. In addition to other factors such as facility condition, etc., this is what drives the entire process.
With the board appearing to be committed to the survival of the arts programs at PCVS, it does seem, again, like we're talking about buildings instead of programs and people.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It never happened unless it happens to me

My heartstrings are being pulled by the rallying that is currently building and taking place in Peterborough. I've long held a soft spot for this city on the Otonabee, where I lived for just over eight months a decade ago.
The city, particularly those interested in its downtown Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School, is in the midst of a post-vote, pull-out-all-the-stops campaign to try and get an unpopular decision to close PCVS reversed.
There are petitions afoot, to be presented Dec. 5 when a group from the community travels to Queen's Park.
In the meantime, the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB carries on implementing the decision of its trustees, with the scheduling of the program for future years underway. With the ever-annoying-to-me practice of calling a review an appeal... which it's not, since it cannot reverse the decision of trustees. Only trustees could choose to do that if they wished.
Together, they show the hopes being placed behind a process that won't likely result in any reversal of the decision by a power outside the board of trustees. They also show how life goes on for the programs involved in this review while those who fight to save a building carry on their track.
This weekend, I received an email from the local committee. It's not really meant for me since I'm not reporting in the KPR district, but it's a message the communications section of the local group is sending out to media throughout the district. It was shared with me by someone who tripped across this space and has started reading past posts on accommodation reviews. I've posted it to GoogleDocs (edited to remove personal email address and names) and it's embedded below.

I find this approach interesting. I did reply, indicating that despite how nice it is to be recognized for my expertise, the save-PCVSers may not end up finding me to be their best ally. Working in the biz, I also doubted they'd get any new attention with this appeal, given the realities of chain ownership and what local papers outside of Peterborough would be focusing on for their coverage.
Despite the "we're all in this together" and "you could learn from what we're going through" sentiment, practice has shown time and again that no, you're not in it together and unfortunately, you're not learning from others' prior experience until you find yourselves in the hotseat.
Regular readers here will know what other communities across this province have been through in their valiant efforts to reverse a school board's decision. None has, to date, been successful.
Of interest, I did a cursory search of the KPRDSB website for previous accommodation reviews-- 'cause hey, if we're all in this together we should have been together all along, right?
In a few minutes I was able to find documents relating to a prohibitive-to-repair closure review dating back to 2007 for Castleton and South Cramahe schools, the launch of a review for Newtonville PS and the re-activation of a review for Young's Point PS. It leaves me to wonder whether anyone in Peterborough was paying attention when those reviews happened and was as concerned about those school closures.
Likely not.
I do wish it was different. Particularly as a reporter who's covered several rounds of school-closure reviews within the same larger community. Watching (usually metaphorically hitting my head against the wall) as the next community repeated all the same steps as the one before it, because it hadn't paid any attention to the preceding reviews since they didn't come home to roost in one's own backyard.
With declining enrolment slowing or edging towards rebounding enrolment and the ever-aging condition of schools built for baby boomers, the prospect of a school-closure review is an ever-present reality for much of this province. Municipalities need to recognize this too-- think about the fate of your existing schools as you choose to build greenfield neighbourhoods instead of infilling and intensifying existing ones. Don't wait until your school is struck to learn the basics of how this process should work or what other communities have already tried.

Getting social (with this guy)

With apologies to QMI's Gina Phillips (who has a daily "Getting social with Gina" bit in QMI papers) for the title of this post, this blog's social-media profile has changed in the past few weeks.
With Google+'s arrival earlier this year, I had initially created a profile for this blog using the Google account it was created under. Around the time that Google started telling me I had to be a real person and not a 'brand' to have a G+ account, the social-media site started allowing brand and business pages.
This blog now has such a page and if you're on Google+, you can add it to your circles.
In the world of Facebook, which in my opinion still has the better 'page' experience, I had moved to feeding my posts into my personal page, but as of recently also built a brand page around this blog.
Links to the Facebook page are to the left, and my single Twitter account will remain the source for the varied array of things I post there, including feeding this blog's posts to that stream.
Given I no longer cover this beat on a day-to-day basis for the newsroom I work in, these will help me continue building the profile of this site and the work I do here. The aim has not changed-- to be a great choice for news, analysis and opinion on K-12 education within this country with Ontario as its focus.

Voting with their feet

This is a question that's come to me a few times in recent weeks reading coverage of some ongoing school-closure reviews-- particularly the high school review being undertaken by the Grand Erie DSB for its secondary schools in Norfolk County.
Port Dover Composite is under the gun as the candidate for closure at this stage of the review. To put things into some perspective from afar, the GEDSB kept Delhi District open a few years back, voting to tear down a vacant wing and invest somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4 million on that project and some renos to the school. The school benefited when Norwich DHS, in the Thames Valley DSB, closed in 2009 and the largest group of students to be dispersed chose to start attending Delhi DSS.
The review was highlighted in my recent tab roundup, with reporting coming mainly from my colleagues at the Simcoe Reformer. The paper has posted a few more articles since I wrote that roundup-- one accusing the board of sabotaging PDCS, one on a meeting held at the school and one questioning whether the data being presented to the review committee is flawed. On the latter, the article is a bit confusing since it has the municipality acknowledging that most of the new housing has gone to older populations (who don't have school-aged kids). It seems as though the municipality's growth stats don't match the board's because it's comparing two different demographics.
From the first article:
They are also angry that the GEDSB pays for one-way busing of Port Dover students to Simcoe Composite School.
Because of this unique busing arrangement, 117 secondary students in the PDCS catchment area attend high school out of town. Were they forced to attend classes in their home town, the number of high-school students at PDCS would rise to 402, well within the board's goal of 75% capacity.
"There has been 25 years of the board surreptitiously putting nail after nail into this school," Marg Ryerse said to loud cheers in the packed gymnasium at PDCS. "As taxpayers in Port Dover we should be outraged. Port Doverites pay some of the heftiest taxes in Norfolk County. Port Dover is being shortchanged here. The board is literally driving our children away. Why is this being allowed to happen?"
GEDSB has PDCS under the microscope because there are 2,200 vacant pupil places at Norfolk's five public high schools.
This is a critique that has come up in this board and others before. Boards providing transportation from one area of the district to another that local advocates feel is overly detrimental to the local high school. I know that the GEDSB does this in Delhi, where if a student wants to access a senior-level course and is unable to (or doesn't want to wait until there's a critical mass at the school to have it offered), they are given busing to a school in Simcoe.
The critique is similar with PDCS, where students are taking advantage of the free busing.
This can be somewhat of a catch-22 for a school board. It has an obligation to serve all students through all pathways (open, workplace, college, university, academic, locally developed, etc.) regardless of what geographic area of the district their families choose as home. It has to do this within a finite amount of funding. Boards in southern Ontario can be very creative in their approaches, such as offering certain credits every other year, combining grades into one classroom, combining levels into one classroom, offering e-learning and even putting some tele/video conferencing solutions into place. At the end of the day, each of those solutions or all of them are not the solution for every student.
What can sometimes happen (and did in Norwich to some extent, according to data presented in 2004-05), is that the student body tends to sign up for the courses that are offered, regardless if that's the most appropriate course. In this example, the data showed more students taking academic and university level courses -- because that's what could be offered -- than necessarily students heading down that pathway post-grad.
Families tend to vote with their feet. If a course isn't being offered in their home school, or isn't being offered in the format they want or need and they can do so, they'll travel to get it. When you reach a critical mass of people travelling from point A to B, when do you start transporting the students in that direction? Never?
Even a 400-student school can be difficult to time table for every option.
Rather than condemning the board for this situation, I think a far more interesting question would be to ask (in this case) the almost 200 students who take advantage of the transportation why they've done so. The answers could be very, very instructional and illuminating to the committee and the school board.
It's a question that's never asked. Even a few years ago in the midst of Niagara District Secondary School stuff where census stats shows 700 high school-aged students in the catchment area and fewer than half choosing NDSS, no one asked why the other students voted with their feet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Random tab roundup

Browser-tab dump! In the following groups:
Capital / accommodation
Full-day kindergarten
Safety in schools
  • The Cornwall Standard Freeholder on the Upper Canada DSB keeping wifi networks in its schools;
  • The Sault Star on the Algoma DSB pondering surveillance cameras in some of its high schools;
  • The Peterborough Examiner on the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB's wifi study and implementation in its schools; and,
  • The Welland Tribune forshadowing a recent visit by Broten to a local elementary school.
Fiscal / governance
  • The Belleville Intelligencer on 16 layoff notices that didn't turn into callbacks;
  • The North Bay Nugget on the suspension of a trustee in the Near North DSB;
  • The Hamilton Spectator on a breach-of-conduct investigation at the Hamilton Wentworth DSB; and,
  • The Timmins Daily Press on local schools' review of new fundraising policies (a little muddled in confusing fundraising with a convicted thief who stole from athletics programs).
It feels like I just cleaned house. Will do better with this sort of aggregation in the weeks ahead, promise.

Let's move from awareness to change

Welcome to the second day of bullying awareness week.
From statements from ministers to pledge drives, to twitter hastags we keep talking about bullying-- a term that is so overused it's lost some meaning as what it truly is: harassment.
With schools often leading the way, boy have we taken on bullying. Well, awareness of this form of harassment. I think every kid in any of our school systems has most certainly heard what this behaviour is, even if they weren't listening or understanding it.
But, as Moira MacDonald asked this past weekend, the evidence on the impact of these many awareness programs and activities is scant.
While revisions to the Education and Safe Schools acts now require board in Ontario to conduct periodic scans of their student body to look at where students feel safe and don't, I'm only aware of one board that took it to the extent the Thames Valley DSB did back in 2004-05, after the death of 14-year-old Strathroy student Joshua Melo.
That board surveyed every high school student in its (then) 30 high schools, some 17,000 or so kids, asking them where they feel safe, where they don't. It identified a definition and then asked several questions on how teens responded to this behaviour.
Overall (and going from memory) the responses could be troubling. In this first survey, the responses showed one in 10 students didn't feel safe at school. Social and peer acceptance along with a fear of recrimination were the leading answers for why students didn't report being bullied or witnessing it.
Remarkably, the board also surveyed every one of its Grade 4-8 students the following year. Then, it surveyed everyone in all age groups again-- spotting some slight improvements in the responses received. Some of the programs put into place were credited with helping, most notably the TRIBES program which is now widely used across Ontario.
Now some will continue to be critical of this board and others because students are still being harassed and the overall culture within some schools and communities hasn't moved. Rightly so in those cases where an appropriate, reasoned response isn't being put in place by the school and supported by the larger community around it.
As mentioned earlier in this space, changing this behaviour of harassment is going to require more than words and pledges, as well-intentioned as they may be. It means accepting that this behaviour is prevalent across our entire society. That it's woven into our fabric, particularly in sports, political and business worlds.
Is this the generation we're raising that will guide its children away from these attitudes and behaviours? It'll take 30 years to know.
So take your pledges (I did), learn your lingo, wear your ribbons (where available) and tsk tsk in shame every time you hear of bullying. Then ask yourself whether you're actually prepared to do more. Ask whether you'd be willing to accept a consequence
Look around you for this harassment in your circles-- I guarantee you'll find it. Would you do something to change it? Would you be accountable for your own actions and behaviours if you were the harasser?
Until more of our answers start changing on those questions, I fear all the awareness in the world won't effect the change we all say is needed.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Latest capital roundup

When I'm not as attentive to this space, the open tabs on my browser for items to mention here start to pile up.
Here's a roundup of what's been crossing my desk in the past two or three weeks.
I haven't included a number of other tabs relating to a few school-closure reviews, some more on the wi-fi in schools debate, some trustees getting slapped on the wrist and the continuing PCVS coverage from Peterborough. More on those in a day or two.
Kudos to these folks for the coverage. The sexy article is the one with the crying students and parents when a decision is made to close a school. These help explain that night is not the end of the story.

Look ma, I made the radio!

It was a distinct honour to be interviewed by Barry Hennessey last week for Inside Education, a regular program broadcast on 102.3 Dublin City FM.
Hennessey scoped me out via this blog and we spoke about the 2009 PISA results.
The Irish and their recent coalition government are zeroing in on PISA results there, after a decline and some soul-searching on why that's happened and what could be done to correct it.
I hope I sound intelligent in the interview-- it was difficult to speak nationally about results in Canada given our provincial education systems, so often I did lean on my particular expertise regarding the Ontario system. We spoke about the EQAO tests, the OSSLT, the culture that might be contributing to the Canadian results.
It also allowed an opportunity to exchange information and learn a few things about what education topics are being discussed in Ireland.
Hennessey was quite surprised that we don't have many if any national education reporters here-- he contacted Katie Hammer at the Globe but she's off on a leave. So to fill in for that designation was quite a distinction.
The specific piece is here, and my interview is about 2:00 in, right after the introductions to that week's episode. It was quite a Canadian show-- the item after my interview is on interactive whiteboards and the leaders in that tech are SMART, a company with continental roots but firmly a part of Western Canada.