A thrilling new chapter in the life of Madoc Township Public School

MTPS front entrance, June 12, 2017Today, a new chapter was written in the 56-year (and counting) history of Madoc Township Public School. It is an amazing, positive, slightly surprising and utterly wonderful new chapter.

Today, the 10 trustees who make up the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board unanimously stood up in support of the continued and expanded life of Madoc Township Public School – the rural school that serves all of Madoc Township and environs, including Queensborough. Meeting as the board’s student enrolment/school capacity committee, the trustees rejected a plan by the board’s administrators to close MTPS and send its students to Madoc Public School and to ship all Grades 7 and 8 students from both schools’ catchment areas to Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc. And not only did the trustees vote to keep MTPS open; they voted to reverse a change made way back in the early 1970s and bring Grades 7 and 8 back to it! (From Madoc Public School, where they have been bused for the past 40-plus years.) This means that MTPS will once again – as it did when it was established with so much hope for the future back in 1961 – be educating all elementary-school-age students from our rural area. It means that MTPS will be almost at capacity as of this coming September – and very probably full to capacity and then some in a few short years, as the news spreads that this outstanding small school is a going concern and is in it for the long run.

Today the trustees demonstrated faith in our excellent local school, and in the promise and possibilities of rural education and rural communities. I know I speak for hundreds and hundreds of local kids, parents and community members when I say that we cannot thank them enough. Trustees Bonnie Danes (Centre Hastings), Justin Bray (Southeast Hastings), Dave Patterson (Belleville/Thurlow), Mary Hall (Belleville/Thurlow), Jim Williams (Sidney and Frankford in Quinte West), Lucille Kyle (North Hastings), Mike Brant (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory), Jennifer Cobb (North Prince Edward County), Tom Biniaris (Trenton and Canadian Forces Base Trenton) and Dwayne Inch (South Prince Edward County) have demonstrated courage and leadership in the provincewide battle against an urban-focused provincial government that (despite its claims to the contrary) has made it extraordinarily difficult for rural schools to survive and for rural school boards to make that happen.

Trustees, Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board

The trustees who made the difference: from left, Tom Biniaris, Dwayne Inch, Justin Bray, Bonnie Danes, Mike Brant, director of education (not a trustee) Mandy Savery-Whiteway, Jennifer Cobb, Lucille Kyle, Dave Patterson, Mary Hall and Jim Williams.

There is one more step before we can all breathe a huge and final sigh of relief. One week from today (Monday, June 19, 7 p.m., at board headquarters at 156 Ann St. in Belleville), the same 10 trustees will meet again, this time not in the form of a committee of the board but as the full board. There they will be asked to vote again on the recommendations they approved today. You have to think that a unanimous (and, judging by the comments the trustees made and the tone of their voices as they cast their votes, determined and enthusiastic) decision in committee will be held up at the board meeting. But as we say and understand in rural Ontario: don’t count your chicks before they’re hatched. I hope as many of you as possible will join me in attending that final meeting next week, and once again showing your support for Madoc Township Public School.

Facebook Live, school-board meeting

To watch and hear all the comments by school-board trustees on today’s votes, please go to the Save Madoc Township Public School Facebook page, where you can watch the Facebook Live post that MTPS supporter Denise Gray posted.

Meanwhile, thank you to the large number of community members who turned out for today’s meeting! And thanks especially to Denise Gray – one of the tireless MTPS supporters who have attended every meeting, repeatedly lobbied trustees and board administrators, and generally kept the issue alive when some thought it was a done deal and a dead duck – for shooting live video of the discussions and vote so that you can see them. Go to the Save Madoc Township Public School Facebook page here to see that live footage.

If you do, you’ll see some great stuff, like when:

  • Utter silence greets the request for a mover and seconder for the board administration’s motion to close Madoc Township Public School.
  • Centre Hastings’s trustee, Bonnie Danes, presents the alternative motion, which is to keep MTPS open and bring its Grade 7 and 8 students back.
  • Trustee Dave Patterson speaks about what this alternative plan will mean: “What it is is about building a total school community, with Grades 7s and 8s as leaders, as models for the younger children. And giving them also maximized opportunity to engage in sports, and activities, and utilize the advantages of their communities that they live in and come from.” (Applause from us in the gallery.)
  • Trustee Jim Williams recounts a visit that he and Trustee Mike Brant made to MTPS, being escorted on a tour of the school by two of the senior students. “Had a wonderful tour! And while we were there, we were very, very impressed with the green space … There was a lot of green space! There was a track; there was a bit of a toboggan hill; there was a shelter area and lots of grass – and so we were really impressed, especially when we compared that with what we saw in town. The in-town school had very little in the way of anything green – and so there was a thumbs-up for the Township School.”
  • Trustee Tom Biniaris says that his own daughter in Grade 7 attends a Grade 7-to-12 school and it has been a good experience for her, “but from listening to the comments from Madoc Township – it changed my mind.”
  • The trustees vote, in order: Jim Williams: “Yes.” Mary Hall: “Ay.” Dave Patterson: “Yea.” Lucille Kyle: “I support this.” Jennifer Cobb (committee chair): “I support this as well.” Mike Brant: “Yea.” Bonnie Danes (surely the prime architect behind what happened this afternoon): “Definitely yes!” Justin Bray (also doubtless a big influence on today’s vote): “Yes.” Dwayne Inch: “Yes.” Mike Biniaris: “Yea.”

And with that, it’s unanimous. More applause. And tissues.

Even before the vote was done, as it became clear that the outcome would be in our school’s favour, the tears started to flow. I was weeping. The people in front of me were weeping. The people beside me and behind me were weeping. So many people had worked so hard for that moment, and the odds were so against us. But in the end the trustees recognized the merits of the arguments, and most especially the merits of MTPS’s continued existence. We could not quite believe that it was happening, and we were so, so grateful that it was. How could we not weep with joy? Our school, and our community, had just been given a massive vote of confidence.

The future feels very bright indeed.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering (as well you should be, you readers being smart and inquisitive and all that) where this leaves Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary. Based on what happened at today’s committee meeting, those schools are at status quo.

What may happen down the line is this: a newly built state-of-the-art school housing all students, from kindergarten to Grade 12, from all three of the local schools. But the motion on that front that was approved by the trustees today (moved by Trustee Bonnie Danes, seconded by Trustee Justin Bray, and approved unanimously) was that nothing will happen to the existing schools until the provincial government approves funding for that new school. The approved motion also said that if the provincial government does not approve funding for that K-to-12 school for all area students, Madoc Public School and CHSS would be consolidated as a K-to-12 school – if the provincial government approves an addition and/or renovations at CHSS, and if the government provides funding for demolition of the old Madoc Public School building and creation of green space in its stead, and if there are approved plans for separated learning spaces for the elementary and secondary students at CHSS.

For now, and for September 2017: status quo. And in the meantime: how about we all take a deep breath and think about what’s really best for the kids of our community, and how best to make that happen?

As I drove home to Queensborough from the board meeting, I was still kind of in shock, though the best kind of shock. My glasses were all splotchy with tear stains. I decided I should swing by Madoc Township Public School for a quiet visit (it was after the school day had ended) and a few photos. The one at the top of this post is one of them. Here are a few more:

Madoc Township Public School, June 12, 2017

The Canadian flag waving proudly in the wind this afternoon at what was the original main entrance to Madoc Township Public School. How wonderful that, as Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, MTPS can celebrate (and look to the future) along with it!


50th anniversary tree at MTPS

A maple tree planted in front of MTPS on its 50th anniversary, in 2011, “to honour the classes of the 1960s.” Hey, that’s me! And many others. All of whom will be thrilled to see our school continue and maybe even enlarged.


My June art-class tree, Madoc Township Public School

This might or might not be the same tree that a tired and mildly exasperated early-grades teacher took my class outside to sketch (in lieu of doing inside lessons that we were all bored with) one bright June day somewhere around 1967 or ’68 at Madoc Township Public School. On a bright June day half a century (yikes!) later, when our brilliant rural school had just got a great boost, I thought I’d take a picture of it. (Not draw a sketch, which I couldn’t do back then and still can’t.)


Florence McCoy, 1st Principal

I never tire of looking at the plaque that was proudly placed on the front wall of Madoc Township Public School when it was opened in 1961, and especially the plaque above it paying tribute to Florence McCoy, its first principal. As I’ve written many times before, Florence McCoy was an astounding educator, the kindest of people, and the best principal ever. As I walked by that plaque yet again today, I thought: “Florence would be SO proud of what her flock has done to save this school.” Good on you and your lasting influence, Mrs. McCoy!

Just as I was leaving, a teacher who was working late came out of the building and gave me a friendly greeting. “Did you hear what happened at today’s school-board meeting?” I asked. Oh yes, the teacher had; all the teachers had. “It goes to show the power of community,” the teacher told me.

Yes it does. Yes it does.

Monday, June 12: a rural school, a critical vote, and the future

Madoc Township Public SchoolTomorrow (Monday, June 12, 2017, which may be today depending on when you read this) is a critical day in the life of Madoc Township Public School. It is the day when the student enrolment/school capacity committee of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board meets (at 2 p.m., at board headquarters at 156 Ann St., Belleville) to formulate a recommendation on the future of the only school in rural Madoc Township and environs (including Queensborough). One week later, on Monday, June 19, that recommendation will go to a meeting of the full board (7 p.m., also at board headquarters) for a vote – and the future of MTPS will be decided. If the recommendation approved tomorrow is for the school to be closed, and the final vote supports that recommendation, there is no going back. Madoc Township Public School, an educational gem with an important local heritage in a perfect outdoor setting with a tradition of great teaching, high standards and individual care for all its children – will be gone.

I hope you agree with me that this would be a tragedy for our area. I also hope that, despite the hugely inconvenient time of the meeting in the middle of the workday, you will come to show support for MTPS.

It’s going to be a busy meeting. (The agenda is here.) The elected trustees who sit on the committee are also to prepare final recommendations for two other school areas that have, like the three schools in our part of central Hastings County, been involved in so-called “accommodation reviews” for the past six months or so. For those who’ve spent those past six months on Mars, those accommodation reviews are a process to close and consolidate schools that are suffering from declining student enrolment. In our area, the three schools affected are rural Madoc Township Public School and two schools in the village of Madoc, Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary School. (You can read about every step in this six-month process by clicking on the “Madoc Township Public School” category on the right side of the screen on this blog’s home page.)

As is common in these situations, the staff who work for the elected officials (trustees) who make up the board have already prepared their final recommendations, and these are the first thing that will go before the trustees. To no one’s surprise, the board staff’s recommendations are unchanged from what they came up with in the last go-round, which was largely unchanged from all the previous go-rounds. Here they are, verbatim, though if you want to be sure, you can find them on the agenda for the meeting here:

Recommendation #1
Moved:
Seconded:
That the Student Enrolment/School Capacity Committee recommend that the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board approve the consolidation of Madoc Township Public School and Madoc Public School at Madoc Public School effective September 2017, as contained in Report No. B-2, dated June 12, 2017.

Recommendation #2
Moved:
Seconded:
That the Student Enrolment/School Capacity Committee recommend that the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board approve the relocation of Grade 7 and 8 students from Madoc Public School to Centre Hastings Secondary School effective September, 2017 creating a Grade 7 – 12 school, as contained in Report No. B-2, dated June 12, 2017.

Recommendation #3
Moved:
Seconded:
That the Student Enrolment/School Capacity Committee recommend that the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board approve the consolidation of Centre Hastings Secondary School and Madoc Public School pending submission of a business case to the Ministry of Education and approval of funding to build a new K-12 school located in the Madoc Area and with consultation with the municipality regarding location options and plans to enhance greenspace for the K-12 school. Should a business case for a new K-12 school not be approved by the Ministry of Education, Madoc Public School be consolidated with Centre Hastings Secondary School as K-12 school pending Ministry of Education approval for an addition and/or renovations at Centre Hastings Secondary School and then demolish Madoc Public School to create green space for the K-12 school as contained in Report No. B-2, dated June 12, 2017.

I have to tell you that I don’t like these pre-prepared recommendations being set up to look like all that’s needed is a mover and seconder for them to sail through. You can see how hard the board’s administration is pushing for its own recommendations, as opposed to any differing ones that the trustees might come up with through their discussions, to be approved.

That said: it is the job of the trustees – the job we elected them to do, and that they are paid (an admittedly modest stipend) to do – to represent the best interests of the communities they serve, and especially the children of those communities. One has to have faith that on Monday, June 12, they will do their job, challenge this prepared set of recommendations, and come up with something better. What do I mean by “better”? I mean a recommendation that will actually serve the best interests of this community and its children. Because that is the one thing that the administration’s recommendations most assuredly do not do.

Here’s what I would say at tomorrow’s meeting if I were one of the trustees:

“The set of recommendations presented by board staff is unacceptable. I will vote against it, and I strongly urge my fellow trustees to do the same.

“It fails to take into account the hard work and final recommendations of the committee set up by this board – the accommodation review committee – to examine the best course of action for the schools in Centre Hastings. In case any of my fellow trustees need reminding: after considerable study, research and discussions with all affected parties, that committee recommended a) that Madoc Township Public School remain open and be expanded to allow students in Grades 7 and 8 from its catchment area to do their Grades 7 and 8 studies there, thus bringing the school to capacity; or b) that the board of education seek Ontario Ministry of Education funding to build a new kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school on a new site, to house students from all three existing schools, for the 2021-22 school year.

“It fails to take into account the tremendously damaging impact that closure of a rural community’s only school would have on that community.

Madoc Township's former schools

A section of the painting that hangs at Madoc Township Public School showing all the one-room schools that it replaced, and that are part of its heritage. Are we really ready to say goodbye to that heritage?

“It fails to take into account the important heritage of this school, the fact that generations of local residents have been educated there and that MTPS and all the community schools that preceded it and formed the foundation for it have played a critically important role in the life and history of Madoc Township and surrounding areas.

“It fails to take into account the promise for future growth and development in Madoc Township and Centre Hastings that an influx of people from Toronto and other urban centres is having in the area. People are leaving the city because of high housing prices and other issues, and are moving to more rural areas. The imminent extension of Highway 407 to just south of Peterborough, making a commute to work in the Toronto area much more feasible, will only increase that migration of young families to this area. School space will be needed.

“It fails to take into account the fact that Madoc Township Public School in in the best physical condition, by far, of the the three local schools. Moving children from a building in good condition to buildings in considerably poorer condition (Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary) makes no sense – unless it is a cynical strategy to get government money by pleading poor school conditions. How is that good policy for our children?

“It fails to take into account the recent order by Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter that public and Roman Catholic school boards work together to try to resolve school space and enrolment issues. The ministerial document in question says specifically: ‘Prior to commencing with student accommodation changes through closures, it is our government’s strong preference that school board fully explore joint accommodation arrangements with coterminous boards, particularly to maintain a school presence in a rural or isolated community.’ There has been no evidence whatsoever that the administrators of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board have held talks with their counterparts on the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board on sharing facilities, programs, etc.

“It fails to take into account the problem of lack of program choices for students at Centre Hastings Secondary School. Rather than closing the best, and best-performing, school in the area, this board should be looking at adding the programs that will attract student to CHSS, and keep them there.

http://www.hpedsb.on.ca/ec/directorsOffice/arc/documents/RequestforDelegationStudentEnrolment_SchoolCapacityCommittee2.pdf

One section of the five-acre-plus play area/outdoor space at Madoc Township Public School. (Photo by Denise Gray)

“Incomprehensibly, it fails to take into account the outstanding green space/playground area at Madoc Township Public School. Why would we deprive the community’s students – and students from other board schools – of the opportunity to run and play and explore and lean about nature in this outstanding space?

“Finally, and most importantly, it fails to take into account what is best for the children. Throughout this process, board staff have repeatedly cited “Policy 15.” This board policy says that the board’s first commitment is to “student achievement and well-being.” The well-being of the students who attend Madoc Township Public School now, and who would attend it in the future if it remained open, will in no way whatsoever be aided or improved by closing the school. In essence, this recommendation runs counter to the board’s own policy.

“This recommendation fails on every level. It must be defeated. Instead, through vision and creativity and working with all community partners, we can come up with a much better plan for all children in the central Hastings County area. In the meantime, following the recommendation of the accommodation review committee, Madoc Township Public School should remain open as a kindergarten to Grade 8 school.”

That’s what I’d say if I were a trustee. But of course, I’m not. I hope one or more of the people who are trustees will show their courage and their care for the children and the community they serve, and say something similar. And I hope the rest of the board will listen.

If you care about the future of Madoc Township Public School, please join the conversation at the Facebook group Save Madoc Township Public School. One wonderful thread you’ll find there is a series of posts about why people love our school. You’ll also find some examples of messages people have been sending to the trustees to encourage them to vote against the proposal to close MTPS. Even if you’re reading this a few minutes before Monday’s meeting starts, it’s not too late for you to do the same thing! You can find phone numbers and email addresses for all the trustees here.

We all care about our school, our community and our kids, don’t we? Let’s not give up on them – ever. Even if the vote on Monday, June 12, goes against Madoc Township Public School, there will be another week-long period to lobby trustees before the final vote.

Let’s please do everything – everything – we can to save our school.

Will our local school matter when our elected trustees vote?

Cooper Road sign 2“Our Local Schools Matter,” proclaim the signs that have sprung up throughout the Madoc Township area, including all over Queensborough.

While the signs are being distributed throughout the province – because rural schools all over Ontario are being threatened with closure in a steamroller disaster that, so far, the provincial government has declined to stop or even slow – in our area they are an expression of people’s deep concern about the future of our local school: Madoc Township Public School.

That would be the school with a tremendous local heritage, a top rating for student achievement, an outdoor play and exploration area of more than five acres, a reputation for individual attention to students, a pastoral rural setting – and a place firmly fixed in the hearts of all local community members, many of whom attended it, sent their children there, and now watch proudly as their grandchildren grow to be accomplished, kind and well-rounded young people inside its classrooms.

If all that doesn’t add up to a recipe for shutting down a school, I don’t know what does.

(I assume you detected the extreme sarcasm in my voice just now.)

But, yes, shutting down Madoc Township Public School continues to be what the bureaucrats who work for the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board are recommending.

Their recommendation – presented at a meeting last week, which I’ll tell you about presently – comes despite a public consultation process that saw the board officials’ own chosen review committee reject the plan and come up with not one but two alternatives. I can tell you right now that if you asked anyone – anyone – in our area whether he or she feels the alternate proposals would be better for our communities, and most importantly for our children, than the original one from the board staff, you would get an answer in the affirmative.

For those who haven’t been following my posts on this critical local issue for the past months (you can see them all if you click on “Madoc Township Public School” in the categories list on the right side of this blog’s home page), I’ll try to sum up quickly the series of recommendations.

Here is what the board employees initially proposed back in November:

  • Close rural Madoc Township Public, currently a kindergarten-to-Grade 6 school, in June 2017.
  • Bus MTPS students into the village of Madoc and put them in Madoc Public School (which is an aging building with extremely limited playground space).
  • Move students in Grades 7 and 8 from both schools’ catchment areas – students in those grades currently attend Madoc Public – into the local high school, Centre Hastings Secondary in Madoc, thus turning CHSS into a Grade-7-to-12 school.

Here are the two alternate proposals that the school, parent and community representatives on the board’s clunkily named “accommodation review committee” recommended instead, having given the matter a lot of study and spent a lot of time listening to the community:

  • Return Madoc Township-area students in Grades 7 and 8 to MTPS, thus filling the school and allowing the community’s children to be educated in their community – and in an outstanding rural school. Consolidate Madoc Public School and CHSS.
  • Build a brand-new kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school serving all area students. While it’s still in the planning and construction stages (probably three years or so), leave the three schools alone.

And here, verbatim, is the final recommendation presented by the board’s employees last week:

  • Effective September 2017, consolidate Madoc Township Public and Madoc Public School at the Madoc Public School site;
  • Effective September 2017, relocate Grade 7 and 8 students from Madoc Public School to Centre Hastings Secondary School, creating a Grade 7-12 school;
  • Centre Hastings Secondary School and Madoc Public School be consolidated pending
    submission of a business case to the Ministry of Education and approval of funding to build a new K-12 school located in the Madoc area and with consultation with the municipality regarding location options and plans to enhance greenspace for the K-12 school;
  • Should a business case for a new K-12 school not be approved by the Ministry of Education, Madoc Public School be consolidated with Centre Hastings Secondary School as K-12 school, pending Ministry of Education approval for an addition and/or renovations at Centre Hastings Secondary School and then demolish Madoc Public School to create green space for the K-12 school; and
  • Continue to explore opportunities for community partnerships for the consolidated school that are aligned with the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan priorities.

As you can see, nothing has changed from the board’s administration when it comes to immediate actions. The recommendation remains this: close MTPS and move the middle-school kids into the high school, as of this coming September.

The new stuff is vaguer than vague. Leaving aside the “continue to explore opportunities for community partnerships” final point, which absent specifics means exactly nothing, we have a plan to, at some unspecified future date, consolidate all kids at the high school; then at some unspecified future date ask the provincial government for money to build a new kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school; then, if the government says no to that, just leave the kids at the high school and tear down the old Madoc Public School to create some more green space. (Which would still be a small fraction of the green space at Madoc Township Public School. But too bad – MTPS has to go. Because – well, just because.)

The recommendation was presented last Wednesday at a meeting of the school board’s student enrolment/school capacity committee, and I was one of the concerned MTPS supporters who attended to observe.

One thing I want to stress before I tell you about what took place during that brief (half an hour or so) meeting is that the trustees who sat around the table that day are not the people who wrote this recommendation. The 10 elected trustees are the board, and they make the decisions on behalf of us, the citizens who elected them and whom they represent. But the people who prepare almost all the reports and recommendations on which the elected trustees vote are the staff who work for the board. They are public servants whose salaries are paid by you and me; but they are not “the board.” These staffers have recommended that our school be closed. But it is the 10 trustees – ordinary people like you and me, elected by you and me to represent you and me and, most importantly, our schoolchildren – who will decide whether to accept or reject that recommendation.

Student enrolment/school capacity meeting

The top end of the table at the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board’s student enrolment/school capacity meeting last Wednesday. Central Hastings trustee Bonnie Danes is in foreground at left; southeast Hastings trustee Justin Bray is sixth from right on the other side of the table, while Belleville/Thurlow trustee Mary Hall is fourth from right. Director of education Mandy Savery-Whiteway, the board’s top administrator, is at the head of the table at left.

The trustees didn’t say a lot at last Wednesday’s meeting; they were told by administration that the purpose of the meeting was to receive the staffers’ recommendation. (As a longtime observer of school boards, I can tell you that it is quite common for administration to tell trustees what they can and can’t do. In some ways this is understandable; the administrators are professionals who are paid well to understand and implement the rules of the Ontario education system in all its arcane minutiae. They are smart and good at what they do; they wouldn’t be in those well-paid positions if they weren’t. It’s only natural that trustees – who are doubtless also smart, but in general are not trained education bureaucrats – tend to look to their staff for guidance on most matters.)

But what was said was encouraging. Our local trustees, Bonnie Danes (who represents central Hastings County) and Justin Bray (who represents southeast Hastings), were outstanding.

Bonnie Danes

Central Hastings public-school trustee Bonnie Danes, who is doing a great job standing up for Madoc Township Public School.

Bonnie Danes asked about enrolment projections for our three local schools that the board’s top administrator, director of education Mandy Savery-Whiteway, had tossed out in her oral introduction to her staff’s final recommendation. “Are these numbers in the report?” asked Mrs. Danes. (Despite the final recommendation being fairly brief, the report in which it was included contained more than 150 pages of related information.) After a fair bit of preamble about how these were new numbers that staff is just now working on, that it’s all “in process this spring,” Ms. Savery-Whiteway said that no, they were not in the report.

But if they’re the numbers on which the administrators are basing their final recommendation, shouldn’t they be something more concrete than “in process”? (That’s me talking.)

Mrs. Danes’s next question: Are they somewhere where we can see them?

Long answer short: Eventually they will be.

Hmmm. (That’s me again.)

Justin Bray

Justin Bray, trustee for southeast Hastings, who asked some pointed questions about the lack of specifics (notably dates) in the board administration’s recommendation last week.

Justin Bray asked about the lack of any date on the new-school part of the final recommendation. He made the excellent point that there will be a provincial election next year, and that its outcome can and probably will have a huge outcome on funding for things like hoped-for new schools.

Bonnie Danes joined in on this lack of any date in the recommendation, noting that the recommendation by the accommodation review committee for a new school was that it be ready for the 2021-22 school year. “There is no way we could be assured that would happen,” was what Ms. Savery-Whiteway told her, having already talked about how long it can take to get a response to an application to the government for new-school funding, and how one can’t be sure that the request will even be considered.

The director of education also said something in response to Mrs. Danes’s question that caught my attention, and that I added to my notes with several question marks beside it.

“We want to go after those consolidation dollars,” she said. “We want to be strategic.” What does that mean?

Well, one possible interpretation (courtesy of the lobby group Ontario Alliance Against School Closures) is this: under provincial funding rules, school boards have a better chance of getting money from the provincial government (under its School Consolidation Capital Allocation program, for example) if the buildings still open after schools have been consolidated are in bad physical condition. In this scenario, it makes sense (in a crazy sort of way) to close schools that are in relatively good shape (like Madoc Township Public School), plunk the kids into an inferior building (hello, Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary) and then plead for cash because those schools are deteriorating.

Do you feel like you’ve wandered into the Twilight Zone? Yeah, me too. I would like to think this is not what the director of education was referring to when she talked about being strategic and going after “consolidation dollars” – and I am sure she wouldn’t frame the way the program (and the strategy) works in the same blunt terms as the anti-school-closing group does. But still, it makes one wonder. And question. Which is a good thing.

Anyway. I was encouraged by a trustee from outside our area, Mary Hall (who represents Belleville/Thurlow) questioning the school maintenance costs contained in the administrators’ report. Mrs. Hall is one of the seven board trustees who came to the second and final public meeting held last month on the local school plan, and it was clear from her comments last week, even though they were brief, that she had paid attention to the concerns expressed at that meeting about inaccuracies and inconsistencies in information prepared by board administrators.

As the meeting moved to its swift close, Bonnie Danes managed to get in one final, powerful statement.

She pointed out that if students in Grades 7 and 8 from Madoc Township and environs were returned to MTPS (which was what it was built for in the first place, and which the board-established accommodation review committee has recommended), the school would be at or near capacity. Enrolment problem solved, just like that.

She also expressed concern about a proposal that would close the one and only school in a rural municipality (Madoc Township) and the impact the closure would have on the community.

“I have grave concerns about closing the only school in a municipality and piggybacking onto another municipality (Madoc) for a new build (the K-to-12 school) that may or may not happen,” she said. “In the meantime, Madoc Township Public School is lost.

“And that’s problematic.”

Well said, Trustee Danes! I hope you and Trustee Bray can and will influence at least four other board members to vote against this recommendation which is, to quote you: problematic.

Readers, take note: Here’s what happens next in this process.

On Wednesday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m., at the board’s headquarters at 156 Ann St. in Belleville, the student enrolment/school capacity committee will hear delegations from the public about the administrators’ final proposal. If you want to have your say, you have to register as a delegation at least five business days in advance of the meeting – so to be safe, before the close of business on Wednesday, April 19. That is this coming Wednesday. The registration form is on the board’s website; here is a direct link. Even if you don’t want to speak, you may attend; the meeting is public.

On Tuesday, May 23, the same committee meets again to prepare a recommendation to the full board (all 10 trustees). This too is a public meeting. As far as I can tell from the school-board website, a time has not yet been set for the meeting. It will probably take place at board headquarters in Belleville. I will keep you posted.

And then the final vote by the trustees is to take place Monday, June 19. If you don’t want to see Madoc Township Public School, our outstanding rural school, closed, please call, write and email all the trustees, preferably many times, between now and then. Their contact information is here. All that’s needed is six of the 10 to vote against this flawed recommendation and the devastating impact it will have on our community.

Because, you know: Our local schools matter!

I can tell that the voters – you know, the ones who pay the freight for school boards and so on – think so too. Here’s a gallery showing all the “Local schools matter” signs that I’ve spotted in Queensborough and adjacent Madoc Township in recent days. Yes, the photos all look very much the same; but I can assure you that they are all of different signs in different places.

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One hopes that if the message is repeated often enough, everyone will get it – and most especially, at least six of our elected public school trustees. Because they hold the fate of our school in their hands.

Here are the documents you’re apparently not supposed to see

Madoc Township Public School, March 2017

Madoc Township Public School on a sunny late-winter day, looking like the classic Ontario rural school. Which, in fact, it is.

Important update to this post, one day later: This morning Kim Horrigan, the public school board’s manager of planning, returned the call to her I made yesterday (the one I refer to below), and we were able to chat this afternoon. Ms. Horrigan noted that the alternative recommendations made by the members of the accommodation review committee are referenced in the notes from the meeting that are posted on the board’s website here (Item 5 on Page 4). When I asked if the complete documents prepared by the committee members would be posted (explaining that people in the community have been eager to read and discuss them, especially with the final public meeting coming up on March 22), she said they would appear on the board’s website today or tomorrow. I thank her for getting back to me, and I thank the board in advance for posting these documents!

The plot thickens.

A little less than two weeks ago, I reported (here) on the startling and encouraging conclusion to the process looking at possible public-school closures and consolidations here in our area. That surprise conclusion was this: the community volunteers and school representatives who made up the committee established by the public school board stood up and said in no uncertain terms that they were not happy with the plan produced by the board’s administration, and they put forward two strong alternatives.

(Now, for those who haven’t been following this issue as closely as I and some others have, here is the short version: the board’s plan is to close Madoc Township Public School – here in tiny Queensborough, that’s our school), bus its students to space- and playground-challenged Madoc Public School, and move all Grades 7 and 8 students from both schools’ catchment areas into Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc. You can read my previous posts on this plan and how it’s been greeted by clicking on the “Madoc Township Public School” category on the right-hand side of the Meanwhile, at the Manse home page here.)

The first of the two recommendations from the community group (which was burdened with the clunky name “accommodation review committee”) was to restore Madoc Township Public School to its original vocation as an all-grades elementary school. When the school was built in the 1960s, amid much community excitement about getting a modern centralized educational facility, that meant Grades 1 to 8; now it would be kindergarten to Grade 8. The recommendation was backed up by all kinds of common-sense reasoning, which MTPS members of the committee read out to that March 1 meeting.

Recommendation #1

Madoc Township Public School representatives (from left, Wendy Spence, Amy Beaton and Margaret Heard) read out Recommdation #1 at the March 1 meeting.

Basically, they said, if Madoc Township were allowed to have all students in its catchment area up to Grade 8, the building would be full, and fully used. And all those kids would be able to take advantage of its wide open spaces (seven acres of playgrounds and fields), as well as its personalized attention to students, intimate and friendly country atmosphere, and first-place results in academics. In this scenario, Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary School would be consolidated into a single school in “town,” leaving our lovely rural school fully used in its unparalleled rural setting.

Recommendation #2

Representatives of all three local schools (from left, Kari Kramp from Madoc Public, Margaret Heard from MTPS and Diane Bolton from Centre Hastings Secondary) read the committee’s Recommendation #2.

The second recommended alternative to the board administration’s proposal was that a new purpose-built kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school, housing students from all three of the existing schools, be built. This is not the preferred option for us supporters of MTPS, but it definitely has its pluses: brand-new facilities, state-of-the-art accessibility and energy efficiency, and so on.

Okay, so far so good. The final accommodation review committee meeting is held Wednesday, March 1. The committee makes its two recommendations running counter to the plan from the board administration. We die-hard spectators in the audience applaud their bravery, common sense and good research. (Again, you can read all about that long evening, and even hear our applause, here.) The people from the board administration who are running this process don’t look too happy. Meeting adjourned.

And then we wait for the two alternate recommendations and their supporting documentation to show up on the board’s website. After all, the committee and the public had been promised by board officials that all the proceedings and comments and submissions at the meetings of the accommodation committee would be posted there. I know I was far from alone in being eager to see the full text of these alternate recommendations, so they could be shared around and discussed in the community ahead of the final public meeting on the issue, to be held Wednesday, March 22.

Day 1: Nothing on the board’s website. Day 2: Nothing. Day 3: Nothing. Day 4: Nothing. Day 5: Nothing.

I think you’re getting the picture.

As I write this, it’s now Day 12 since that meeting was held. Still nothing.

This morning I called the two board officials who have been leading this process, superintendent of education Cathy Portt and manager of planning Kim Horrigan, to ask why this is. I got their voicemails in both cases, and left messages with both that included my callback number. I did not get a callback. Now, that may be because it’s March Break. But March Break or not, this is an issue of critical importance in our area.

Update: Kim Horrigan called me back the next day. See note at the top of this post.

You may draw your own conclusions from all this. I will only say that I worry that in keeping under wraps these key recommendations from a committee set up by the board, the board administration is leaving not only the public as a whole in the dark – but also the publicly elected trustees who sit on the board. With the exception of local trustee Bonnie Danes, none of these 10 elected officials were at that March 1 meeting; none of them heard the recommendations read out. Yet these 10 people are the ones who hold in their hands the power to let Madoc Township Public School live or die. They are the ones who can and will decide within a very short time what the future will hold for our local schools.

So since the board isn’t releasing the documents, I am. As they say in the news business, they have been obtained by Meanwhile, at the Manse.

Please read them, all the way through. A lot of hard work, research and time went into putting them together. They point out problems in the board administration’s proposal. They put kids and community first. They are written in a spirit of optimism for the future.They make a lot of sense. There may be some references you’re not sure about; don’t worry about that – they’re minor. (If, for instance, you’re wondering what “VFA” is – it’s a big multinational company that carries out – according to its Canadian website – “end-to-end solutions for facilities capital planning and management” for organizations like school boards.)

Here’s Recommendation #1: Keep Madoc Township Public School open as a K-to-8 school:

download

And here’s Recommendation #2: Build a new K-to-12 school:

download

I think you should ask yourself: why does the school board’s administration apparently not want us to see these documents?

Meanwhile, a reminder that the next (and final) public meeting to discuss the future of the three Madoc-area schools takes place Wednesday, March 22, at 6:30 p.m., at Centre Hastings Secondary School. Notices placed by the board in the local newspapers say that if you wish to speak at the meeting, you must sign up to do so:

Notice about Public Meeting #2

It is critical that we have a strong turnout, a solid show of support for our schools. This, people, is your chance to have your say.

Also, the subcommittee of the school board that deals with enrolment and school-capacity issues meets this coming Monday, March 20, at 3:30 p.m. at board headquarters, 156 Ann St., Belleville. There is no way to tell whether issues relating to our schools will come up, because the agenda has not yet been posted on the board’s website. (You can check here to see if it is in the coming days.) However, this is a public meeting and it sure would be great if one or more of the concerned citizens from our area were able to attend. If nothing else, it is always helpful to see the trustees and the board administrators in action and get a sense of how they operate and where they’re coming from.

It seems ever more critical that we keep an eye on things. It’s our tax dollars we’re talking about – and more importantly, our kids’ and communities’ future.

“Keep Madoc Township Public School open as a K-to-8 school.”

Recommendation #1

Madoc Township Public School representatives (from left) Wendy Spence, Amy Beaton and Margaret Heard make a compelling case for MTPS to remain open.

Wow. Something dramatic and important happened tonight. It’s not – yet – a win in the battle to keep our local rural school open. But it’s a great step in the right direction.

Tonight was the final meeting of the Accommodation Review Committee set up by the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board to consider the board administration’s plan to close rural Madoc Township Public School, send its students to already-full Madoc Public School in “town,” and move students in Grades 7 and 8 from both those elementary schools’ areas over to Centre Hastings Secondary School.

Us in the bleachers

There aren’t a lot of us who sit through these meetings, and the seating isn’t very comfortable – but we are dedicated.

I’ve reported at length on the two previous meetings of the committee, here and here. I dare say that no one in the small but dedicated group of onlookers who attend these sessions (and are not allowed to speak from our rather uncomfortable spots in the bleachers of the CHSS gym) was quite prepared for how this one ended.

I’m not going to give you every detail, because now that the meeting is over it is very late and it’s more important that I just get the news out. So here’s the short version:

The final thing the committee was given a chance to do by the board administrators, before it was disbanded at the conclusion of tonight’s session, was to recommend alternatives to the school board’s plan.

Were there alternatives? Yes there were.

The Madoc Township Public School representatives on the committee spoke first. Margaret Heard, Amy Beaton and Wendy Spence stood up together and began, in turn, to read.

Amy gave the preamble: there would be two recommended alternatives. Over to Margaret:

“Recommendation No. 1 is to keep Madoc Township Public School open as a K-to-8 (kindergarten-to-Grade-8) school,” she said, a little nervously but forcefully nonetheless.

She went on to explain the reasoning behind bringing Grades 7 and 8 back to MTPS, where those grades were taught from the school’s opening in 1961 until about 1970. She, Amy and Wendy explained a whole lot more besides, including the continuation of the recommendation, which was to consolidate space-challenged Madoc Public School and almost-half-empty Centre Hastings Secondary. I’ll give you lots more detail about all of this in my regular post next Monday. For now I’ll just say that the three women made a thorough, well-thought-out and compelling argument. I was proud and emotional as I listened – proud of their bravery in standing up to the board’s administration and saying something that the administrators almost certainly wouldn’t like; proud of the hard work and clear reasoning that had gone into their presentation; and proud of our local school and community, which bring out the best in people.

Here’s the conclusion of their presentation, from Amy – and the aftermath. I will remind you that we onlookers were supposed to be silent. We weren’t, as you’re about to hear:

Then there was another surprise. Amy and Wendy took their seats, but Margaret stayed standing and invited her school-council-chair counterparts Kari Kramp (Madoc Public School) and Diane Bolton (CHSS) to join her.

Recommendation #2

The chairs of the three local school councils – from left, Kari Kramp (Madoc Public School), Maragaret Heard (Madoc Township Public School) and Diane Bolton (Centre Hastings Secondary School) –speak as one. It was very powerful.

The three of them then presented an alternative proposal, Recommendation No. 2:

“The consolidation of Madoc Public School, Madoc Township Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary School and seeking (Ontario) Ministry of Education funding and approval to build a new K-to-12 on a new site for (the school year starting) September 2021-22.”

And they went on to make a great case for why a new school housing all students in our area would be fair, fiscally sensible, and good for the students. Again, I won’t go into all the details tonight – I’ll get you that later. (I hope to get copies of the full text of the two recommendations to share with you.)

The whole effect was of a group of committed parents and community representatives who had collaborated, done their homework, and were standing up, making some noise, and making their case.

There’s a long road still ahead. The next step is a public meeting at CHSS to be held Wednesday, March 22, 6:30 p.m. I hope that meeting will be packed to the rafters with members of the public, and that the entire community will have its say, forcefully. Then there are more school-board meetings, some of which also allow for presentations from the public. The final vote is to take place June 19.

We are a long way from being assured of victory for our precious rural school. It will take a lot of work and organization – and, yes, noise – from a lot of people to persuade our elected school trustees to vote against the recommendation of the board’s powerful administration.

But tonight was a very, very good start.

A community comes together for a cause: saving our schools

bob-sager-at-public-meeting

Everyone was listening hard as Madoc Township Reeve Bob Sager made the case from the floor for the importance of Madoc Township Public School and its unmatched playground at last week’s public meeting about the future of the school.

I came away from last week’s public meeting about the future of Madoc Township Public School feeling a mix of anxiety and pride. The anxiety was over whether our community will be successful in keeping this splendid rural school open. The pride was in the thoughtful and clear-headed way in which members of the community asked their questions and made their case for why it should be kept open.

In case you’re new to this issue, the background is all contained in my recent posts here and here and here and here and here. The one-sentence version: the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board is proposing to close rural Madoc Township Public School, send its students to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc, and send the Grades 7 and 8 students from both schools’ catchment areas, who currently are at Madoc Public, to Centre Hastings Secondary School, also in the village of Madoc. The change, which would take effect starting this coming school year (i.e. in September 2017), is proposed by the board because enrolment at CHSS and, to a lesser extent, Madoc Township Public School, is below the schools’ capacity and because (according to the board) maintenance and renovation requirements for the schools are higher “than the average for the system.”

The board’s process for deciding on whether to follow through with this proposal is to first set up what’s called an “accommodation review committee,” consisting of school and community representatives as well as the board’s regional superintendent of education. This committee’s job is to be the liaison between the community and the school board, and to provide the board’s elected trustees and administrators (unelected employees) with information, feedback and possible alternate courses of action, before the trustees make their final decision this coming June. (If you think that’s a tight timeline for such an important decision that affects so many people, notably children – you’re not alone.)

The committee for our three local schools having been duly formed, the first meeting for the public as a whole was held last week in the gym at CHSS. Turnout was good, though it would probably have been better had the meeting not been rescheduled by a day because of freezing rain, and had the weather not been bad on both the originally scheduled date and the new one.

The evening began with an hour-long presentation by board officials on the accommodation process – the background, the information about the schools that the board is working with, the timeline for the process, and so on. Doubtless this is a necessary step, though at one point I leaned over to my neighbour in the audience to wonder in a whisper whether they were trying to bore us into a catatonic state. All the information presented in the PowertPoint was already in everyone’s hands in the form of printouts that the board folks thoughtfully made available, so we basically went through it all twice. However, as a teacher I well know that you can’t present information too often if you want it to sink in, so I definitely am cutting the board people some slack on that point.

Then the floor was opened to questions, and that, of course, was the interesting part. There were questions about:

  • The accuracy of information provided in the board’s profiles of the three schools. Rooms in the high school that are no longer classrooms were listed as such, one person pointed out; errors like that would skew the data on how much space in the school is underused. One parent perceptively pointed out that the board gave two different figures in two different places for capacity and usage at Madoc Township Public School. In one document, capacity was listed as 184 students, with an actual enrolment of 121, which translated to usage of 66 per cent. In another document, the enrolment of 121 stood but capacity was listed as 161, which gives a significantly higher usage rate of 75 per cent. Oddly, she was told that the 66-per-cent figure was the correct one; I say “oddly,” because according to the documents, the 161-capacity, 75-per-cent-usage figure was more recent than the other one. I think that’s one mystery for the accommodation committee to get to the bottom of.
  • Whether the needs of the children had been considered, or was the board’s recommendation only about money. Noting the concern that many people have about “factory farms” and their impact on rural communities, the agriculture system and our food supply, one questioner suggested that recommendations like the one the board is considering are the educational equivalent: “factory schools.” Another, the mother of a child who’s in Grade 7 in the autism program at Madoc Public School, was almost in tears as she told the room that her son is not ready to be moved into a high-school environment as soon as this coming September. Another mum talked about her young children’s fearful questions to her about whether they’ll be riding the school bus with the big kids from high school.
  • The advisability of closing a school – Madoc Township Public – with extraordinary playground facilities: 5½ acres, according to one questioner, closer to seven acres according to the board’s own documentation (compared to a little less than 2½ acres at Madoc Public School). Madoc Township Reeve Bob Sager put it simply but well in his question from the floor: “There is room to play at Madoc Township Public School. Has that been taken into consideration?” Or, to quote a boy who bravely stepped up to the mike and said he is going into Grade 7 next year: “What will we do to go outside?” (Loud applause from the crowd to that, as to many of the questions asked at the meeting.)
  • What about those renovations? One person asked two good questions on this topic: First, why does the board documentation suggest that all listed renovations ($7 million at the high school, $2.3 million at Madoc Public and $2.9 million at Madoc Township) need to be done more or less right now? Surely, she suggested, the work can and would be done in stages over a period of several years? And second: Has the board consulted with contractors to find out how accurate its cost estimates for the renovations are?

Now, at this point you might be wondering what kind of answers were given to these excellent questions. In fact, there were no answers. The audience was told that all the questions and concerns were being recorded, and that the issues raised would be for the accommodation committee to consider and work through. (If you think that sounds like an awful lot of work for a group of community volunteers – once again, you’re not alone.)

Okay, on to more of the questions from the floor:

  • How do we contact members of the accommodation committee? This one actually got an answer: that there’ll be an email address for the committee on the board’s website. Speaking personally, I don’t think that’s good enough, and I don’t think queries should have to go through the school board’s email system. Also: I can’t as yet find that email address, though there is a listing of the committee members (without contact information) here.
  • Who will make the final decision on what happens to the schools? Again, an answer: The elected trustees who sit on the board. Followup question #1: How many trustees are there? Answer: Ten. Followup question #2: How many of them are here tonight? Answer: Two. (Bonnie Danes and Justin Bray, who represent central Hastings County and southeast Hastings County respectively.) Followup question #3: So 80 per cent of the people who will be making the final decision aren’t here tonight? No answer needed. It was a rhetorical question, and a perfectly correct observation.
  • What will happen down the road – or, as one questioner put it: “Where’s the growth going to go?” Closing Madoc Township Public School and moving the students to Madoc Public will completely fill that latter school up, and its attached land is small. Suppose, said the man at the mike, that even one good-sized company opens up in the area. Where would the children of its employees go to school? As I think about it, it strikes me that the smart subtext of that question is this: the board is betting on the failure of our rural area to attract growth and development, not its success. It’s betting on fewer people living here, not new people coming in. That, it seems to me, is unhelpful and unsupportive, and a big mistake.
Tom Deline speaks at public meeting

“Rural Ontario IS different:” the wise words of Centre Hastings Mayor Tom Deline.

Which leads me to some wise words that Tom Deline, the mayor of Centre Hastings (the municipality that takes in Madoc village), offered up from the floor. He told the board representatives that he recognizes the problems they’re facing (provincial-government funding rules for schools, declining enrolment, etc.), and sympathetically added that he wouldn’t relish their job. But, he said, closing a community’s school is like pulling out any other critical facility, such as an arena.

It’s about a sense of community, he said, urging the board: “Please, please consider the social and economic benefits of that particular school when you’re making those decisions.”

And then, in a statement that I feel is utterly true and absolutely critical, he said: “Rural Ontario is different.” We’re not a city; urban issues are not the same as our issues. Here where we live, Mayor Deline said, “the sense of community is tremendous.” And schools are a big part of that.

Another person speaking from the floor echoed that sentiment, pointing out that most people who live in rural areas have chosen to do so because they appreciate rural life – including their children being able to go to rural schools. While I don’t have kids, I know I chose to live in this rural area because of the quality of life here. We may not have all the amenities of a city – a nearby hospital, a big choice of shops – but for us that’s more than outweighed by space, and beauty, and friendly neighbours who help you out when you need it, and – to quote Reeve Sager again – room for our kids to play.

Rural Ontario is different, as Mayor Deline said. It is time for the provincial government to do a better job of recognizing that, and to work with its subordinate agencies – like school boards – to support and enrich rural life. Not shut it down.

Which is why I think we all need to get involved here, and get our elected representatives involved. Our local MPP, Todd Smith, is in the Conservative opposition as opposed to the governing Liberals, but he can ask the government (notably the minister of education) some pointed questions about support for rural schools. Why not contact him? His Belleville constituency office’s number is 613-962-1144 (toll-free 1-877-536-6248); his Queen’s Park office is 416-325-2702; and his email is todd.smithco@pc.ola.org.

Meanwhile, when the provincial riding boundaries change next year to match up with recent federal-riding changes, our MPP may well be the Conservative nominee for the new riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington, none other than our longtime former MP, Darryl Kramp – a Madoc resident who is widely known and respected throughout this area. Why not contact him (here is his Twitter) and ask if he can help?

And while we’re at it (and even though education is a provincial, not a federal, matter), why not contact the guy who defeated Mr. Kramp in the last federal election, Liberal MP Mike Bossio? He is from Madoc, went to school there – and, what is probably more important, is hugely supportive of rural issues. He is, in fact, chair of the federal government’s National Rural Caucus, and in that role has been making considerable noise over the past year on the need to support rural communities. Why not ask if he can help? You can find Mr. Bossio’s contact information here.

Then there are the trustees on the school board, not just the two who came out to last week’s meeting – Bonnie Danes (who, to her great credit, voted against the “accommodation” process being started for our area) and Justin Bray – but the other eight, or 80 per cent, who didn’t come. You can find their names, phone numbers, email addresses and mailing addresses here. They are your elected representatives, and their mandate is to bring forward your issues. Tell them what those issues and concerns are!

There are also our local municipal councillors. It was great to see Reeve Sager and Mayor Deline speaking out at the meeting, but it would even better to see their respective councils pulling out all the stops in standing up for their local schools and our rural way of life. You can find the members of Madoc Township council here and Centre Hastings council here. Please let them know how you feel.

save-madoc-township-public-school-facebook-page

The new Facebook group Save Madoc Township Public School. Please join!

Finally, you might request membership (I doubt that you’ll be turned down) in the new Facebook group Save Madoc Township Public School, where lots of useful information is being shared. It was there, for instance, that I learned that under provincial rules about planned school closings (you can read the full document here), the board has an obligation to consult with the affected municipalities and other community partners about issues around underused school space – and presumably how that underused space might be used by said community partners. The person who posted the information asked: Has that consultation happened? A very good question. At the public meeting last week, we were given no indication that it had.

Also on that Facebook page, you’ll find a link to this interesting article from yesterday’s Toronto Star on provincewide concerns not only about rural schools being threatened with closures, but about the process surrounding those closures. It is good to know that we aren’t alone; the more pressure that all of us rural people can put on the government, the more chance there is that changes will be made and that rural schools – and by extension rural communities – will be given support rather than a governmental kick in the shins.

So what’s next? Well, first we should all contact the people I’ve mentioned, and anyone else you can think of who might be able to help. Oh, gracious – how could I have forgotten? Contact Ontario’s education minister! Her name is Mitzie Hunter, and her contact information is here. And while you’re at it, how about Ontario’s minister of rural affairs, Jeff Leal, who’s from nearby Peterborough? Here is his contact information. And the minister of municipal affairs, Bill Mauro, whose ministry’s website promises that it is “working with local governments and partners across Ontario to build safe and strong urban and rural communities with dynamic local economies, abundant greenspace and a high quality of life.” Bingo! Mr. Mauro’s contact information is here.

And last but not least: Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. Her contact information is here.

After that: attend meetings. The schedule the board has set up calls for there to be a meeting of the Madoc-area accommodation committee on Thursday, Feb. 9. I have inquired and have been told that a time and place for it have not yet been set, so stay tuned; that information will probably be provided through the three schools’ social-media (Facebook and Twitter) feeds, as well as under the “Upcoming Events” and/or “News Stand” sections of the school board’s website. There’s a followup meeting for the committee on Wednesday, March 1, but in between there are likely to be more informal school-by-school meetings – and at those, you will probably be allowed to speak, which we were informed at last week’s public meeting we could not do at the official committee meetings. (Though we are welcome to attend and be silent.)

On Wednesday, March 22, the board will hold the second of its two scheduled public meetings on the issue of changes to our three local schools. After that, it’s all about various board and committee meetings (you can see the full schedule here), and then the final decision at a board meeting Monday, June 19. Which is really not very far away.

The timeline is tight; the stakes are high; we probably have tough odds against us. But I feel sure that if we all do our part – by telling our elected representatives at every level how we (the people who elect them) feel, and by working together to come up with creative and innovative solutions to help the school board solve the tough problems it is up against – we have a really good shot. And in doing so, we can help others in rural Ontario who are facing the same problems and the same threat to their way of life.

I think this is a battle worth fighting. And that, with a lot of hard work, we can win.

Our school, our community, our future: have your say tomorrow

Madoc Township Public School 1

Our terrific rural school, Madoc Township Public School. Please let’s not let this be its final year of educating students from our community!

I am deeply indebted to another writer for most of the words that appear in today’s post. They are important words.

They are about the future of the local public school that serves us here in Queensborough: Madoc Township Public School. And they are by extension also about the future of our rural community as a whole.

Because really, is there anything much more important to a rural community than a school for that community’s children? A good school is one of the key factors attracting families to any area. We live in a time when several things – sky-high hydro rates, far-from-universal access to high-speed internet, and a shortage of other important services – are working against development, growth and prosperity in rural Ontario. Now, I am not one of those who despairs about that situation; I actually think we live in a time of great promise for our rural way of life. After the big migration from the country to the urban areas of this province that took place over the past 40 years or so, people are beginning to recognize that there is a very great deal to be said for living where there is space, and beauty, and fresh air, and neighbours you know who help you out when you need it. Central Hastings County, where Queensborough is located, is attracting more and more smart and creative people who appreciate our way of life – and those people include some families with young children. But we could use a lot more of those young families. And closing our local school – as the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board, admittedly facing some big financial challenges, is proposing to do (as you can read here) – is not, in my humble opinion, the way to go about it.

Madoc Township Public School 3

Our community school’s simple and excellent motto (devised in the years I attended it): “Friendship and Learning.” Well said.

In a recent post I let you know about a very important event that is happening tomorrow evening – Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. It’s the first public meeting in the process the school board has set up to consider and decide on its proposal to close Madoc Township Public School and bus its students from our community (Madoc Township, Elzevir Township [that’s where Queensborough is] and Tudor and Cashel Township) to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc. Madoc Public is a great little school, don’t get me wrong; many years ago, when I was growing up here at the Manse, I attended Grades 7 and 8 there, after doing Grades 1 through 6 at Madoc Township Public School. But the “town” school is already quite full, it has extremely limited playground space (whereas the playground at Madoc Township is magnificently huge), and it is located right next to the regional high school, which for some parents means concerns about their young children being exposed to “the big kids” and their sometimes worrisome activities, like smoking and whatnot, earlier than they would really like.

The meeting takes place in the gym of that high school (Centre Hastings Secondary), 129 Elgin St., Madoc, beginning at 6:30 p.m. As bad luck would have it, there is a freezing-rain warning in effect for Tuesday evening here in eastern Ontario. But people, please try to come if you can. It is so important to show the powers that be how much we care about our school, how important it is to our lives, our families and our community. I will be there, and I sure hope you will too.

But on to those words from another writer that I mentioned. Here is a letter that my friend Grant Ketcheson of Madoc Township sent this past week to the new chair of the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board (and copied to our local trustee on the board, Bonnie Danes, a former teacher at Madoc Township Public School). Grant’s family, the Ketchesons, is one of the oldest in Hastings County, and he himself is a walking repository of local history – and by that I don’t mean just dates and names, but living history: knowledge and stories about how things were done in rural areas once upon a time, and how things changed over the years, and how that all turned out and is still turning out. He well remembers the establishment of Madoc Township Public School, and knows as much as anyone does about its importance to our community.

Here (with Grant’s kind permission) is his letter. He says it better than I ever could.

Ms. Lucille Kyle
Chair
Hastings Prince Edward District School Board

Dear Ms. Kyle,

It was disturbing to hear the report that Madoc Township School was one of the schools recommended for closure by Hastings Prince Edward District School Board officials. While we realize that Madoc Township, like many areas, has experienced a drop in enrolment, the truly disturbing aspect of this report is that nowhere do we hear mention of “benefit to the students.” One can almost read between the lines another theme i.e. “What have students got to do with this? We have a business to run.”

I will wager that the mandarins in the Belleville office moving their educational chess pieces around have never visited the school communities that they are about to destroy. Yes, in rural areas, these are not just schools, they are school communities! I would also wager that these same mandarins have never driven on Baldwin or Elgin Streets in Madoc at bus time. It is a scene of chaos. Now they are planning to add to this with more buses! Perhaps when you are disrupting a whole community, it is easier to be like military drone pilots who don’t have to go anywhere near the damage they create.

In an era when we are becoming increasingly alarmed at the level of inactivity and obesity in our children, it makes little sense to close an educational facility like Madoc Township School with a spacious 5.5-acre playground that includes a ¼-mile running track. Apparently we are now preparing to lose this unique location and move students to Madoc Public School with a fenced-in area not large enough to be enjoyed by all students at the same time. Certainly, the wire fence makes a great place on which to lean while exercising thumbs on a wireless device! What the experts from the board office fail to realize is that once we lose large playground areas, we can never get them back.

My wife, a teacher for more than 35 years, has been on yard duty in more than a half-dozen school yards. She can attest to the difference in behaviour when children have plenty of room to run, play and just be kids. Madoc Township School is one of the very few in existence that has the luxury of lots of playground space.

It would seem to make more sense to reverse the decision, made some years ago, that took grade 7-8 students out of the school and sent them in to Madoc. Certainly the school is in excellent shape as it has had a new roof and all new windows in the last two years. Of course, we were not thinking of any realignment of schools when that money was spent, were we?

It would behoove administrators and decision makers to visit schools such as Madoc Township School before they destroy them, just to see what kind of facility they have. We personally know young couples who have moved to this area to live in a rural setting and to have their children attend a school in such a unique setting. Not to mention the fact that recent EQAO ratings rate this little school highest in Hastings County.

It might be a good idea for board members to have a look at the value a the target before they let the drones destroy it!

Sincerely,
Grant Ketcheson

cc. Bonnie Danes

Before I sign off, I thought I’d show you a little video I took today of the amazing playground area that Grant and I have mentioned. By my count, it has two soccer pitches, a baseball diamond, lots of playground equipment – and tons of space for other activities, like track and field and those great playground games I remember from my youth. (Red Rover, anyone? For a healthy childhood, it beats Snapchat any day.) Here’s a look at that wide open space:

Readers: I hope to see you tomorrow (Tuesday) evening for that meeting at CHSS. Let’s show we care about our community school and that we want to see it – and our community – survive and thrive.