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.

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.