Saving a school is hard work. It’s worth it.

Front of Madoc Township Public School

Madoc Township Public School, an excellent rural school that was built in 1961 and is threatened with closure at the end of the current school year. Let’s hope we can change that.

I am stunned by the number of people who read and shared my post from yesterday about the local public school board’s proposal to close Madoc Township Public School. Never has anything I’ve written in the almost five years that Meanwhile, at the Manse has been in existence come near to reaching an audience of that size. What does that tell me? It tells me that people care deeply about either the plight of rural schools in general in Ontario, or the specific plight of Madoc Township Public School – or more probably, both.

Even though I normally write only once a week, I thought I should update readers on developments that have taken place since yesterday’s post was written. I also wanted to offer some thoughts on how those who want to save our school might tackle the mission.

First, I want to say that I have thought better of my choice of words for the headline on yesterday’s post: “They want to close our school. We can push back.” Yes, it is 100-per-cent true that the recommendation that went before trustees on the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board yesterday was that the Township school be closed, that its students be bused to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc, and that all grades 7 and 8 students from both schools’ catchment areas be moved to the high school in Madoc, Centre Hastings Secondary.

But then again, does anyone – the paid school-board administrators or the trustees who are elected by you and me to sit on the board and make the decisions – really want to close a school? I’m sure they don’t, given how much upset and outrage such moves always entail. This recommendation comes because our school board and many others are battling serious financial issues and a funding arrangement with the provincial government that severely limits the boards’ options. As a result, having thought about it quite a bit, I’ve modified that headline to read, “They say our school should be closed. We can push back.”

Now to the developments over the past 36 hours or so:

Yesterday afternoon, the school board’s school enrolment/school capacity committee received the recommendation from board administrators to begin a process called an “accommodation review” of schools in three areas: ours (that is, the Madoc area), Belleville, and Prince Edward County. This “accommodation review” (what does that mean, anyway?) is a process that will look at the feasibility of acting on the administrators’ recommendations that come with it, which involve closing quite a few schools and consolidating students elsewhere. (You can read a full report about it here.)

The committee did accept the recommendation – though I am pleased to say that the trustee who represents schools (including Madoc Township P.S.) and families in our area, Bonnie Danes, voted against it, expressing concerns about the loss of this important part of the rural community – and it then went before the full board last night. The board too gave the green light to the “accommodation reviews.”

Now, it’s very important to explain that school closures are a long way from a done deal at this point. The board’s vote last night merely sets the wheels in motion, and begins a process that will involve public consultation. Here, in fact (from the full report presented to the board, which you can read here), is the timeline. As you’ll see, the final and decisive vote won’t happen until this coming June:

school-review-timeline-page-1

school-review-timeline-page-2Another development since last I wrote is that Hastings County council also had a meeting, this very day. At it, as you can read here, councillors from our neck of the woods expressed what the Intelligencer‘s headline calls “deep concerns” about the proposed school closures. The councillors voted to meet with the school board to talk about the issues, and if necessary, to take their concerns to Ontario’s minister of education. To which I say: good for them. The mayor of Tweed, the municipality of which Queensborough is a part, said it well: “It does (affect) the community when you lose a school.”

That’s the thing, isn’t it? Rural communities like ours in Tweed, Madoc, Madoc Township and, yes, Queensborough, are thinly populated, and services and amenities are few and scattered. People who live here don’t – for the most part – complain about that; we make the best use we can of the services and amenities we do have. I’m thinking here of (to throw out just a few examples) the first-rate medical centre we have in Madoc. And the 24-hour grocery store that has saved my life (or at least my supper) more than once. And an incredible winery just up the road in the hamlet of Sulphide that is poised to become world-famous. And fantastic public libraries in Madoc and Tweed. And so on.

Our schools are among the most precious of our local services. The economies of our rural municipalities need people to come and live and work and open businesses and pay taxes here. If we lose schools, people with families (or who might someday have families) are less likely to do that. And then things just get worse. On the other hand, a vote of confidence in a school is a huge vote of confidence in the community it serves, and can be a major shot in the arm to that community’s economy and well-being and future.

Does the Ontario government want to support rural economies and rural life? Let’s hope the answer to that is yes. Let’s hope that the protests on behalf of rural schools that took place at Queen’s Park yesterday (yet another development in the past 36 hours) will have an impact.

Meanwhile, what can we, as ordinary folks who live in a rural area, do to try to save Madoc Township Public School? As you’ll have seen from the school board’s timeline, over the coming months there will be quite a few board meetings and consultation meetings and “public” meetings (I put “public” in quotation marks because all of these meetings are, or should be, open to the public – the people who, through their property taxes, pay the freight). We need to attend those meetings. And we need to come prepared. We need, to use a classic educational turn of phrase, to do our homework.

Stomping into a public meeting and shouting, “You can’t close my school!” is not constructive, and not all that helpful to anyone. If you’re going to push back against a proposal like a school closure, you should have a workable alternative or two up your sleeve:

  • What are the reasons the board administrators have for suggesting the school be closed – the school’s drawbacks and shortcomings? What suggestions can we come up with to mitigate those?
  • What is the financial reality the board is facing? What ways can we come up with to help it achieve its financial obligations while keeping our school open?
  • Why do the board administrators think things would be better for our kids if they went to a different school? What evidence can we supply to show that this isn’t – or at least needn’t be – the case?
  • What haven’t the board administrators thought of? What interesting and creative and exciting ideas can we come up with for our school that will help it better serve our community and, at the same time, allow the board to meet its provincially set financial targets?

Creativity will be required. The proverbial thinking outside the box.

Bravery will be required. It can be scary to put forward counter-proposals to those made by educational bureaucrats who are paid to come up with them, and are well-trained in the lingo and the tactics of defending their proposals.

But politeness, and kindness, and consideration for the plight the trustees and those school-board administrators find themselves in, are also really important. A polite and constructive dialogue will generally go a lot farther in resolving a problem than will a nasty shouting match.

That said: Creativity, again. Bravery, again. And hard work (getting names on petitions; getting people out to meetings; brainstorming ideas). And research.

And most of all: a determination to stand up for what’s best for our kids and our community.

10 thoughts on “Saving a school is hard work. It’s worth it.

  1. Both my husband and I had the pleasure of attending Madoc Township School and so did both my children. It saddens me to think of this school closing. It embodies a family atmosphere as well as having the best outdoor space for recess and sports activities. To me it makes no sense to push students to an already crowded school with no outdoor space. It would make more sense to move to the Township School.

    • Hi Catherine – I certainly hope and trust that parents and other concerned community members will be organizing brainstorming sessions about saving Madoc Township Public School, and I will do my best to keep readers posted about them. And I’ll be at those meetings myself, you can be sure. But as a journalist all my adult life, I see my role as a communications one: helping get the word out about what’s happening, and perhaps helping put people with shared concerns in touch with each other with the goal of getting action. That’s the best way for me to contribute, and I hope it can and will make a difference. You and other readers shouldn’t hesitate to contact me (sedgwick.katherine@gmail.com) if you need information – I’ll try to get it for you!

  2. Many creative ideas to be had. I will put a few here. Not all original, but perhaps start the conversation on what we can do to have an edge.

    -Moving grades 7/8 from the catchment area into MTPS, to increase enrollment and take the stress off the near capacity in MPS, and of putting 7/8 into CHSS. My boy most definitely is not ready to go into high school next year!

    -coming up with plans that help pay the practical bills at MTPS as filling the funding shortfalls, as Chapman’s ice cream has come up with to try in their rural community https://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2016/11/21/scoop-on-school-closings-chapmans-ice-cream-offers-to-help.html

    -One creative idea for lowering the bills…what about using some of the ample space for alternative energy? Cover electrical and some of the heating/cooling costs.

    -Ask local contractors to take on some of the possible repairs needed as a community service/volunteer service.

    -there is much fuss about the “green economy” what can we do to make our school a model in that, and have the school functionally pay for much of its own cost? What would the legal ramifications be?

    I’m sure most of these ideas are implausible, but let’s get the ideas flowing.

  3. Katherine it is sad to think of another rural school closing. Of course my school years were at the Queensborough school but still hate to think of the Township school closing. You are such a wealth to the area and if there is any way of coming up with ideas I know you will have many and be able to present them in such a way that it will certainly have an impact on their decision. I do hope all the hard work that goes in to saving the school is not lost.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, as always, Barbara. I am hoping that many people in our area will step up and have their say on the important issue of keeping our school open – and that all our voices together will not only make a difference on the issue of Madoc Township Public School, but will help build community generally.

  4. Hi Adam,
    As a former teacher, I can offer a few suggestions to any committee or group that forms to fight the closure of the school. Let me know if I can help. One of the first things to do is download the Board’a budget to see where they actually spend money. It should be available on line, but if not, the trustee can get it for you.

    • Ruth, thank you for this, which I suspect may have started out as a response to someone commenting as this post has been shared around over Facebook in recent days. I’m sure many people would like to take part in any actions under way (or soon to be under way) to help save the school, and the question is always how to get things off the ground. Thank you for offering your expertise and suggestions!

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