Burling­ton coun­cil­lor re­futes con­flict con­cerns

Mar­i­anne Meed Ward urges par­ents and stu­dents to learn the facts be­fore judg­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - MAR­I­ANNE MEED WARD

Re: OPIN­ION: School clo­sures raise con­flict of in­ter­est con­cern, May 7, 2017

The po­ten­tial clo­sure of two high schools in Burling­ton is too im­por­tant an is­sue fac­ing our kids and our com­mu­nity to have cov­er­age re­duced to per­sonal at­tack pieces in the op-ed pages. Emo­tions in our com­mu­nity are al­ready run­ning high, with neigh­bours pit­ted against each other in a process that needs im­prove­ment.

The crit­i­cisms against me per­son­ally are, in a word, base­less. They’re a dis­trac­tion from the im­por­tant is­sues we should be dis­cussing as a com­mu­nity.

The com­men­tary com­bines con­jec­ture with as­sump­tion of mo­tive and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the city of Burling­ton’s draft Coun­cil Code of Con­duct, which doesn’t pre­vent vol­un­teer ac­tiv­ity and af­firms that coun­cil­lors “may be called upon” to as­sist com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tions or groups in var­i­ous ways, in­clud­ing events, fundrais­ing and ad­vice.

Our ex­pe­ri­ence in Burling­ton has shown it only takes a few neg­a­tive voices to turn a dis­cus­sion nasty, which cre­ates a chill on di­a­logue; why par­tic­i­pate if you could be the next tar­get? Our com­mu­nity needs par­tic­i­pa­tion from ev­ery­one; ad­vo­cat­ing for your school is part of that. When voices go silent, that di­min­ishes us all.

There are im­por­tant lessons for our kids here: stick to the is­sues and the facts; ac­cept di­ver­sity of per­spec­tive, and be re­spect­ful of oth­ers when you dis­agree. As adults we can help by mod­el­ling the be­hav­iour we want to see.

Let’s keep our fo­cus where it should be: on the stu­dents who will be af­fected by any de­ci­sion made on school clo­sures.

While there have been opin­ion pieces in th­ese pages, there’s been lit­tle in the way of news cov­er­age of the sit­u­a­tion in Burling­ton. Here’s an in­tro­duc­tion to what res­i­dents should know to par­tic­i­pate in the di­a­logue and pro­vide in­formed feed­back to de­ci­sion-mak­ers.

The Hal­ton District School Board of Trus­tees voted to start a re­view of Burling­ton’s seven high schools last Oc­to­ber to deal with two is­sues: en­rol­ment and pro­gram­ming. The Di­rec­tor of Education’s ini­tial re­port iden­ti­fied 1,800 empty pupil spa­ces with en­rol­ment pro­jected to con­tinue to de­cline, re­sult­ing in im­pact on course of­fer­ings and the range of sub­jects stu­dents can take. One school is over­ca­pac­ity.

A com­mit­tee of 14 par­ents — two from each school — came to­gether to re­view op- tions, sug­gest new ones, and bring for­ward in­put from res­i­dents. I served as one of two par­ent vol­un­teers from my son’s school. Our meet­ings took place in pub­lic and the min­utes are posted on­line.

The com­mit­tee for­warded five op­tions for the Di­rec­tor of Education to con­sider, in­clud­ing clos­ing no schools, clos­ing one school (two op­tions) and clos­ing two schools (two op­tions).

The Di­rec­tor ’s fi­nal re­port to Trus­tees was re­leased May 12. Below is a sum­mary of his rec­om­men­da­tions. I en­cour­age ev­ery­one to read the re­port for your­self and draw your own con­clu­sions:

• Robert Bate­man High School closes in 2019 and stu­dents shifted to Nel­son, MM Robin­son and Burling­ton Cen­tral high schools. In ad­di­tion to reg­u­lar pro­gram­ming, two “com­pos­ite” schools would be cre­ated — in the South at Nel­son and in the North at MM Robin­son, to of­fer a full range of pro­grams sup­port­ing stu­dents with spe­cial needs to at­tend schools closer to their homes. A sec­ond site would be added for the Es­sen­tial Pro­gram and the LEAP pro­gram. Fa­cil­i­ties at Nel­son and MM Robin­son would be en­hanced as needed for the Com­mu­nity Path­ways Pro­gram (CPP) and tech­no­log­i­cal education pro­grams. Stu­dents in the CPP pro­gram would be “grand­fa­thered” to move to­gether to Nel­son re­gard­less of whether they live in the com­mu­nity.

• Lester B Pear­son High School closes in 2018 and stu­dents shifted to MM Robin­son.

• Burling­ton Cen­tral High School re­ceives the In­ter­na­tional Bac­calau­re­ate pro­gram.

• Aldershot High School to be ex­plored as a site for a mag­net pro­gram or themed school, with de­tails com­ing back to trus­tees in early 2018.

• French Im­mer­sion re­moved from Dr. Frank Hay­den Sec­ondary School to ad­dress over­ca­pac­ity; stu­dents in Grade 10, 11, 12 grand­fa­thered at Hay­den till grad­u­a­tion.

The trus­tees will vote on th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions June 7, so there is still time for res­i­dents to pro­vide in­put.

Does the rec­om­men­da­tion re­solve the two is­sues that started the re­view — low en­rol­ment and op­por­tu­nity to en­hance pro­gram de­liv­ery and learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties? Does the rec­om­men­da­tion im­prove education for stu­dents for the long term? The com­mu­nity is di­vided on that point. Th­ese are dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions to have, but so im­por­tant for our en­tire city.

We don’t have to agree — but we should cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where di­verse per­spec­tives can be aired. We can make it more wel­com­ing for ev­ery­one to par­tic­i­pate — in­clud­ing our chil­dren — by stick­ing to the is­sues, read­ing source doc­u­ments for our­selves, avoid­ing per­sonal at­tacks and mod­el­ling re­spect­ful dis­cus­sion.

Mar­i­anne Meed Ward served as a par­ent vol­un­teer on the Pro­gram & Ac­com­mo­da­tion Re­view Com­mit­tee, and is a city coun­cil­lor in Burling­ton.


Stu­dent Kr­ish Gandhi hollers at pass­ing cars dur­ing the sup­port rally for Robert Bate­man high school held in early May.

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