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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.