Sunday, 23 October 2011

How the King of Character Stacked the Deck

Let’s look, now, at how we got from the 2007 Capital Needs Assessment’s recommendation that a review of Peterborough-area secondary schools be done in 2014 in order to reveal whether or not one would need to close, to Hick’s determination to force one city school to close in 2012 via a 2011 Accommodation Review.

The 2007 Capital Needs Assessment (based largely on provincial calculations done four years earlier) was followed in June 2008 by a report to the Board by Associate Director Sherry Summersides in which the target date was advanced to 2011 to begin a review, and to 2013 for implementation of a secondary school closure, with no rationale for the change. At this time Hick was presumably already Superintendent of Operations. The report also noted that there was at that time no Board policy at all regarding the criteria by which secondary schools might be evaluated for the purposes of future accommodation reviews. The narrow 15% +/- “utilization” window is reaffirmed at the top of a list of factors, two or more of which would qualify a school for review, the same way that it is portrayed in Board policy. This is in spite of the fact that the three factors which follow – program viability, physical condition and operating/maintenance costs – are obviously far more signficant than a mere student vs. capacity ratio to any decision regarding the future of a school, making capacity out to be a significant issue, when in reality it has almost nothing to do with secondary school viability.

In April of 2009 the topic arose again. In this report to the Board, Hick, still Superintendent of Operations, reveals that he may have already made his mind up at that time that one city of Peterborough secondary school would have to close. In contrast to the wording of 2007 and 2008, which suggested that a Peterborough-area school may have to close, Hick called for a “City of Peterborough Secondary Accommodation Review to determine which secondary school will close.” A June 2013 date is still called for, as per the previous year’s report, but Hick would advance the timeline still further, imposing on the ARC a 2012 closure date.  

It appears that Hick had decided what was going to happen even before he had officially been named to take Terpstra’s place as Director.

A few months later, Diane Lloyd announced that Hick would be taking over as Director of Education in September 2009. Lloyd told Northumberland Today that KPR was “truly fortunate” to find an educator of Hick’s “calibre and experience.” She said that in the selection process, Hick had impressed with his collaborative and empathetic leadership style.”

The rhetoric on Hick’s KPR webpage repeatedly emphasizes collectivity. In stark contrast to the “Survivor” game into which he forced the students, staff and school communities of Peterborough, pitting each group against the others, Hick writes that at a KPR school “our common bonds are heightened and our differences are minimized.” He states that “by working collaboratively with parents, volunteers, school council members and our hundreds of valued community partners, we will continue to make our schools the best that they can possibly be.” He argues that “our collective efforts in public education improve the lives and life prospects of our many thousands of students.”

Hick’s supposed interest in “transparency” revealed itself in his hiding behind Don Blair, the Superintendent charged with making sure the Accommodation Review Committee would be ineffective. As member after member of the ARC realized that the process was based on fundamentally flawed policy, Blair stuck rigidly to the code he had presumably been instructed to defend.

Hick’s supposed interest in “creative solutions” manifested itself in the blunt option to simply close one of four schools.

Hick’s assurance to the reporter that the enrolment pattern would stabilize by 2012 became a panic-ridden rush through a determination to have one secondary school closed by 2012.

And what of the Hick who impressed Lloyd so much in the selection process? What of his “collaborative and empathetic leadership style,” by which he himself made the determination to close one secondary school in 2008, three years prior to the Accommodation Review, and six months before he was even on the job as Director?

When he was at TASSS, it was often said that “you’re either on Rusty’s bus – or no bus.”  

The formal decision to close PCVS was made by and presented by Hick alone, and presented to the Trustees to rubber-stamp with three days notice.

And what of Hick’s great wealth of “experience?”

Hick was all of 48 years old when he was hired as Director of a Board with 40,000 students. He had spent roughly ten years in the classroom, ten years as a Principal or Vice-Principal, and a year or two as a Superintendent. He wasn’t from the KPR area, and he didn’t live in the area. His rise to the top happened with remarkable speed considering how unremarkable his professional credentials and experience are. It would seem that the vaccuum at the top of KPR created by the Board repeatedly hiring senior York Region administrators who were near retirement drew Hick up with a powerful force.

Hick has perhaps interpreted this rise to his current position of power and $200,000 salary as a testament to his own innate ability or to the work of fate, which he may have thought had given him the reins at KPR because the people of the Kawarthas were positively crying out for an autocratic Director from Port Perry to impose his will on them.

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