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.

The future of our school: please mark Jan. 17 on your calendar

turkey-dinner-at-madoc-township-public-school-december-2016

It is a Christmas tradition at Madoc Township Public School to serve a full turkey dinner to parents and other members of the school community each December. Here’s one photo from this year’s event, which happened in the school gym last Tuesday. (Hey, I remember when that gym was built! It was a big event!) You can see more photos of this and other activities at our wonderful rural school at its Facebook page, here. (Photo from the Madoc Township Public School Facebook page)

It’s been a while since I posted about the threat to Madoc Township Public School, the small and excellent rural elementary school that children from Queensborough, Madoc Township and surrounding areas have been attending for many decades. As everyone in my immediate geographic area knows, the local public board of education, the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board, is proposing to close MTPS as of the end of the current school year and start busing its students to the playground-challenged Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc. (For those of you who are further away and perhaps less personally invested in this community issue, my earlier posts explaining it all are here and here.)

Me in front of Madoc Township Public School

Me in front of my old school a few summers ago.

Anyway: the threat has certainly not gone away. The school board continues with its process, which is called (in classic education-bureaucracy-speak) an “accommodation review” as opposed to what it really is, which is: a proposal to close a school.

(In a wonderful bit of – what? irony? coincidence? – Madoc Township Public School was recently placed atop every other school in the board’s jurisdiction for student achievement in reading, writing and math in the annual national survey done by the Fraser Institute, a conservative think tank. [I always wonder when I hear that phrase: why do they think in tanks, of all places?] Teachers and education administrators routinely pooh-pooh the Fraser Institute’s reports; parents, who care about their kids’ achievements in reading, writing and math – not so much. For me, the results reinforced what I already knew about the quality of the teaching and learning at Madoc Township Public School, having experienced them first-hand from Grades 1 through 6.)

Anyway, back to the “accommodation review.” Advertisements about what happens next have appeared in the local newspapers in the past couple of weeks. Probably many of the people who care deeply about Madoc Township Public School have seen these ads, but since paper delivery can be spotty (don’t get me started), and since not everybody reads the ads, I thought it would be useful to draw them to your attention here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. So here we go, and I’ll go into some of the details below. (Click on the image if you want/need to see it larger.)

Madoc schools "accommodation process"

What this tells you is this: the board is asking for people – parents and other folks from the local community – to put their names forward to be members of what it calls an “accommodation review committee.” The committee’s mandate is to “act as an official conduit of information shared between the school board and the school communities.” One can only hope that this translates to “share the feelings of the community with the board” and not just “try to make the board’s message about closing Madoc Township Public School more palatable to the community.”

I hope there are people willing to put their names forward to be on the committee. If you happen to be one of them, don’t delay; the deadline to apply is this coming Thursday, Dec. 22. More information about the process can be found here.

So that’s one important thing. Probably even more important is the first public meeting that the board has scheduled to talk about the proposed closure and related moves of students to Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary School. As you’ll see in the right-hand column of the newspaper ad, that meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 6:30 p.m., in the gym at CHSS in Madoc.

As a former education reporter, I can tell you that public meetings of this sort can have a big impact on final decisions by school boards. If people who care about Madoc Township Public School show up in good numbers, speak respectfully but knowledgeably (having done their research and carried out their discussions with fellow members of the community), and decline to back down in the face of what is likely to be a “Sorry, but this is the only way” message from the board and its administrators – it can and will make a difference.

As a former student and proud graduate of of Madoc Township Public School, and a current member of the local school community (and supporter of the public school board through my property taxes), I plan to be there.

I hope you do too.

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

Madoc Township Public School

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

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

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

Me in front of Madoc Township Public School

Me in front of my old school.

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

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

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

Staff of Madoc Township Public School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

playground at Madoc Township Public School

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

And here’s another:

Soccer field at Madoc Township Public School

The soccer field at Madoc Township Public School.

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

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

Founders' plaques at Madoc Township Public School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believe you should let them know what you think.

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

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

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

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

In what is news to precisely no one: women’s work is never done

Peeling potatoes for the Turkey Supper

Me in the midst of peeling 20 pounds of potatoes late at night, after a long day’s work, in the cramped Manse kitchen. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

More than once here at Meanwhile, at the Manse I’ve paid tribute to my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, for somehow surviving the Manse years of my childhood. Now that I am living through the Manse years of my adulthood (having moved back to this great old house in Queensborough a while back), I think I have a much better appreciation of what was involved in raising four small children, working full-time as a high-school teacher, keeping a big old house in reasonable order, preparing three meals a day for an ungrateful lot (and this when she hated cooking), and last but certainly not least, fulfilling all the demands that were placed on a midcentury minister’s wife – including having company to dinner pretty much every single Sunday.

And all this without a dishwasher! Or many other of the conveniences we all take for granted today. (Mind you, Raymond and I still don’t have a dishwasher at the Manse.)

My mother told me not long ago that quite often on Friday afternoons, when she would arrive home at the Manse after a week of teaching, she would just sit in the car in the driveway for a while, too exhausted to immediately face the job of cooking supper for the family. Too exhausted to even face the family.

Now, my workload is not nearly as heavy as my mum’s was. For one thing, there are zero small children to raise, though there are three cats. For another, my husband does an immense amount of work around the house, including cooking meals more than half the time. That said, my paid job (co-ordinating and teaching in the journalism program at Loyalist College in Belleville) is probably more demanding and time-consuming than my mum’s job was. And I have a daily commute of almost an hour each way, whereas Mum only had the less-than-15-minute drive to Madoc and back, to teach at Centre Hastings Secondary School. And even though I don’t have minister’s wife duties, I do have quite a bit of work in my role as secretary at St. Andrew’s United Church. And then there is Meanwhile, at the Manse to produce!

Let’s just say that I sometimes feel, as I’m sure my mother felt a hundred thousand or so times back in those Manse days of my childhood, that I am really tired of being tired.

But who doesn’t feel that way these days? Every working person I know is putting in more hours than workers did even a generation ago. Nine to five? What the heck is that? And we’ve all got so much going on outside of work as well. The other day I was talking to a businesswoman in Madoc who works full time six, and often seven, days a week. How does she do it?

While I fully realize that many, many men (like my husband) work every bit as hard as their wives do, I’ve been thinking a lot about “women’s work” over the past two or three weeks. You won’t be surprised to know that these thoughts have been prompted by being at the Manse, and by thinking about my mum and the women of her generation, and the generations before that.

These reflections kind of got started on a recent Friday night, when, after a very long and trying week at work, I had to spend several hours in the Manse’s ridiculously small and poorly laid out kitchen/pantry doing prep work for a meal to be served to guests the next day. They are guests whom we always enjoy having over, and the meal was not at all a fancy one; but because Raymond and I had out-of-the-house stuff to do most of the following day, I had to get things ready Friday night – when, let me tell you, I was ready to drop from exhaustion. Here I am whipping the cream for the world’s greatest retro dessert at about 10 o’clock at night, feeling more than a little sorry for myself:

late-night-whipping-cream-in-the-manse-kitchen

As I whipped, I kept thinking about my mum, and all those long-ago evenings in that very same kitchen when she, as exhausted as I was, would be using the hand-held mixer to prepare some dessert or jellied salad or other so as to lighten the load of same-day preparations for company. “How did she do it?” I kept wondering.

(But you know, it paid off: the next day when dinner was a snap to get on the table because of all the advance work that I’d done, I felt pretty pleased with myself. That, however, was after a good night’s sleep.)

I got thinking along the same lines last week, on the night before the Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church that I told you all about in last week’s post. My assigned task, because I am utterly incapable of baking one of those homemade pies that St. Andrew’s and Queensborough are so famous for, was to peel and cut up (into small pieces, so they’d cook quickly) 20 pounds of potatoes. People, do you know how long it takes to peel and cut up 20 pounds of potatoes? I’ll tell you. It takes exactly an hour and a half – 45 minutes per 10-pound bag of potatoes. There was a time when leaning over the kitchen sink for an hour and a half would have caused my back no problems whatsoever. But as a woman of a certain age, I can definitively say: this is not that time. And this hour-and-a-half mission happened, of course, after another very long day at work and another long commute home. You can see me hard at work on the potato front in the photo at the top of this post, and here’s another view where my peeling hands are just a blur!

peeling-potatoes-2

But I hasten to add that I wasn’t really feeling sorry for myself on potato-peeling night. Instead I was thinking about all the other women of St. Andrew’s United Church and the wider Queensborough community who, that night and over the past several days, had worked way more than my measly hour and a half to prepare food and make everything ready for the Turkey Supper. And then there was the day to come, when many of the same women would be working all day long doing prep work and setup, then serving up the food at a furious pace during the 2½ hours of the supper, and then working late into the night to clean everything up. And people, I hope I’m not giving away any secrets if I say that most of those women are older than I am – some by quite a bit.

They are amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Every year I vow that I will take lots of photos of our Turkey Supper, and every year I fail to fulfill that mission. Why? Because I’m so busy running around helping out! There’s just no time to stop and take photos. And most especially not this year, when – thanks in part to you excellent people – we had what was probably the biggest crowd in the long, long history of St. Andrew’s Turkey Suppers.

Cars parked all through Queensborough for the Turkey Supper

“The cars were parked all over Queensborough!” one visitor to our Turkey Supper told me, completely accurately. I am pretty sure it was the biggest turnout in the history of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016

A view of the newly renovated hall at St. Andrew’s packed with people who were there for our famous Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016 2

Another shot of the Turkey Supper diners, featuring Raymond (in the checked shirt) who, with our minister, Norm Long, never stopped pouring coffee and tea.

I hope my photos give you some sense of how busy we were. Thanks to ticket sales and donations, our church has received a wonderful financial boost that will help its work a lot in the coming year. But oh, how I wish I had photos or video of Lorraine mashing the potatoes and keeping a steady stream of warm and delicious food coming out of the oven; of Ann Lee making sure all the trays on the buffet table were always filled; of Joan and Stephanie and Barb and Wanda and Lorna and Doris tirelessly washing and drying the plates, cutlery and glasses over and over and over as they kept being used over and over and over; of Netta and Debbie and Susanna racing to clear tables and install new place settings in time for the next round of diners! How I wish I could show you Eilene, making pot after pot of coffee and tea; of Joan, filling bowl after bowl of salads; of Lois, cutting and serving up dozens and dozens of pies; of Sandra, keeping track of when there were spaces at the table and summoning expectant diners to fill them; and especially of Betty, overseeing the whole shebang, as she has done for so many years, and doing a fantastic job. And how I wish I could show you the bustle – exhausted bustle, but bustle nonetheless – as everyone worked to clean everything up afterwards – on empty stomachs, because the crowds were so huge that there was no turkey dinner left to feed these hard-working volunteers!

Pictures failed me. And really, so do words.

Except this: thanks to the work of these women, of women like my mother, who have spent the majority of the days of their lives working until they were ready to drop – we have been fed, and cared for. The world is a much better place for “women’s work.”