Meeting Notes - October 13, 2015

A Special Board Meeting was held on October 13, 2015 to make decisions about the Recommendations put forward by Administration regarding the PARC involving several county schools.

Accommodations are probably the hardest part of being a trustee. When utilizations rates become troubling and infrastructure becomes costly it means decisions need to be made that are guaranteed to bring high emotions and will never make everyone happy. However, as I promised, I made principled decisions based on what I believed is best for students in the end.

I voted on the prevailing side of all the recommendations: in short, to close Harrow District High School, transfer the students to Kingsville District High School, and have Administration create a business case for a new build. I also voted to maintain Western Secondary School and to have Administration develop a business case for a new dual campus for Western and General Amherst.

I attended the PARC Community meetings, toured the schools, listened to presentations and read emails from parents, students, residents, the teacher unions, as well as elected representatives and municipal administration. And I spent many hours on the phone.

If keeping schools open for the benefit of the Harrow community was the only question, the answer would have been clear and easy. However, GECDSB has been reviewing the Harrow schools since long before my time and we can see the situation is not improving. Enrollment continues to decline and the population of children and youth is not expected to increase any time soon.

We know that along with declining enrollment there are programming challenges in spite of the tremendous staff and teachers. 

As a trustee of public education, my most important concerns are student outcomes, achievement, and opportunity. It’s important to be looking for opportunities to expand programming and to make positive changes in our board for the ultimate benefit of the students. With the move to Kingsville District High School, Harrow students will have fewer timetable conflicts and more programming choices in the areas of skilled trades, arts, and social sciences. 

Programming is also the reason I opposed the recommendation to close Western Secondary School. 

Visiting Western was a real eye opener. I learned a great deal about the school - and our student tour guide, Kyle, was extraordinary. He took us through the student-run “store”, the student-run café, the auto shop, the greenhouse, and the kitchen supporting the incredible culinary program. I was not convinced students would have the same or better level of programming if Western closed and the students were scattered across their in-district schools. 

I also worried that the students would not have the critical mass they need to feel like they have a place of their own if they were placed in numbers of ten and twenty among hundreds of others in their local schools. Every student from Western talked about making friends – some for the first time ever – as a result of going to Western. It was clear that the programming at Western contributes to the well-being of these students.

Finally, all of the students and parents said that long bus rides were worth it to be able to access the programs at Western.

In the end, it was important for me that no matter what happened, the students from each school involved this PARC would be able to stay together as much as possible. I am pleased that students at both schools will be able to stay together. I doubt this will always be possible, but as I referred to earlier, a critical mass is important.

The next regular board meeting is on Tuesday, October 20. Before then, I will be visiting West Gate Public School to talk to the students in grades 4-6 about my role as a trustee as part of their civics lesson.

Jessica

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Jessica Sartori