Well, folks, here’s your latest update from the front lines of observing the process set in motion by our local public school board regarding the future of the schools in Madoc and area – which is, of course, where Queensborough is. Of particular interest and concern to most of the people I know is the future of Madoc Township Public School, where the young people of Queensborough and surrounding areas have been receiving an outstanding education in a splendid natural setting for more than 50 years. The school board is considering a proposal from its administration to close Madoc Township Public School, bus its students into the village of Madoc to attend Madoc Public School, and move all of the local Grades 7 and 8 students into the local high school, Centre Hastings Secondary.
(You can read lots of background information on all this by scrolling down on the home page of Meanwhile, at the Manse to the “Categories” section on the right-hand side, and then clicking on the “Madoc Township Public School” category.)
If you read my post last Tuesday, you’ll know that this past Thursday (Feb. 9) was the date the school board had set for the first meeting of its “accommodation review committee.” That committee, made up of the principals of the three schools as well as parent and school-council representatives, teachers, non-teaching school employees, students and community members, is the body that is supposed to consider the board’s plans, consult with the community, and offer the board advice in advance of a final decision that’s to be made this coming June. (That is, unless the provincewide protests against this so-called “accommodation” process, which will see large numbers of schools closed and students bused to more distant classrooms, make enough of a dent on the Wynne government’s consciousness that it comes to its senses and presses the pause button, allowing decisions on the future of schools, and by extension entire communities, to be made in a smarter, more reflective, more consultative and more forward-looking way.)
The meeting was open to the public, though the public was not allowed to speak. Instead, we observed from the chairs set up at the rear of the CHSS gym. It was an interesting evening.
The first thing we observed was that the representatives of the three schools had been directed to three separate tables. More on that in a bit.
The next thing we observed was the members of the committee opening great big information packages as the meeting began, and ruffling through many pages of documents. It was clear to any observer that this material was all new to the committee members, and I know I wasn’t alone in wondering why on earth the board administrators who prepared the packages couldn’t have sent them the material ahead of time, so they’d have had time to review it before the meeting.
Then we all sat through board administrators reading their prepared responses to the questions that had been raised at the lively public meeting Jan. 18 that was the kickoff to this process. That took the best part of an hour, and it would take me an age to report it all. However, you can read the answers for yourself at this page on the board’s website. I leave it to you to decide if the answers are satisfactory – and if you think they aren’t, I strongly urge you to contact – preferably by phone, because it makes more of an impact than email – one or more of the members of the accommodation committee, and/or your local school trustee, and/or other school trustees, and/or school-board administration, and/or your local municipal councillors, and/or your local member of provincial parliament, and/or the Ontario education minister, and/or Premier Kathleen Wynne. As I’ve said before, if we don’t make a loud noise about this, the government is not going to pay us any mind.
Okay, so: the next thing on the agenda was for the three separate tables to hold an hour-long discussion in which they were asked to come up with what they see as the pros and cons of the board administration’s recommendation, as well as any questions they might have. And this they did, while we members of the public quietly chatted amongst ourselves, catching up on local news and commenting on the proceedings.
An hour later, it was time for the reports and questions from the three groups. I won’t go through everything that was said (I don’t have that much time), but I will tell you that what was said and asked was uniformly impressive. And you know what else I was struck by? The spirit of co-operation. There was no sense that one table – representing one school – was out to get the other ones – no sense that people were there just to champion their school at the expense of the others. It made me happy and proud to watch these community volunteers in action.
There was a strong recurring theme in all three presentations: that the timeline for this important decision to be made is way too short. Bravo! This is absolutely true. As one speaker put it: if the board makes its decision, as it is scheduled to do, on June 19, and if it votes to approve the initial recommendation made by the administrators, that leaves precisely nine school days to prepare the children at the three schools for this momentous change.
Other questions and issues raised:
- The lack of playground space in Madoc, both at the public school – where playground time has to be done in shifts because of space issues – and at the high school, where there are two fields that are just that: fields. No playground equipment. By extension, this observation is an astute questioning of the logic of closing Madoc Township Public School, which has not only playground equipment but more than seven acres of space for children to play and explore the outdoor world.
- What about the Grades 7 and 8 students at the other schools that feed into Centre Hastings Secondary, the ones in the neighbouring villages of Tweed and Marmora? If CHSS is to be made into a Grades 7 to 12 school, shouldn’t all students be part of this experience? (This, though again very logical if you follow the board administration’s reasoning, will not go down well with parents and students in Tweed and Marmora, I can tell you that right now.)
- Why, when the school board has recently built brand-new elementary schools in Stirling, Tweed and Marmora, is it in Madoc instead looking to cram students into aging buildings that, by its own admission, need millions of dollars’ worth of upgrading?
- Is there property that could be purchased adjacent to Madoc Public School to give it some much-needed additional green space?
- Why not make Madoc Township Public School a kindergarten-to-Grade 8 school, allowing all the students from its catchment area to complete their elementary schooling there? I am delighted to say that this proposal, which would return MTPS to the way it operated when it was opened with such high hopes for the future in 1961, and would put it at full occupancy, came from the Madoc Public School table. Like I say, there was a real spirit of co-operation and “let’s do what’s best for the kids and the community” in that room.
As you might expect, when it was time for the Madoc Township Public School table – filled as it was with people concerned about their school being closed – to speak, the focus was very much on that school’s attributes and its potential. Table spokesperson Judith Heard cited the exciting possibility of Madoc Township Public School becoming a place that emphasizes and specializes in outdoor learning, not to mention physical activity and fitness. She cited concerns about even longer bus rides for students from the northern end of the school’s catchment area if students were moved to more southerly Madoc. She pointed out that MTPS is large enough to accommodate all area students in kindergarten through Grade 8, and that its more-than-ample attached land provides space if in future the school needs to be enlarged. She asked whether there will be room at Madoc Public School if a plan to offer French immersion there attracts extra students (as it probably will, French immersion always being popular). She asked whether the board had followed the provincial government’s requirement to contact local municipalities for their input before starting the “accommodation” process.
And then, to applause from the audience, she politely asked whether the board administrators could please give the committee members any information they had to share with them before the meeting, so that they could review it properly. Yay!
And then she asked whether all the members of the committee could sit together at future meetings, rather than at separate school tables. “Our kids have grown up together, and we’d like to work together,” she said. Now that’s positive, co-operative thinking.
Okay, so on to the upshot: the committee members said they needed more time to talk. More time, that is, than the board administrators had allotted, which was last Thursday’s meeting and one final meeting, which is scheduled for March 1. Two meetings! That’s not a lot, is it? It was agreed that there will indeed be another meeting, and it will be on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 6:30 p.m., at Centre Hastings Secondary. The Madoc Township Public School table had asked if it could host a meeting at our school, in the interest of all parties seeing the facilities there. “And we’d like it to be a pot-luck,” said Margaret Heard, invoking the age-old tradition in our area of sharing food and friendship whenever possible. Sadly, the answer was no: the superintendent of education said that all meetings have to be at the high school, though I have to confess I didn’t get exactly why. Heaven forfend that people should actually see how great Madoc Township Public School is, says the bad angel sitting on one of my shoulders.
But there will be an additional meeting, and once again I urge you to attend. It’s very instructive, even if you aren’t allowed to speak. I also urge you to share your concerns, and better still your ideas, with members of the accommodation committee before that meeting.
And hey: if anyone’s up for organizing a community meeting to share ideas about the future of our schools – a meeting at which we can all speak our minds and the school-board administration can’t control what is said or done – well, count me in. And, I expect, a few hundred others.