There’s been precisely zero publicity about this from the local public school board, so I thought I’d step into the information vacuum: This coming Thursday, Feb. 9, is the next important date in the process for determining the future of the very fine elementary school that serves our rural area, Madoc Township Public School.
It’s when the so-called “accommodation review committee” (my journalistic training to use plain English instead of bureaucratic jargon makes my fingers twitch when I type those words) meets to discuss what happens next in the board’s proposal to close Madoc Township Public School, transfer its students to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc, and transfer all Grades 7 and 8 students from both schools’ catchment areas to the high school in Madoc.
This first meeting of the committee – which is made up of community volunteers, parents, students and school representatives, as well as school-board officials – was listed on a what-happens-next PowerPoint slide at the public meeting on the closures and student moves held at the high school last month. (My report on that well-attended meeting is here.) We were told that the Feb. 9 committee meeting would be open to the public, but that the public would not be allowed to comment; the discussion is only for the members of the committee. Ever since then I’ve been waiting for the board to put out a reminder in the local newspapers and/or on its website of the meeting date, as well as its time and location. But there’s been nothing.
However, I have made inquiries of the committee and have learned that the meeting will be at Centre Hastings Secondary School starting at 6:30 p.m. Amazingly, it seems that even the committee members haven’t as of this writing been told which room in the high school will be the location, but the thought seems to be that it’ll be either the gym or the cafeteria. I hope you will join me in showing up at CHSS a bit before 6:30 p.m. Thursday, and I’m sure that together we’ll manage to track down the meeting room.
There have been quite a few developments on the whole school-closing front since the last time I wrote about it, and many of them are at least somewhat encouraging.
For one thing, the protest movement against the school-closure process laid down by the provincial government is growing. There have been many news stories all over Ontario (here‘s just one) about people fighting for their rural schools and their rural way of life, and pointing out how unrealistic a window of less than six months is for school boards to make careful, forward-looking decisions that will have a permanent effect on the people they serve – especially the children.
Joining those protests are many municipalities across the province, who are also calling on Queen’s Park to put a stop to the “accommodation” process until it can be reviewed and reworked to better meet the needs of rural students and rural regions. Locally, Prince Edward County council is among the most recent to join that movement.
Meanwhile our area’s MPP, Conservative Todd Smith, has organized a petition against rural school closures; you can sign it on his website here, and hard copies are being widely circulated (including at Smith’s office at 81 Millennium Parkway, Unit 3, Belleville.
Smith has also issued an open invitation to Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter to visit the riding to talk about the issue (you can read it here) – though I know I was not alone in being disappointed that the letter put most of the emphasis on the Prince Edward County area rather than on Madoc Township and Madoc. (I suppose that’s not so surprising seeing that in the next election Smith will be running in a newly created riding that includes southern Hastings County and Prince Edward, and does not include central Hastings where Madoc Township is located.) Now, whether a Liberal minister is likely to respond to an invitation from an opposition MPP who harshly criticizes the government at every turn, notably on the very real problem of sky-high rural electricity rates, is a good question. Maybe we in the Madoc Township area should issue our own non-partisan invitation to Ms. Hunter…
At any rate: another good development is that Madoc Township council has thrown its full support behind its school. One councillor, Carrie Smith, has written an absolutely splendid letter to the chair and all trustees on the school board, as well as to Minister Hunter. Since it’s written on official Madoc Township letterhead, I assume Smith is speaking for the full council. You can read the whole letter at the Save Madoc Township Public School Facebook page (which you should most definitely join if you care about the school), but here’s an excerpt:
“What the [school board is] proposing to do will remove the heart of our community. This plan does not propose to close A school but THE school in our municipality! We are a small rural community … When a family looks to join our community … this small highly tested school [Coun. Smith is referring to Madoc Township Public School’s recent placement at the very top of schools in the board’s jurisdiction for student test results], this is a large draw to our rural area. As one writer has mentioned before me, ‘Where is the benefit to the students?’ For the students and parents that are trying to hold on to a rural way of life, I can … see none. It is not unreasonable to state that this lifestyle is slipping from our grasp. The closure of Madoc Township Public School is just another hit to a simple way of life.”
Councillor Smith also stresses the unmatched playground facilities at MTPS – acres of green space where kids can run and play and explore the natural world:
“Should it not be imperative to the school board to encourage physical activity, especially at a time when children are experiencing obesity and other health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles? Further to this, children … are also experiencing disconnect from the natural world. Is a standard play space a barren asphalt playground or concrete slab surrounded by chain-link fence? … I strongly feel that nature-rich schoolyards can help improve physical and mental health, cognitive skills, creativity and social cohesion.”
So long story short: things are cooking. People are talking. Ideas are being discussed. The accuracy of the numbers and statistics being presented by the board about the schools is being tested. Community input is being sought. Opposition to a flawed government process is mounting, all across Ontario. There is hope, people. This not a done deal.
I’m sure that at Thursday’s meeting, a lot of information will be exchanged. We’ll learn more about what the committee members are hearing from the public, and perhaps get a sense of the board administration’s response to it. It might well serve as a launch point for a more organized response from the broader community.
I think anyone who cares about our school, its students, and our rural way of life should try his or her very best to come to Thursday’s meeting. We may not be allowed to speak – but we can listen. Really, really hard.
And then we can get to work.