An Open Letter To The OCDSB

I live in Kanata.

We have a problem here. An explosion of new homes has built over the last 10 years. These homes were almost exclusively bought by families with young children. The population is skewed, and that means that our English public schools are overcrowded. Very seriously overcrowded; some public schools are over 150% capacity. This puts a heavy toll on students, parents, and staff as they attempt to teach using limited resources, sharing facilities meant for half as many children, and trying to build a school community when they have three rows of portables.

More than a year ago, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) set up an ARC – an Accomodation/Program Review Committee – to address this problem. An ARC is made up of parents, principals, and other community members that do not work for the Board. The purpose of the ARC is to look at the numbers, brainstorm solutions, gather feedback, and then make recommendations to the Board.

Over the past year, the ARC has held a series of public meetings in Kanata, asking parents for their opinions on various solutions. Obviously, the best choice would be to build new schools, at least one for Kanata North and one for Kanata South. However, that’s the least likely answer as no land has been set aside for new schools in Kanata, and to buy a parcel of land from a developer for that purpose would be prohibitively expensive.

Instead, they have been looking at ideas like removing the kindergarten kids from some overcrowded schools and busing them to underpopulated schools (actually already happening in Kanata North), moving around the various French Immersion programs to help balance the populations, and changing school boundaries.

Lastly, they also thought about moving all the Grade 7 and 8 students out of the K-8 schools, and adding them to the high schools in the area.

This last idea was the most unpopular of all. Many, many parents expressed their concerns. I personally attended meetings and wrote to the ARC on this issue. The high schools were not prepared for an influx of students, and the portables/facility sharing problems would just be pushed from the elementary schools to the next level. The 7 and 8 students would be moved out of a leadership role, a chance to shine at a time when they are just starting to figure out who they are, into a position of being the lowliest students at school. Mixing 12 year olds with 16 and 17 year olds would create social situations that they were not ready for. It was forcing them into a situation where their education would be compromised, their development would suffer, and their safety would be a concern, all because of the city’s poor planning.

The ARC heard our concerns. They understood that this was not a good idea. Their final recommendations left the door open for moving grade 7 and 8 students to Earl of March High School and West Carleton High School, but if and only if certain accomodations were met. These including building a new wing on the high schools to keep the grade 7 and 8 students separate, and to make sure that appropriate facilities and room for them existed before they were moved. You can read the ARC recommendations for Kanata South here and for Kanata North here.

The Board has seen fit to take the recommendations made by the ARC, based on careful listening to the community, and throw them out the window.

Instead, the Board’s “senior staff,” having listened to no one and made no effort to take into account the ideas of parents in Kanata, came up with their own plan. They know what is best. The ARC was, apparently, a powerless sham.

The Board’s plan includes not only moving grade 7 and 8 students into the high schools starting in September 2013, but out of nowhere, has also included A.Y. Jackson in the plan.

There’s no funding in place to build new wings and new facilities at the northern Kanata high schools. But the students are going to be moved in anyway, and the Board “hopes” to find funding sometime in the next few years.

Unlike the other high schools, there’s no funding plan or construction plan at all for the move to A.Y. Students in feeder schools for A.Y. Jackson – including the school where my children go – will be moved to Glen Cairn Elementary School as an “annex” to the high school. Glen Cairn will suddenly balloon from an underpopulated school to a school that is at nearly 150% capacity. It will be expected to make use of facilities at the high school, which is several blocks’ walk away. Our grade 7 and 8 students – my own children included – will be moved from a leadership role at an established school with great facilities, to struggling to learn in portables, making do with substandard facilities, while trying to battle a mature social structure that they are not ready for.

Several years ago, the Ministry of Education for Ontario recommended phasing out dedicated Senior Public Schools. That was a decision made in the best interests of the students. The Ministry suggested moving to a K-8 model for the benefit of grade 7 and 8 students. There, they would experience their first taste of adulthood with a message of leadership, maturity, responsibility. It was a chance for them to feel like they could make a difference in this world, to become part of the community with a hopeful outlook and the spirit to make change in this world.

This decision, to move them to a 7-12 model, is not being made for their own good. It is not a decision based on quality of education. It is just a numbers game, a way to move bodies around. It is not a smart decision. It is not a carefully considered decision. It is not the right decision.

I attended the public meetings. I sent emails to the recommendation board, expressing my concerns about moving the grade 7/8 students to the high school model. I suggested alternative solutions. I understood that these were the proper channels, that this was the way to make my opinion heard, that I was a partner in this difficult decision.

Now the community based decision has been placed aside for a “solution” that had never once been discussed or mentioned in any meeting, never once been put on the table. Years of talking with parents just ignored, tossed out, in favour of a new idea that you think is for the best. We get a nice pat on the head and a there, there, dear. It feels more like a slap in the face.

The plan you are trying to force happen is not in the best interest of our students. If it were, you’d be selling it as an improved education plan for the entire board. Instead, you are dealing with your poor planning by putting our students in an unacceptable, dangerous situation where learning takes second place to being able to make numbers look good on a balance sheet. Your plan is unsustainable and cannot be funded. Your plan is a poorly thought out last minute Hail Mary that has no place even entering this conversation.

Your plan is a bad plan.

Your community is angry. Your community is frustrated. We know you have the power to muscle through your plan and make the lives of families and youth in Kanata an absolute mess. This is your chance to restore our faith in you. This is your chance to show us that when we elected you, when we trusted you to listen to us and make the best decisions for our children, we didn’t make a mistake. This is your chance to do the right thing.

Don’t screw it up.

If you live in the Ottawa region and are concerned that the Board plans to move grade 7 and 8 students into the high schools in this area, please join the fight. Write to your Board Trustee and be sure to copy the chair and Kanata representative, Cathy Curry.

You can also register as a delegate. This means is that you can speak at the “special committee of the whole” meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on March 8, 2012 at 133 Greenbank Road. To register, contact Maureen Strittmatter at or at 613-596-8211 ext.8641. You also need to provide her with a written statement on the issue before 4:00 p.m. on March 1st.

15 thoughts on “An Open Letter To The OCDSB

  1. Wow, that is just awful. There is NO WAY I’d want my 7th grader in with 12th graders, some of whom could be 18 or 19 (!). Good for you that you’re getting involved.

    What about moving to a year-round schedule so you can accomodate more students? There are several US school districts that do this.

    1. Mary Lou Hulan

      Schools in the most part, are not air-conditioned. This would be an unhealthy situation in our climate. Also, we would be sacrificing family time. How would a family ever plan time together when juggling several children on different school rotations? When would teachers be able to take their upgrading summer courses?

  2. Mrscarlsagan

    Great letter Lynn – it’s just so unfortunate that you have to write it at all. The thought of grades 7 and 8 students being swallowed up by high school gives makes me feel ill. And the Glen Cairn / A.Y Jackson plan is just so wrong. I hope that even more people who will be affected by this will make themselves heard now that the board’s plan has been revealed. Hopefully this time the board will actually listen.

  3. Craziness!

    I went to a 7-12 (actually we had OAC/Gr. 13 then too) school back in the day, and if my children remain in their current school board, they will too. However in the Catholic Board where I went, the Grade 7 and 8 students had their own dedicated wing of the school, with their own gym and cafeteria. We had our own principal, a separate lunch time, student council, spirit days, etc. etc. I can count on one hand the number of times I interacted with the Grade 9-12 kids, with the same being true of the reverse when I moved to Grade 9. Really the only interaction I had was through the peer mentoring program, as a participant and mentor.

    Though not all the Catholic high schools are built this way, most still have a separate area of the school for the 7 and 8’s. They may share the gym(s) and cafeteria, but still have their own schedule, student council, etc. I always thought it made sense in a cost-saving sense, because then the school board didn’t have to build high school sized gyms in both elementary and high schools . . . and for other reasons as well. I don’t think it did me any harm – Grade 7 was an adjustment to be sure, but the leadership characteristics fostered in our Grade 5/6 years helped a lot.

    I can definitely see the benefit of working on those leadership and mentoring skills in Grade 7 & 8 though, and like the idea of a K-8 model too!

    Ultimately there are pro’s and con’s to both models (K-8 and 7-12) and I do think students can succeed either way – if the support is there. But if kids are being moved to a high school setting and that facility is not designed or equipped to serve their needs, then it’s definitely not a good thing for those families!

    Good for you for standing up for what’s right in your community – I hope other parents speak their minds and come forward just the same!!!

  4. In Quebec it’s 7-11 for high school. It’s what I did and the only thing I knew until I moved here. I’m not saying one is better than the other. I turned out relatively well, completely intergrated with the older grades (we had a seperate lunch but that was about it – it was large school: 360 in my graduating class alone), but that’s not the point.

    The real issue here is that the Board has completely disregarded anything that the ARC said and their recommendations. It sounds like the ARC had some very well thought out ideas that made sense for everyone and accommodated most. It’s these power position decisions that really get my knickers in a knot. I hope you are able to rally enough people to be able to get things moving in the right direction again. Good luck!!

  5. Wow, that sounds like such a nightmare. How could the population changes have caught them so off-guard? How could they possible have not planned for more schools?

    Good luck with your fight. I definitely think I would be concerned if my grade 7 kid was going to be shipped off to high school two years too early.

  6. Len

    The 7-12 model works just fine with some planning. Both our kids went through it and survived. There’s always a lot of fear mongering in the beginning but a well planned (segregation, separate school wing/section, etc) approach seems to work well. It’s the reality of the current situation.

    You also need to be looking forward as well. New developments need to be setting aside land and possibly even co-funding new schools just as they do parks as part of the right to build.

  7. I grew up where the K-8 model was the norm, and now my kids are in a school that ends at 6 and then go to a 7-12 school, which I’m not crazy about even in a fairly good situation (it’s a new high school and the kids are segregated pretty well from what I hear). But like Julie says, that’s not really the point – the point is, as they’ve done on many occasions, the Board asks for input from parents and the community and then disregards it entirely. We had the same experience with bussing issues and changes in school start-and-end times a couple of years ago. It’s infuriating.

  8. We’ve got the same issues going on in our community. Mike was just at a community meeting this week where they were discussing the ARC recommendations. I have no idea how this is going to play out at this point. It seems like we’re headed for the same kind of mess though.

  9. karen

    I went to a 7 to OAC school and it wasn’ t a problem at all. That being said, we had our own wing and never really interacted with the older kids.

    My kids go to a Jk to 8 school and it honestly took me a while to get used to the idea. If we hadn’t left Nepean my daughter would have gone on to a 7 to 12 school. That is always what I expected would happen so it took me quite a while to get used to the idea that she wouldn’t be. It has kept my kids at the same school longer so I have come around to the idea.

    I actually agree with you about the older kids being in a jk to 8 school being in a position of responsibility. My daughter is now in grade 8 and just loves it. They help out at assemblies and in classrooms. They do all sorts of things they wouldn’t get to do if they had changed schools.

    They also still have recess. Which isn’t something I had ever thought about until a couple of my friends (from Nepean) mentioned how their kids were having a really hard time without a real recess. They are still young, and want to play and don’t really get the opportunity to in a highschool setting.

  10. It happened here (East of you – the Upper Canada District SChool Board). My son is going into gr. 7 at the high school next year. I haven’t heard many bad things about it (it happened about 3 years ago), but for so many of the reasons mentioned here, I am still opposed to the change.

    I often feel that the board asks for input and then totally ignores what we have to say. I mean what do we parents know? Makes me angry. Good luck with this.

  11. Perhaps, by NOT allowing full-time kindergarten in Kanata Schools (Full day kindergarten is a stupid waste of valuable school space and board funds) might help a bit.

    We are in Kanata North and feel the squeeze…nearly 1000 students in my childrens public school….just wait until the full day kindergarten starts…boils my blood.

  12. I actually like the idea of Glen Cairn being converted to a middle school. When i was growing up I attended middle school and loved it. And it’s proximity to AY means that they can share resources when needed (like the wood shop).

    But my biggest complain is exactly what you said, that the ARC is a sham. And I have felt this way since the early days. WHY did they put us all through this if the they are just going to go with staff recommendations anyhow. Of course we won’t know for sure till the final report but it seems almost inevitable. What a colossal waste of all the volunteers time. And all the frustration. WHY.

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