They say our school should be closed. We can push back.

Madoc Township Public School

Madoc Township Public School, opened in 1961 to serve students from the rural area that includes Queensborough. Will this be its final year of operation?

The place where I began my school days, where I learned cursive writing and the times tables and long division and the parts of a flower and the life cycle of a monarch butterfly and how to say “Je m’appelle Katherine” and how to play Red Rover – that school is threatened with being closed at the end of the current school year. And I am very sad about that.

Well, sad – and mad. And mad not necessarily for the reasons you might suspect.

Me in front of Madoc Township Public School

Me in front of my old school.

The school in question is Madoc Township Public School, located a little west of the hamlet of Hazzards Corners, south of the hamlet of Eldorado, and north of the village of Madoc – pretty much dead centre in Madoc Township. That central location is deliberate, because the school was built in 1961 as a big (by the day’s standards) modern central facility to replace the one-room schoolhouses where until then the children of Madoc Township had received their primary-school education – schools at Hart’s, Cooper, O’Hara’s and so on. (I know those geographical references won’t mean anything to readers from outside central Hastings County, but please bear with me on this: they mean a lot to the people who live where I do.)

As time went on, children from one-room schools a little further afield were also moved to Madoc Township Public School. That was the case in 1966 for kids from Queensborough; our hamlet’s one-room school, built in 1901 (and now the Queensborough Community Centre) was closed that summer, and so in September I, along with all the other kids from the village, climbed aboard a big yellow bus to attend the new school a few miles west of us. I was just starting Grade 1 – we didn’t yet have kindergarten – so Madoc Township Public School was my very first educational experience.

I have the happiest of memories of those school years. Educational standards at Madoc Township Public School were high; our principal, the redoubtable Florence McCoy, demanded the best of her staff and students even as she set and encouraged an atmosphere of friendship and support for all. Florence McCoy, who emigrated as a young single woman from Northern Ireland and built a life on the far side of the Atlantic as a hugely respected educator and member of our local community, is one of my all-time heroes. Here she is surrounded by her staff at the time I began school there:

Staff of Madoc Township Public School

The staff of Madoc Township Public School, c. 1966-67: back row, from left, Anna Carman, Sadie Miller, Vera Burnside, Monica Tobin and Evelyn Boyle; front row, from left: Irene Reid, principal Florence McCoy and Gayle Ketcheson. As I’ve said before: best teachers ever.

So you’re probably thinking I’m mad about the threatened closing of Madoc Township Public School because it’s my old school. I expect there’s a bit of that running around in my head and heart, and I don’t know how there couldn’t be. But what I’m really mad about is this being yet another undermining of our rural way of life here in our historic North of 7 part of the world.

Here’s what we know as of this writing about the possible fate of our local school:

A report has been prepared for the school enrolment/school capacity committee of the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board (which oversees all public schools throughout those two counties) recommending several school closings and consolidations because of declining enrolment and the cost of maintaining aging school buildings. The recommendation that affects us here in the Queensborough/Madoc Township area is this (and here I am quoting from the document prepared for the committee):

  • Close Madoc Township Public School and consolidate students to Madoc Public
    School for September 2017.
  • Relocate Grade 7 and 8 students from Madoc Public School to Centre Hastings
    Secondary School, creating a Grade 7-12 model, for September 2017.
  • Explore opportunities for community partnerships aligned with the 2015-2020
    Strategic Plan priorities.

(I have no clue what that third recommendation means. As a journalist who covered the education beat for several years, I learned that there is no human organization more given to bureaucratic bafflegab than school boards.)

Now, I also attended Madoc Public School; that’s where students from Madoc Township P.S. went for grades 7 and 8 when I was a kid here, and that’s still what happens now, more than four decades later. It’s a happy little school, like Madoc Township, and I bear it no malice as I voice my opposition to our school being closed and its students sent there.

But Madoc Public School is almost at capacity now (unlike Madoc Township, or Centre Hastings Secondary School, which is the immediate neighbour of Madoc P.S.), and more to the point, it has almost no land. Its playground area is absolutely minimal – whereas one of the wonderful things about Madoc Township Public School is that it was built in the middle of farm fields and wide open spaces. Here’s just one area of the playground:

playground at Madoc Township Public School

Oh my goodness, what fun we used to have on “Field Day” at Madoc Township Public School, with those wide-open fields for races, high jumping, long jumping and so on. And we played ball in our own ball diamond too!

And here’s another:

Soccer field at Madoc Township Public School

The soccer field at Madoc Township Public School.

And that’s not all of it! There is a lot of space for kids to play at that school.

Now, don’t you think that at a time when kids are getting very little exercise and having a hard time focusing their brains because of the constant distraction of the phones and screens they spend their lives in front of (much like their parents and, let’s face it, all of us), a school with magnificent wide open spaces for good old-fashioned play is – well, a good thing?

Founders' plaques at Madoc Township Public School

Plaques paying tribute to the founders of Madoc Township Public School – including, of course, its founding principal, Florence McCoy.

So I’m mad about this great school, in its unparalleled natural setting, possibly being closed.

And I’m mad about the loss of a rural institution. God knows we here in rural Ontario have enough to contend with – high hydro rates; businesses that struggle to survive in the shadow of people’s incomprehensible (to me, anyway) determination to drive 35 miles to Walmart rather then buying local; less-than-great access to health services – without losing our community school too.

I’ve mentioned that once upon a time I was an education reporter who covered school boards for my local newspaper. One thing I learned from that experience is that nothing gets people more riled up than the threat of their kids’ school being closed. Another, more important, thing that I learned is that if you fight hard enough, you can sometimes win. The school board is directed by paid bureaucrats who make recommendations (like closing Madoc Township Public School); but the actual decisions are made by the trustees elected by you and me, and those trustees’ job is to represent the wishes and needs of their constituents.

On that note, here, central Hastings County, are your local trustees on the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board, along with their contact information:

Bonnie Danes (who once taught at Madoc Township Public School):
Phone: 613-472-6107
Email: bdanes@hpedsb.on.ca

Justin Bray:
Phone: 613-478-3696
Email: jbray@hpedsb.on.ca

I believe you should let them know what you think.

I believe you should, if you have the time, let all the other board trustees know what you think; you can find their contact information (as I did for Bonnie Danes and Justin Bray) at the school board’s website here. (Also: board chair Dwayne Inch is at 613-476-5174, dinch@hpedsb.on.ca; the top bureaucrat at the board, director of education Mandy Savery-Whiteway, is at 1-800-267-4350, x2201, directors.office@hpedsb.on.ca.)

If you can manage it, go to the meetings where this important decision will be discussed; there is great power in numbers, and in representation. The first such meeting (which crops up rather suspiciously soon, in my view, after the news about the planned closures emerged late this past Friday) is supposed to take place this very day (Monday, Nov. 21 – though the current weather situation might have an impact) at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute in Picton at 3:30 p.m., when the aforementioned school enrolment/school capacity committee meets. That will be followed later today by a full meeting of the board, also at PECI in Picton, at 7 p.m.

At those meetings and the others that will follow, make your case for why Madoc Township Public School is a vital part of our community. Elect spokespeople. Organize. Don’t be intimidated by anyone who might suggest they know more about our school, or the needs of our community, than we do.

I think we should stand up for our school, and for the sustainability of our rural way of life. It’s important. Let’s not give up without a fight.

14 thoughts on “They say our school should be closed. We can push back.

  1. Hi there Katherine…kind of wish we were on that bus to the rally in Queen’s Park today, you and I could tell them about #urbanexodus ! The same issue is facing rural hamlets all around me, and our local school, Sweets Corners Elementary School, is on the potential elimination list – All I have to say is #KeepSweets #ONrural

    • Hi Liz – indeed, news of that Queen’s Park rally came a bit too late for people in this area who’d just got word of the possible school closures here. But let’s hope the movement continues and grows. I am encouraged by the many voices being raised in defence of rural schools, and I hope the government will take notice and help school boards find ways to support rural communities in this way. Good luck with saving Sweets Corners Elementary!

  2. What a great post! I also find it troubling that they would choose to have the meeting all the way down in Prince Edward County, which will definitely impact the number of people who would attend. Families affected by the Madoc Township PS closure would need to drive up to 1.5 hours EACH WAY to attend this meeting – a meeting that begins during work hours. This will most certainly limit the numbers who would attend. If they had that meeting in the middle of the HPEDSB area, it would be much closer to…oh, I don’t know…Madoc. Very frustrating!

    • I agree, Sue, though it’s only fair of me to say that the vast majority of the proposed school changes are in the Belleville area and Prince Edward County, so for most of the families affected overall the meeting was not quite so out of the way. And there was a good turnout of concerned parents, which is heartening. Still, it does feel like we here north of 7 get left out so often. Anyway, now that the official process is under way, there will be meetings in this area (and at the board offices in Belleville, I assume), and I am hoping and trusting that lots of people from our community will turn out and make their voices heard.

  3. The school is really not that old, besides your messing with history, lives, and community needs. If you close the school then we’re would you transport these poor children. They need there sleep and to eat the most important meal of the day. Transporting them furth away they are going to give up breafast to get that little exstra sleep. The kids are going to stop feeling safe if stupid politicstions keep taking away thinks in there life. Our one most important thing is our health system, uses screwed with that, now you want to screw with one of the most inpotant second things. What kind ôf fuchure will there child have. Use need to STOP.

    • Hi Kimberly – you’re right; compared to many of the board’s schools, Madoc Township P.S. was built relatively recently, and it’s in pretty good shape. The argument will be made that all its students are bused anyway so what difference does it make to bus them to a different school (i.e. Madoc P.S.), but as you say, for kids coming from the more northerly areas, it will be a still longer ride on the bus and a longer school day.

  4. It’s a huge waste of tax dollars and there are less than 100 students enrolled. The building is not in good condition either. Yes, it sucks to lose a part of local history, but from a financial and safety standpoint, they’re crazy not to close it. Schools close all the time, this is just a step towards being able to use taxpayer’s money in a way that benefits the students more, such as new books and technology, instead of blowing it on extra staffing that isn’t required, and building maintenance for an old school.

    This closure is long overdue.

    • According to the school board’s recent report, there were 101 students enrolled at Madoc Township Public School for the 2015-16 school year (I don’t know why the report didn’t use figures for the current year), and the school’s capacity is 161 students. So if it had 60 more students, it would be fully utilized. At that rate, an influx of only four or five young families with, say, two or three kids each would make a significant difference. If the Madoc-Madoc Township area has facilities and supports to welcome and encourage young families to move there – like jobs, housing and yes, schools – I believe that families will come. As for the building not being in good condition – well, I would not agree, and I think I am not alone in that. I suspect it is in better overall condition than Madoc Public School, and it most definitely has far superior playground and outdoor facilities for its students.

  5. Here are some “reasons” for keeping MTPS open:

    1. Madoc Public is overcrowded with insufficient school yard space.

    2. There hasn’t been any high school courses [ie, french, shop, math] offered to the grade 8 students since CHSS switched to the semester system in Sept 1978.

    3. Many PARENTS perceive high school students to be a negative influence [ie, smoking, profanity, violence] for their elementary students which would seem to be especially problematic to them with CHSS right next door.

    4. The traffic congestion at the start & end of the day is quite severe & potentially hazardous on Baldwin St in Madoc

    5. The land on which Madoc public sits is commercially quite valuable [hmmm…suitable for a Long Term Care facility?].

    6. MTPS has a much bigger yard, including a track. Extra land is readily available if ever needed.

    7. Kindergarten students at MTPS already ride a bus; this shouldn’t be a problem for the town kids either.

    8. The rural setting of MTPS is much healthier.

  6. Hi Katherine: I’m sorry to hear of this news, as I know how much the school means to you and so many other people in your area. And, the school has so much land, so much free space for the kids to enjoy a decent playground, track & field activities, baseball, etc. I just took a Google Earth aerial look at the Madoc Public School, and I was quite surprised to see how big it’s become over the years. They’ve expanded into what was part of a large playground, so I can see how their free space has decreased a great deal. And don’t they consider over-crowding of of classes when they make these decisions??

    I wish you and the others the very best in your efforts to get the “higher ups” to reconsider the proposal. Although, I’m afraid to say, that this reminds me of when it was announced that Belleville’s B.C.I.&V.S. would close. I just hope the Madoc Township school can be saved and will continue to serve a very valuable part of people’s lives in the MTPS area.

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