The lessons of the school clo­sure scare

The Glengarry News - - Front Page - BY STEVEN WAR­BUR­TON News Staff

Al­though school clo­sures were a burn­ing is­sue a year and a half ago, the sub­ject resur­faced re­peat­edly at a trustee can­di­dates de­bate at Glen­garry Dis­trict High School in Alexan­dria last Wed­nes­day.

John Dana­her and Mar­shall Wil­son, who are hop­ing to rep­re­sent Stor­mont and Glen­garry coun­ties on the Up­per Canada Dis­trict School Board, brought the topic up sev­eral times over the course of the evening.

Mr. Dana­her, a vet­eran ed­u­ca­tor who served as prin­ci­pal of GDHS and Char-Lan Dis­trict High School in Wil­liamstown, said there was a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in 2017 when the board closed a num­ber of schools, in­clud­ing S.J. McLeod Pub­lic School in Bainsville.

“We need open com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the board and par­ents,” said Mr. Dana­her, who had re­tired when the school clo­sures took place. “I can as­sure you that didn’t hap­pen dur­ing those talks. De­ci­sions about schools should come from the com­mu­nity, not from higher up.”

Mr. Wil­son, who worked hard on the Save Our Schools cam­paign when he was a GDHS stu­dent, com­mented, “Trustees didn’t know some of the in­for­ma­tion they should have known,” ad­ding that the board mem­bers should have been more trans­par­ent with their con­stituents.

Both can­di­dates promised that if elected, they wouldn’t be bound by any gag or­ders, in­sist­ing that they would be ac­count­able to fam­i­lies first and fore­most.

While the two saw eye-to-eye on the mat­ter of trans­parency, they high­lighted dif­fer­ent is­sues.

Mr. Wil­son, a former stu­dent trustee, started his speech by mak­ing a light­hearted ref­er­ence to his youth. “I am a young man but I as­sure you I will grow out of it.” He said he would fight to res­tore Glen­garry’s bound­aries to the way they were in 2008. He also pledged sup­port for a re­build­ing of Wil­liamstown Pub­lic School. “It’s un­ac­cept­able that we’re send­ing kids to porta­bles that have mould be- cause they’re so old.”

He also sug­gested a board-wide Cana­dian Dairy Only pol­icy.

Mr. Dana­her said, “I will fight for ru­ral schools,” ad­ding that seven of his nine grand-

chil­dren are in UCDSB schools and that he doesn’t want them to be bused from Bainsville to Corn­wall so they can get an ed­u­ca­tion.

Ques­tions/an­swers

The can­di­dates were asked what they would do to in­crease the num­ber of cour­ses at lo­cal schools. Some­one men­tioned that cal­cu­lus is only avail­able at GDHS ev­ery two years.

Mr. Wil­son noted that this is a se­ri­ous prob­lem, es­pe­cially for ru­ral schools. He be­lieves that eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is im­por­tant so that com­mu­ni­ties can grow. “The larger the com­mu­nity, the more stu­dents you have so the more cour­ses you can of­fer,” he said.

He men­tioned on­line cour­ses as a po­ten­tial so­lu­tion, though he noted that they were not sus­tain­able in their cur­rent form. “There’s a lot of wig­gle room,” he said, ad­ding that the Ren­frew Dis­trict School Board has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with vir­tual class­rooms.

Mr. Dana­her blamed the prob­lem on de­clin­ing en­rol­ment, point­ing out that there are 40 per cent fewer stu­dents now than there were a gen­er­a­tion ago. “If we can’t pro­vide cour­ses stu­dents need, they won’t stay here,” he said, ad­ding that the govern­ment needs to in­vest more in ru­ral schools. At a more lo­cal level, he said Glen­garry’s two high schools could share re­sources to en­sure stu­dents get the cour­ses they need.

Re­gard­ing on­line cour­ses, he said the board is look­ing at them but the suc­cess rate is very low and that stu­dents don’t en­joy them.

The thought of shar­ing re­sources piqued the cu­rios­ity of the au­di­ence. Glen Robert­son res­i­dent Pauline Ham­ble­ton asked if ei­ther trustee would con­sider merg­ing GDHS and Char-Lan so they could of­fer more pro­grams.

Mr. Wil­son said that was a real op­tion but not the first op­tion. “There are bar­ri­ers but if it comes down to los­ing our stu­dents to an­other area, then yes, I’d be open to it if it was avail­able and nec­es­sary,” he said.

Mr. Dana­her was not as op­ti­mistic as his younger op­po­nent. He pointed out that cre­at­ing one se­condary school in Glen­garry would pose some trans­porta­tion prob­lems for stu­dents who lived in ar­eas such as Fas­sifern and Glen Wal­ter. Again, he said that the po­ten­tial isn’t in merg­ing schools, it’s in the shar­ing of re­sources. As an ex­am­ple, he men­tioned an art teacher who taught one se­mes­ter in GD and the other at Char-Lan.

Amal­ga­ma­tion?

Later, Wil­liamstown res­i­dent Todd Ro­zon took the idea even fur­ther. He pointed out that East­ern On­tario has four com­pet­ing school boards and won­dered if an amal­ga­ma­tion might be forth­com­ing. Mr. Dana­her said that de­ci­sion wouldn’t come at the lo­cal level, but he would wel­come it if he did. “We have buses go­ing down the road that are half empty,” he says. “We are strug­gling be­cause an area like Glen­garry is di­vided into four.”

Mr. Wil­son said he is a strong pro­po­nent of board merg­ers.

“I don’t see it hap­pen­ing in the near fu­ture but I see some pres­sure and I think it will hap­pen soon,” he said.

Stu­dent trans­porta­tion

The trustees were asked their views on cour­tesy bus­ing, es­pe­cially in the wake of sev­eral fam­i­lies be­ing de­nied bus­ing to GDHS.

Mr. Wil­son said he’s in favour of cour­tesy bus­ing and that there needs to be ad­di­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween govern­ment and Stu­dent Trans­porta­tion of East­ern On­tario (STEO), the or­ga­ni­za­tion that over­sees bus­ing for an­glo­phone stu­dents. Mr. Dana­her largely agreed, say­ing that STEO has to be more open to serv­ing split fam­i­lies or stu­dents who have after-school jobs.

In­ter­na­tional stu­dents

North Glen­garry Deputy-Mayor can­di­date Robert Proulx asked the can­di­dates if they would try to in­crease the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in the area. Mr. Dana­her said that in­ter­na­tional stu­dents bring a valu­able cul­ture to the school ex­pe­ri­ence.

“They bring in­ter­na­tional per­spec­tives,” he said. “They come here be­cause they want to get an On­tario diploma and to learn English.” Mr. Wil­son said he is a hun­dred per cent in favour of bring­ing in more stu­dents.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion

North Glen­garry’s in­com­ing mayor, Jamie Mac­Don­ald, asked if the trustees would be more open with mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils. “Dur­ing the school dis­cus­sions, coun­cils felt like sec­ond-class ci­ti­zens,” he said. “We weren’t re­ally kept in the loop. What will you do to make this part­ner­ship work? Mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils are com­mit­ted to keep­ing schools in the area too.” Mr. Dana­her agreed that there wasn’t a lot of in­ter­ac­tion with coun­cils. “We should be con­nect­ing on an on­go­ing ba­sis,” he said. Mr. Wil­son con­curred, say­ing that the board needs to put more value on com­mu­nity in­put. He said that ed­u­ca­tional com­mit­tees might help rec­tify that.

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