Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Manufacturing a Crisis, part four: Boo! (are you scared yet?)

Part four: The Declining Enrolment Bogeyman

The analysis of the data figures presented over the previous parts of this entry must be put in some perspective, lest we become as myopic as some KPR officials.

First of all, despite the tone of Hick’s presentation, which suggested that programming across Peterborough secondary schools is in danger of suffering very soon from declining enrolment, the fact is that across the city the enrolment level remains at 80% of capacity, a perfectly acceptable figure.

Moreover, even if we accept the likely exaggerated projections of more rapid decline at PCVS, Kenner and TASSS, the overall projected total for 2014-15 (assuming a trend at Crestwood consistent with the previous ten years) would put city schools as hosting over 3200 students in buildings which could hold 5000 – about 65% of their capacity. Even TASSS, the school with the lowest projected enrolment, would still retain almost 400 students, or about 100 students in each grade, about half what the most highly-enroled schools in the city would have.

Is this reason to panic?

Is this a reason to rush a decision through in less than half the time other Boards take to make decisions affecting far fewer students?

Is this a reason to sacrifice an entire school and its community in the pursuit of high utilization percentages?

Consider the frightening scenarios described by Hick – multi-year classes and courses offered in alternate years!

Could these possibly be so horrible that it would be worth shutting down the city’s longest established, most fully enrolled, most cost-effective, most unique, highest-performing, and most conveniently-located school in a desperate atttempt to escape them?

The declining enrolment Bogeyman says Boo! (are you scared?)

Across Ontario, the total capacity of many secondary schools is no greater than what Hick proposes in Peterborough to be too low to permit adequate programming. The simple fact of having 400 students at a given secondary school should not necessitate a concern over programming so grave that a healthy school community or building is recommended to be closed and the local community significantly altered.

How do other Boards deal with this kind of thing?

It is worth comparing the situation to another accommodation review currently underway at the Bluewater District School Board near Lake Huron regarding a number of schools, both elementary and secondary. In stark contrast to KPR's KGB-like ways, Bluewater has made the entire process user-friendly, with all the information links on one webpage which you can get to straight from the Board's main page, including many highly detailed documents. Have a look at it here.

Chesley District High School is a tiny school by suburban standards, with a capacity of just over 400 and a current enrolment of just over 200. Operating at 50% capacity with just over 50 students in each grade on average, Chesley has managed to score highly on Fraser Institute rankings year after year, including a number 4 ranking this year out of over 700 schools province-wide.

Initial proposals to shut down Chesley and divert its students to fill classrooms in Hanover were met with strong reaction by the community. Its staff, students and local community vigourously defended its maintenance as part of the Accommodation Review, in spite of the school having about only a quarter to one-third the enrolment of secondary schools in Peterborough, suggesting that its potential for “breadth of programming” would be perceived as unfathomably narrow by Hick’s standards.

You will recognize a scenario similar to the one currently playing out with PCVS when you read this article on the subject published in the Owen Sound Sun-Times earlier in the year during the Accommodation Review Process. Thanks to some creative thinking, the option arose to make Chesley a JK-12 school, as discussed in this Sun-Times article.

A decision was slated to be made by Bluewater Trustees yesterday, Oct. 18. Both the MP and MPP got behind the effort to maintain the school earlier this week just prior to the Trustees vote. Here’s what new MPP Bill Walker had to say on the subject earlier this week:.

"All the extracurricular that is the spirit of the community and the fabric of the community is lost if you close a school in a single school community like Chesley," he said. "People won't move there. In some cases people will move [away] so then it's a downward spiral to that community's economic vitality," he added.

Although central Peterborough is not a tiny agricultural town like Chesley (population 2,000), the same principles hold true, because PCVS is now the only school of any kind remaining in Town Ward, a walkable community with a population of 14,000

Bruce-Grey MP Larry Miller is reported by the Sun-Times to have "worries that they [Trustees] are being pushed by provincial government policy to make decisions that are not good for their communities." Miller "wants the trustees to take a stand to keep the Chesley high school open.” 

Could we possibly imagine Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro and MPP Jeff Leal pressuring Trustees to "take a stand" to keep PCVS open? 

To the great relief of Chesley residents, Bluewater trustees voted this past Tuesday in favour of the proposal to add grades JK-8 to Chesley in order to keep it open.

In this article, former Chesley trustee Ross King is said to have “relied on a long list of accomplishments and research statistics to debunk the idea that students can't succeed at a small high school."

"There's ample evidence to support that students succeed and excel at a small school, even with fewer programs," King is reported to have said.

No comments:

Post a Comment