Now it’s on us – to celebrate our school, and to work for it

Thanking the trustees

Some of the people who have worked so hard to save Madoc Township Public School (at left, from left, Margaret Heard, Wendy Spence and Amy Beaton) offer handshakes and heartfelt thanks to school-board trustees (in foreground is Dwayne Inch; behind him is Jim Patterson, and half-hidden while shaking Amy’s hand is Mary Hall) this evening for their unanimous support of keeping MTPS open and returning to it students in Grades 7 and 8.

Call it a victory for rural education. Call it the best-case scenario for the children of Madoc, Elzevir and Tudor and Cashel townships. Call it a huge shot in the arm for our local economy and way of life. Call it whatever you like. We have something to celebrate.

This evening, the trustees who make up the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board voted unanimously to keep Madoc Township Public School open, and to expand it by bringing back students in Grades 7 and 8 as of this coming September. Here’s the video of the vote that put paid to the whole thing:

Big crowd at the school-board meeting

The boardroom was filled to capacity for this evening’s final votes by the school board on the future of quite a few schools in Hastings and Prince Edward counties. Many supporters of Madoc Township Public School were among the crowd.

After a campaign that lasted more than six months – beginning in November 2016, when administrators with the board announced their recommendation to close MTPS and bus its students to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc as of this September – our community emerged stronger than when the whole thing started. Madoc Township’s only school will not only be able to carry on its long tradition of excellence in education, but students from our rural area will be able to attend it through Grade 8 rather than (as has been the case for about 45 years) be bused into “town.”

This is an astounding outcome, and one that even the most optimistic among us campaigners for MTPS barely dared think about, let alone hope for, during these past six months.

(If anyone reading this is unaware of the whole saga, which I freely admit I’ve covered in perhaps more detail than anyone wanted, just click on the “Madoc Township Public School” category on the right side of this blog’s home page. It’s all there – every step of the way.)

Thanks to Trustee Danes from MTPS supporters

Centre Hastings Trustee Bonnie Danes (left) was all smiles after this evening’s board meeting, as supporters of Madoc Township Public School, including recent MTPS grad Brooklyn Gylyktiuk (right foreground) and her mum, Wendy Spence, thanked her for her tireless work.

Every single one of the trustees on the board gets my huge thanks – and I hope yours too – for this vote of confidence in our school and our community. But I’d really like to single out Centre Hastings Trustee Bonnie Danes, who I think I’m safe in saying spearheaded the work behind the scenes at the board level in pushing for MTPS’s continued existence. I am sure that Southeast Hastings Trustee Justin Bray worked really hard on this one too. Trustees Danes and Bray: thank you so much!

As for the core of volunteers who have championed the cause of our local school on behalf of the community as a whole – who attended what seems like endless meetings, and put hundreds of hours into researching, planning, lobbying, networking, worrying (hey, I have to be honest) and strategizing – really, there are no words. Here they are, and it is one of the greatest honours of my life that they asked me to be in the photo with them:

The MTPS crew

Some of the core group of Madoc Township Public School supporters and activists who made it happen: from left, honorary member Brooklyn Gylyktiuk (an MTPS grad), plus some of the main crew: Wendy Spence, Margaret Heard, Randy Gray, Denise Gray, Holly Kormann, Amy Beaton – and, I feel shy to say and very honoured because they asked me to be in the photo, me.

So what happens next?

Well, we know that MTPS will be open for business this coming September, welcoming students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8. That is just amazing. And wonderful. And I think we should have a party! Maybe now; maybe in September. Whenever: a time for kids, parents and the community at large to gather on the five-plus acres at Madoc Township Public School for an afternoon or evening of kids running and jumping and exploring and playing soccer or softball or tag or hide and seek, parents taking photos and refereeing and chatting and enjoying the outdoors, and community members sharing their memories (old or new) of happy times at MTPS. With hot dogs and lemonade and conversation and smiles and tears of joy. Wouldn’t that be fun?

But in the longer term (and by that I mean only the very slightly longer term, i.e. starting pretty much now), I think it behooves all of us – parents, community members and MTPS students and supporters – to step up and show our ongoing support. I’m speaking only for myself here, but maybe I’m not alone in having realized that until six months ago, I took Madoc Township Public School for granted. It was there, it was a great school and a great asset to our community, and I assumed it would continue to be all of that.

And then we almost lost it. As Joni Mitchell says: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” Now, I think we did know what we had; but maybe we weren’t doing everything we could to ensure our community would continue to have it.

In the note of thanks that I sent to the 10 trustees last week after they passed their first (though not final) vote in favour of keeping MTPS open, I wrote this:

The confidence the trustees have shown in our school inspires me to do everything I can to ensure the community in turn does everything it can to support MTPS. Ways we can help that come to mind immediately are fundraising for playground, library and other school equipment and resources; assistance in establishing after-school care to help working parents; and support for outdoor-education programs that take full advantage of our school’s unparalleled green space. But I’m sure there are many other ways we can continue and expand our support.

I really mean that, and I hope others in the community will feel the same. If we want to continue to have this splendid school in our community, we can’t take it for granted; we have to work for it! And the more we do to help and improve our school, the greater its success will be – and the more assured will be its continued existence.

Madoc Township Public School, June 12, 2017

This is our school – and I am so proud of it!

One area that I feel strongly about is support for the school library. When I was a kid attending that brand-new school back in the 1960s and ’70s, it had a wonderful library – lots of books, comfy chairs, a welcoming ambience; it made you want to just curl up and read and read and read. Among my happiest memories of MTPS days are exploring all the books on the shelves, learning how they were categorized and shelved, and taking advantage of the newfangled (hey, it was the ’60s) audio-visual equipment. When I returned to MTPS for its fantastic 50th-anniversary celebration in 2011 (even before Raymond and I had bought the Manse and I resumed my childhood Queensborough connection), I was a little sad to see that the beautiful library space had been chopped up and turned largely into a computer lab, with a much-reduced library parked in a former classroom. If someone asked me tomorrow to head up a fundraising campaign to support and improve that library and the experience it offers the kids of MTPS, I would accept in a heartbeat. And this from someone (me) who is seriously lacking in free time – but aren’t we all? Hey, what can you do to support our school? Please think about it.

Our community has just received a priceless gift: our school, saved and supported. Let’s pay it forward by doing everything we can to make Madoc Township Public School even better, and in the process ensure a brilliant future for it, our kids and the rural place we are so proud to call home.

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.

Bless This House

Here are the Praise Friends singing Bless This House. From left, they are Janet Ellenberger, Patsy Mitchell, Sandra Brett, Ann Colebourne, Katherine Fleming and Heather Ferguson. Their accompanist is Claudia Scott.

It’s been highlight upon highlight at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough. On Sunday, May 28, we had a rousingly successful, jam-packed Music Night to raise money to send kids to summer camp. (And you can read all about that here.) We followed it up this past Sunday (June 4) with another jam-packed event, a service celebrating 127 years of worship in our pretty rural church.

Good things are happening at St. Andrew’s!

The highlight of our anniversary service was the special music provided by a group of six women who call themselves Praise Friends. The stated mission of the six good friends – who come from small towns and villages throughout south, central and northern Hastings County – is simple: “To praise God through song.” They’ve performed at church services, special events, fundraisers and variety nights, and we were so pleased to have them bring their gift of music to St. Andrew’s. (Mind you, we had a bit of pull: one of the Praise Friends is Katherine Fleming of Madoc, our church’s pianist.)

The group – who are, in addition to Katherine Fleming, Sandra Brett of Stirling, Ann Colebourne of Foxboro, Janet Ellenberger of Coe Hill, Heather Ferguson of Stirling and Patsy Mitchell of Foxboro, with accompanist Claudia Scott of Belleville – performed several lovely pieces before and during our worship service to a very appreciative congregation. Among the highlights for me were a terrific arrangement of one of my favourite hymns, Be Thou My Vision, as well as an extremely moving piece (new to me) called You Are Mine, by the American liturgical music composer David Haas; you can hear a version of it here.

But the song that had very special meaning for me – the one that’s in the video atop this post – was Bless This House. When I was a kid growing up here in the Manse in Queensborough, that song was well-known and frequently sung. In doing a bit of research on it just now, I learned that Bless This House was published in 1927 and made particularly popular through recordings by the likes of Vera Lynn, Perry Como (mid-1950s) and Doris Day (1962) – setting it up for popularity and widespread recognition (and humming) in my 1960s childhood. So as Praise Friends did their beautiful rendition at St. Andrew’s, I recognized quite a few of the words. It is a song asking for God’s blessing on a building – and it works equally well whether the building is a family home, a house of worship, or another place where people gather. I can remember it being sung by school choirs at Madoc Township Public School, asking for a blessing on our school; that was in the days when one was allowed to do things such as invoke a higher being in a school situation.

Here are the words:

Bless this house, O Lord, we pray;
Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out.

Bless the roof and chimneys tall;
Let thy peace lie over all.
Bless this door, that it may prove
Ever open to joy and love.

Bless these windows shining bright,
Letting in God’s heavenly light.
Bless the hearth ablazing there
With smoke ascending like a prayer.

Bless now all who dwell within;
Keep them pure and free from sin.
Bless us all that we may be
Fit, O Lord, to dwell with Thee.

Bless us all that one day we
May dwell, O Lord, with Thee.

“Bless these windows shining bright, letting in God’s heavenly light”: the historic stained-glass windows at St. Andrew’s United Church.

As the members of Praise Friends harmonized so beautifully on “Bless these windows shining bright,” and the outdoor light shone in on us through the simple but lovely red, blue, green and gold stained glass at St. Andrew’s, I thought: “What a perfect musical piece for a historic little church’s anniversary.”

So many blessings have come to the faithful members of St. Andrew’s for 127 years and more; and those faithful servants have in turn, through their care and good works, brought so many blessings to the Queensborough and area community, and to places in need in the wider world. Our fundraiser to send kids to camp is just the most recent in a long, long line – a 127-year-plus line – of community outreach projects.

Our service was followed by a time of food and fellowship in the church hall. Those of us who faithfully attend services at St. Andrew’s every Sunday were joined by members of our partner churches – St. John’s United in Tweed and Bethesda United in the hamlet of White Lake – as well as many old friends and current and former members of our church. Our recently renovated (hey, we’re busy!) church hall was filled to overflowing with people enjoying a fine lunch and sharing stories and news. It was a day full of joy.

Our house was blessed.

Come stand up for your school – a little later than expected

Accommodation review photos from Quinte News

The process by which the school board decides to close schools has the education-jargony name “accommodation review.” In searching for stories on that subject on the website of Belleville’s Quinte News (which has done a good job of covering the process), I was struck by the images and headlines that came up. They don’t paint a particularly happy picture, do they? There is so much worry about our local schools.

Regular readers will probably remember my post two weeks ago in which I issued an appeal to all of you who care about the future of Madoc Township Public School to show up for two critical meetings of the local public school board.

That appeal to come in person to support our wonderful rural school remains as urgent as ever. But: the date of the first of those two meetings has been changed. So please don’t show up at board headquarters in Belleville this Tuesday, May 23 – unless, that is, you’re eager to sit through a regular meeting of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board just for the heck of it.

May 23 was the long-scheduled date for a meeting at which the trustees who sit on the board’s student enrolment/school capacity committee were to formulate their recommendation on the fate of the three schools in the Madoc/Queensborough area: rural Madoc Township Public School plus two schools within the village of Madoc, Centre Hastings Secondary School and Madoc Public School. That recommendation was to go to a meeting of the full board on Monday, June 19, for a final and deciding vote.

For reasons that remain unclear to all the local residents/taxpayers whom I have spoken to about it, the board’s administration unexpectedly sent out word late last week that this very important meeting would be moved to Monday, June 12. The word came last Thursday, the day before a long weekend. (Friday, May 19, was a professional-development day, so students were not in school on that last day before the Victoria Day holiday.) This sudden and last-minute change of plans seems odd.

The board administration’s official word on the matter, in the press release posted on its website Thursday, said this:

May 18, 2017—A new date has been scheduled for the Student Enrolment/School Capacity Committee to meet to prepare the final recommendation for the Centre Hastings accommodation review.

The new date is Monday, June 12, rescheduled from Tuesday, May 23.

June 12 was already scheduled for final recommendations for the Belleville and Prince Edward County accommodation reviews. This change is being made to allow recommendations for all three areas to be prepared on the same day. It should be noted that the required accommodation review timeline allows for the May 23rd meeting date to be later than May 23rd although not before.

All other timelines remain the same (see below). The final decision by the Board of Trustees will be made on Monday, June 19.

Interestingly, queries about this sudden change that one local MTPS supporter sent to the elected trustees resulted in an emailed response that started thus:

I understand that you have emailed Trustees about the change of date for the Student Enrolment/School Capacity Committee meeting to prepare the final recommendation  for Centre Hastings. I am responding on behalf of the Trustees.

The message, which went on to echo the wording in the above-cited press release, closed with:

I hope this helps.
Thank you
Mandy
Mandy Savery-Whiteway
Director of Education
Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board
613-966-1170 ext 2257

As director of education, Ms. Savery-Whiteway is the board’s top administrator. I don’t know about you, but I find myself wondering why the trustees, the people whom we have elected to make decisions on local education matters, did not respond themselves to such a straightforward question. I would not like to think they were told not to by board staff, and I hope that’s not the case.

Perhaps you are thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a date change.” Let me explain why I’m bothered by it. (And I know I am not alone.)

First: People had already made plans and changed their schedules – work, babysitting and otherwise – to be able to attend the long-scheduled May 23 meeting. A bit more notice of the change would have been both professional and polite.

Sign in front of the board office

An “Our Local Schools Matter” sign pitched outside school-board headquarters the last time the trustees were discussing the future of much-loved Madoc Township Public School.

Second: The originally scheduled meeting was to have been exclusively for the committee to consider the future of the three schools in the Madoc area – and there is a lot to consider. As you’ll know if you’ve been following this story (and if you’d like to catch up, just click on the category “Madoc Township Public School” on this blog’s home page), over the past few months there have been many meetings, many concerns, many discoveries of flawed information and problematic conclusions in materials prepared by and for the board’s administrators. The committee set up by the board to look into the initial proposal – to close Madoc Township Public School, send its kids to Madoc Public, and move students in Grades 7 and 8 into the high school – rejected it, and came up with two alternate plans, both of which would be better for local students and for the community as a whole. (Details on those alternate plans here.) So far those alternative proposals have gone nowhere with the board’s administrators. But that could easily change in a forum for the trustees to openly discuss the process and the conclusions – which is what the May 23 meeting was to have been.

Full house at CHSS

The gym at the high school in Madoc has been packed by people worried about our local schools at both public meetings to discuss the school board’s closure/consolidation plan.

Now, that full open discussion can still take place at the meeting on Monday, June 12. But here’s the rub: as the board’s press release and Ms. Savery-Whiteway’s letter note, the June 12 meeting will also see the committee consider two other highly contentious school-closure/consolidation proposals, one for the Belleville area and one for Prince Edward County. That is a lot of important decision-making to cram into one meeting, and I have concerns (and did I mention that I know I’m not alone?) that the hard facts of time limits plus the limits of human attention spans and energy levels will come into play – curbing trustees’ leanings toward challenging board administrators’ proposals and then going through the time-consuming process of discussing and agreeing on wording for motions that differ from those proposals.

I hope I’m wrong about this. I also hope there’s a good supply of strong coffee for the trustees at the June 12 meeting.

My third (I hesitate to say final) concern: There is only one week between the June 12 meeting at which the final recommendation is formulated and the June 19 meeting of the full board at which the recommendation is voted on. Less time between meetings means less time for community members concerned about the final recommendation to hold discussions, contact trustees, lobby and so on. May I be allowed to be suspicious about this newly reduced time frame?

And by the way: you may be as unimpressed as I was to learn that the June 12 meeting is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. Which means it will be extremely difficult for anyone to attend if they work during the day and/or have small kids coming home from school mid-afternoon. That’s a large portion of the community ruled out. Now, members of the public are not allowed to speak at or participate in the committee meeting; but it’s still important for them to be able to see their elected trustees in action when those trustees make community-changing decisions on school closures. Does it seem right to you that this session should be scheduled for a time when the majority of the public can’t attend? Me neither.

At any rate, if you were one of the community members who had planned to attend the May 23 meeting to show support for our school, I hope that you can and will revise your schedule to be at school-board headquarters (156 Ann St., Belleville) at 2 p.m. on Monday, June 12.

And between now and then, please don’t hesitate to call, write and/or email your local trustees and all the rest of the trustees (full list with contact information here) to tell them how important Madoc Township Public School is to our children and our community. This process has been long and hard, and I think we’re all feeling a little worn down. Sudden curve balls from the people holding most of the cards don’t help at all. But a united stand and a strong show of support can make all the difference.

A hibernating bumblebee, and an extraordinary school

Breakfast at MTPS 1

Breakfast is served! Every Tuesday, community volunteers Suzanne and John Paul Copeland, whose children were fortunate enough to attend Madoc Township Public School, give back to the school by cooking a hot breakfast that all students can enjoy.

The bell rang. The front door opened. Children started streaming in. One little girl came up and, before doing anything else, hugged Raymond around the knees, which was as high as she reached. The look on Raymond’s face was priceless – ever so slightly startled, but mainly delighted and touched. This little girl didn’t know us, and we didn’t know her. But she knew that because we were among the teachers and school volunteers waiting to say good morning to her and the other kids, we were her friends.

“I went to Wolfe Island!” a tiny boy, again unknown to us until that moment, shouted up in great excitement. Looking down, I smiled to notice from his mismatched socks that he had clearly been in charge of his own wardrobe that morning. Soon we knew quite a bit more about his adventures over the long Easter weekend that had just ended: “I saw a bumblebee! It had been hibernating! And it woke up! And then it went into my dad’s car! And it hibernated there!”

This was such a momentous happening that the boy felt compelled to share the story with us, and with anyone else within range, several times. He told it a couple of times before he’d got his coat off, and a few times more after that. It was a great story each time. It was a story about discovering a little piece of the magic of the natural world.

St. Andrew's donation 1

Presenting a donation from the members of St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, to support the excellent Food for Learning program at Madoc Township Public School: from left, accepting the donation on behalf of the school, are students Isaac Shanks, Braden Shaffer and Curtis Gunter; in the rear is French-toast chef extraordinaire John Paul Copeland (and, hidden behind Isaac, Suzanne Copeland); beside Curtis is principal Leanne Pond; and then there’s me, looking as terrible as I generally do in photos. But all in a good cause! (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Raymond and I were at Madoc Township Public School that morning a couple of weeks ago to present a donation from the members of our church, St. Andrew’s United in Queensborough, to the Food for Learning program at the school. Principal Leanne Pond, her staff and the parents and others who volunteer at the school have made it their mission to see that breakfast, lunch and snacks are available for every child who wants to partake. As Food for Learning volunteer Suzanne Copeland (whom I’ll tell you more about in a second) put it in a message to me: “Eliminating/reducing hunger keeps the focus on the learning agenda. With the thoughtful way (Food for Learning) is set up at MPTS, there is no stigma attached to grabbing a bite to eat. Great things are happening at MTPS!”

I’d wanted to visit the school to present the donation on a Tuesday, because that is a special day in the Food for Learning work at Madoc Township Public School. Every Tuesday, Suzanne Copeland and her husband, John Paul, volunteer their time to prepare a hot breakfast that’s waiting for the kids as they arrive. It was Suzanne who first made our church congregation aware of the program and the need, and I wanted to see the kids enjoying the fruits of the Copelands’ culinary labours. We weren’t disappointed: as we entered the tiny and somewhat makeshift kitchen where Suzanne and John Paul were working, the delightful smell of French toast and maple syrup greeted us. By the time the kids started pouring through the door, a long table in the hallway had been set up with plates and utensils and the hot French toast and a big bowl of fresh strawberries, and Suzanne and John Paul were right there to serve it up and pour the syrup. Some kids lined up right away; others went to their classrooms, where we saw their teachers waiting to welcome them, deposited their coats and knapsacks, and hurried back to join the line. As far as Raymond and I could see, almost every kid came for French toast, or strawberries, or both. And John Paul and Suzanne dished it up with friendliness and lots of smiles, making frequent dashes back into the kitchen to replenish supplies.

The atmosphere was so warm and welcoming – not only for us, the visitors, but for every kid who came through that door. Madoc Township is a small school, and everyone knows everyone else. No one slips through the cracks, ever. If there’s a problem, a worry, a meltdown, a fear, it will be noticed by a teacher, a fellow student, the principal, the office administrator, a parent volunteer, a custodian – in all likelihood, by every single one of them. The children evidently know that when they are inside the school’s walls, they are among friends – people who are there to help them be their best. Raymond and I felt honoured beyond description that we were – simply by being there – seen as being among that group of friends, helpers and mentors by the kids who spoke to us, hugged us, told us their story of a hibernating bumblebee, and lined up for that amazing breakfast.

I had tears in my eyes as I watched the morning unfold and saw how happy, loved, safe and looked-after those kids are – and as I thought of the world of possibilities that lay before them thanks to the excellent education and the support they are getting in that small rural school. Perhaps our young bumblebee enthusiast with the mismatched socks will grow up to be a renowned naturalist or conservationist. Perhaps the wee girl who trustingly gave Raymond a hug will herself become a teacher, or a doctor, or a psychologist – someone who looks after the well-being of others.

The school day was beginning, and it was time for us to leave. Our departure was slowed a bit by the sound of the national anthem coming over the loudspeakers. “Raymond!” I whispered urgently as he kept walking. “Stop! You’ve got to stop for O Canada!” (Can’t set a bad example for the kids.) So we stood at attention in the hallway, along with Leanne Pond and a few kids with whom she’d been walking and talking as she made her way back to the office. And I was delighted to hear the national anthem played in both French and English.

As we collected our coats at the office, two students were there doing the morning announcements over the loudspeaker system. I was so impressed with a) how well they read them, and b) how much was going on at the school. We heard about a book fair, a Learn with Lego event, and all kinds of other activities for that day and the days ahead.

Just before I walked out the front door, I stopped to take a photo of the portrait of Florence McCoy, MTPS’s founding principal, that hangs in the entryway:

Florence McCoy

Florence McCoy photo info

Mrs. McCoy was both a force of nature and my first principal, the person who, when I was a tiny, scared kid first walking through the doors of Madoc Township Public School, oversaw a school where every child was warmly welcomed, and known, and helped and encouraged in whatever way he or she needed help and encouragement.

“Some things never change,” I thought to myself. At least at Madoc Township Public School.

Madoc Township's former schools

This charming painting that hangs at Madoc Township Public School shows all the one-room schools that it replaced, and that are thus part of its heritage. Burris School (third from the top on right) stood where MTPS is now.

I also thought about how saddened and disappointed Mrs. McCoy would be if she knew that officials with the local public school board had targeted Madoc Township Public School for closure. How this beautiful little rural school that she had worked so hard to get off the ground back in the early 1960s – a central, modern school replacing all the one-room schoolhouses that were scattered around Madoc Township and surrounding areas, including Queensborough – might close its doors forever in just a little over two months. Of how the children from our community would never again get that warm, special Madoc Township Public School welcome at the start of their day.

Madoc Public School playground

The tiny play area for students in kindergarten to Grade 3 at Madoc Public School, which is where students from Madoc Township Public School will be bused if the plan of the public school board’s administration is passed by the trustees on the board. MPS is a good school; I can say that from personal experience, having attended Grades 7 and 8 there long ago, and visited it and spoken to students in more recent times. But I think we can all agree that this small playground with the chain-link fence around it is not outdoor learning at its best.

I thought too about the devastating loss of what is perhaps Madoc Township Public School’s most important asset: the five-acres-plus playground/green space that surrounds it, where children can run and play and have fun and learn about the natural world to their hearts’ content. I thought about our little bumblebee enthusiast. In the town school where the education officials plan to move the MTPS students, the playground for the kids his age is a tiny space containing an even tinier bit of grass, surrounded by a high chain-link fence. There isn’t going to be much opportunity for the little guy with the mismatched socks to discover bumblebees or caterpillars or grasshoppers or blue jays or jack-in-the-pulpits or trilliums or toads in that play space. That is a terrible loss. Inexcusable, I would argue.

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

One section of the huge play area/outdoor space at Madoc Township Public School. A bit of a contrast with what students can expect if they are bused into the town school next year. (Photo by Denise Gray)

Raymond and I had come in separate cars; after our visit, he headed home to the Manse, and I headed to work. As my car rounded the bend in Hazzards Road just past the school, I had to brake sharply as a collection of rather gigantic wild turkeys made their way across the road and over a fence. Their size, their colours, their dopiness (getting over the fence was quite the challenge for them) were amazing and delightful. This is the kind of thing – a little piece of the magic of the natural world – that kids at Madoc Township Public School get to experience all the time.

I am 100-per-cent sure that Florence McCoy would echo me (and in fact probably is echoing me, from behind her sturdy principal’s desk up there in heaven) as I ask: Why would this amazing school, this place where children are so supported, fed, cared for, loved, and exposed every day to a vast green space where they can enjoy healthy outdoor activity and learn about the magic of the natural world – why would this outstanding school be closed?

The committee of school and community representatives that the board itself set up to study the school-closure proposal recommended against closing Madoc Township Public School. The committee urged instead that kids from Madoc Township and area who are in Grades 7 and 8 be returned to MTPS, rather than (as is currently the case) being bused into town to attend playground-challenged Madoc Public School. If that were to happen, it would return MTPS to its original mission – back when Florence McCoy was running the show – of educating the local children until they were ready for high school. It would also mean that the MTPS building would be full, and fully used.

And it would also mean that another generation, and hopefully many generations to come, of kids from our beautiful rural area would receive the warm welcome, strong support and excellent education that Madoc Township Public School offers.

If you think that’s a good idea, please call, email or write the 10 elected trustees who will make the final decision on MTPS. You can find their contact information here. The trustees next meet on Tuesday, May 23, to prepare a final recommendation on the fate of our local schools. That recommendation will be voted on, and the final decision made, at a meeting on Monday, June 19. I sure wish that before that day the trustees would pay a visit to MTPS, like Raymond and I did. Perhaps they should be invited to do so.

Time is short. The stakes are high. And our school is unique and precious – as Florence McCoy would be the first to tell you.

Or you could just ask the boy with the bumblebee story.

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.