Locals plead with committee to save Glengarry schools
BY STEVEN WARBURTON
Staff Brian Caddell drew a standing ovation Monday evening after urging the Upper Canada District School Board to save both Maxville Public School and Glengarry District High School.
Mr. Caddell and Jeff Manley, two former Glengarry District teachers who are now North Glengarry Township councillors, made the last of 10 presentations during a meeting of the board’s accommodation review committee ( ARC) at General Vanier School in Cornwall.
The pair spent much of their time talking about how important the schools are for North Glengarry, particularly when it comes to economic growth.
“Growth in Alexandria and Maxville has been stifled for decades because of two issues,” Mr. Manley said. “Providing municipal water in Maxville and having an adequate sewer system in Alexandria.”
Mr. Manley added that the township has been “closer than ever” in securing this funding from upper government levels and that it has even hired the Daisy Group (Warren Kinsella’s communications firm) to make this possible. He said that North Glengarry is poised for massive growth due to its proximity to Ottawa and Montréal’s West Island, saying that many families from those areas want to come to this region so they can raise and educate their children in a rural setting.
Mr. Manley said that the township’s planning department has received dozens of building applications for Alexandria and Maxville and has had to turn them down because of lack of capacity.
Now that it’s on the precipice of growth, Mr. Manley says the only missing puzzle piece is the status of the two schools.
“If both schools are closed, North Glengarry will have one public school [Laggan] serving 12,000 residents,” he said. “Growth in North Glengarry is growth of the Upper Canada District School Board.”
Mr. Caddell spent his time talking about Ontario Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter’s whirlwind visit to Glengarry two weeks ago, when she visited GDHS and Char- Lan District High School. He pointed out that when asked how she intended to respond to the concerns brought to her from community members, “perhaps not surprisingly, the minister responded exclusively to all questions that she would trust in the school board to make the best decisions regarding programming for the students.”
Mr. Caddell said this response was designed to save money for the province. He added that students in Maxville and GD don’t have any programming issues and that GD graduates are doing quite well.
He ended his presentation by urging the school board to put people ahead of dollars. “This will be your legacy,” he urged.
The evening’s very first presentation – made by Maxville Chamber of Commerce representative Loretta Landmesser and by Maxville Public School parent council director Gina Dragone and her daughter, Grade 3 Maxville student Isabella Bayne – presented a four-point plan to help save Maxville Public. The strategy involves demolishing an extraneous part of the school (which would bring the building’s capacity from 300 to 169 pupils), incorporating French immersion, providing child care services (there are 36 children in immediate need of this) and by restoring boundaries in order to bring in students from St-Isidore (otherwise these kids would need to go to Roxmore, which is 50 km away).
Ms. Landmesser’s presentation dovetailed with Mr. Manley’s comments when she spoke about North Glengarry’s ongoing quest to bring water and an upgraded sewage system into the township.
“Closing these schools could jeopardize the grant application,” she said. “Why would the government grant that to a community with no schools?”
Later, Sally Booth and Alyson Graham made a presentation called Education Beyond the Walls, which championed Glengarry District High School as being an ideal school to live up to various objectives put forth by the Ministry of Education.
After pointing out the importance of experiential learning, co- op opportunities, and French language immersion, the two stressed that Alexandria is a great place to accomplish all of these objectives. The school’s proximity to various co-op employers coupled with its strong bilingual history and its relatively rural setting are all unique to the area. The two pointed out that these would not be available if students were to be transferred to Tagwi or Vankleek Hill.
Char- Lan District High School also had its fair share of supporters at the meeting. Indeed, there were nearly four rows of gold- and- blue clad supporters cheering on various delegations.
Todd Rozon and Tara McRae, both members of Char-Lan’s class of 1989, drew applause when they talked about the strong history of the school. The two presented local survey results which showed that if the UCDSB goes ahead with its proposal (which involves closing Char- Lan District High School and eventually renovating Williamstown Public) that 82 per cent of Williamstown Public parents would move their children to coterminous boards. At the Char-Lan level, that figure rises to 84 per cent.
As an alternative to closure, the pair championed a K-12 model for Char-Lan (see related story on page 5).
Tara McArthur and Ian MacMillan, also former CharLan graduates, spent much of their time trumpeting the school’s success and how it’s currently beating provincial and board averages in a number of categories. An example: Over the past five years, CharLan enjoyed a graduation rate of more than 90 per cent. At the provincial and board levels, that rate was under 85 per cent.
They also talked about the school’s High Skills Major programs – in Heath and Wellness and in Agriculture – and how they have produced a higher than average number of “red seal students.” In Char-Lan’s case, 32 per cent of last year’s graduating class held that distinction.
The two ended their presentation by talking about Char-Lan’s future and how technology might enable it, and other small schools, to embrace the concept of “virtual classrooms.”
On a more broad level, Dr. Claude Manigat (a psychiatrist) and Dr. Anna Williams (a dermatologist) spoke about the unspoken benefits of smaller schools. The two painted a picture about how longer bus rides and moving students into larger schools can have a domino effect on students’ overall health.
Dr. Williams said that the longer a student is on a bus, the more time they will spend being inactive. She added that boredom on the bus can prompt negative social interaction that bus drivers would have a great deal of difficulty keeping under control.
The pair maintained that smaller schools are better because they foster a sense of belonging and also, in a roundabout way, encourage students to be more active. They noted that when you close down five schools, you also close down five soccer teams. The students who formally played might find it difficult to secure a spot on the bigger school’s more elite soccer team.
The ARC will present its findings to the UCDSB, which will use it to prepare a final staff report, which will be presented on Feb. 15. A final decision will be made on March 23.
ROBBIE BURNS DAY: John Wylie of Vankleek Hill gets some pointers on haggis tossing from Helen Kaufman, also of Vankleek Hill, at the Robertson-Clark building in Dalkeith on Saturday morning. The event was a Robbie Burns Day celebration that also...
CLASS OF 1989: Tara McRae and Todd Rozon, both members of Char-Lan District High School’s graduating class of 1989, fought to keep their old school from closing at an accommodation review committee in Cornwall on Monday evening.