Friday, 14 October 2011

Peter Adams and PCVS: "every urban community needs a vibrant, comprehensive inner-city high school"

The current decision to try to close PCVS is not only foolish, but was arrived at in an unethical and potentially illegitimate fashion, and many community members are justly outraged about it. A formal request to the Ministry of Education for a review of the flawed Accomodation Review Process (ARC) is being made by members of the PCVS School Council and PCVS Foundation, led by Jay Amer. Concerned community members are being asked to fill the in-boxes of the KPR Trustees, City Councillors, our MPP Jeff Leal, Premier Dalton McGuinty (the self-styled "education premier"), and whoever our next Minister of Education may be.

As disturbing as the situation is today, it is more disturbing still to consider how frequently KPR's most venerable and effective secondary school has found itself under attack in the past 40 years.

Peter Adams, Peterborough's Member of Parliament from 1993-2006, recently wrote a book entitled Peterborough Successes: Community organization in Peterborough in the 1970s and 1980s, in which he tells the story of the attempt to close PCVS which began in 1969. Adams  helped form a group calling itself the Peterborough Education Review Committee (PERC) to oppose the school board's attempt to shut PCVS down and turn it into a huge "junior high" to which all intermediate students in Peterborough would be bused. Adams was named chair of PERC, and his participation in the campaign culminated with his own election (along with several other PERC-backed candidates) to the position of School Board Trustee in 1970. This was the beginning of Adams' political career, which would span the next 35 years.

Adams get a bright idea
 The situation in 1969 was similar in many ways to today's. A newly-amalgamated Peterborough County Board of Education had recently been formed, uniting previously distinct County and City Boards. The new Board included 7 members representing the rural areas and 7 representing the city itself. Adams notes that even at this time many citizens were concerned that the new Board was too big and remote to effectively govern local education. As is the case today, rural trustees represented fewer citizens than urban trustees despite being granted an equal number of seats on the Board, and thus rural perspectives were given a disproportionally greater weight in decision-making. As a result, Eldon Ray, the well-respected former Director of Education for the former City Board, was passed over when it came time to name a Director for the new Board. The rural perspective which regards busing to school as a normal and necessary part of education also played a role in the decision to turn PCVS into a super-size Junior High requiring that students be bused in from all over the city.

Adams, like many other urban parents, placed a high value on his children being able to walk to school - to high school no less than elementary school - and wasn't about to let the new Board of Education get away with such a ridiculous idea without a fight. In the subsequent municipal election, Adams and others stood for election to the Board of Trustees specifically on the PCVS issue and received the support of the public. It was a great victory for quality of education and community participation, and PCVS was allowed to remain as a high school. Adams credits a high-handed, arrogant letter that PERC received from the Chair of the Board with motivating him to actually stand for election. In the letter, the PERC activists, who wanted nothing more than to preserve the integrity of the Peterborough community, were accused of trying to "stop the clock" rather than move into the future - not unlike the kind of rhetoric that out-of-touch KPR officials have used this year to defend their unjustifiable actions.

Adams notes that "the fears of those who thought that the PCBE was just another stepping stone to a large-scale, centrally controlled education system were well-founded" (p.49). In 1998 that Board was in turn forcibly merged with the Northumberland-Clarington Board by the Mike Harris-led PC government to form the Kawartha-Pine Ridge District School Board. In spite of the huge size of the KPRDSB, whose boundaries span almost 7000 square kilometers and which is responsible for close to 100 schools and nearly 40,000 students, the Board of Trustees, with only 11 voting members, is actually smaller than that of the its predecessor! Moreover, the under-representation of urban citizens continues, as city of Peterborough residents elect only two Trustees among the 11, meaning that Roy Wilfong and Rose Kitney represent 37,000 citizens each! In 1971, by contrast, there were 7 PCBE trustees representing only 8,000 city residents each. In comparison, Diane Lloyd and Angela Lloyd, currently representing Peterborough County on the KPR Board of Trustees, speak for 25,000 and 22,000 respectively, while Shirley Patterson, trustee for the Norwood, Havelock, Hastings and Campbellford area, represents 21,000.

Ghost of Harris haunts us still

It is much easier to manipulate a small number of Board members than a large number, and when an out-of-town Director of Education wants to impose his vision on the urban area of Peterborough, which is by far the largest in the Board, it is easy to do so when the urban area is so clearly under-represented. Adams in his book observes how much more difficult it would be today for concerned citizens to assume control of the school board than it was 40 years ago.

In the face of repeated attempts to remove educational facilities from Peterborough's city centre, he concludes that "we should be vigilant because every urban community needs a vibrant, comprehensive inner-city high school" (p.51). Adams isn't just being sentimental - in addition to being one of Peterborough's longest-standing MPs, he was also a Professor of Geography at Trent, and knows a thing or two about human social organization and urban design.

In 2006, Adams, who had served under Prime Minister Jean Chretien, opted not to seek re-election as a Liberal under new leader Paul Martin. This highly-educated, staunch defender of urban education and community integration was replaced as the local Liberal candiate by none other than Diane Lloyd. Lloyd lost the previously Liberal seat to Dean Del Mastro, despite the fact that Del Mastro was a rookie with virtually no political experience. Today Diane Lloyd serves as Chair of the KPR Board of Trustees. She and Angela Lloyd chose to ignore the voices of City Trustees Kitney and Wilfong (who had actually sat on the ARC) and rubber-stamp the hastily-arranged and undemocratic proposal to shut down PCVS. Had the Lloyds opted to side with their City counterparts, the Trustees would have rejected the proposal 6-5.

It is indeed hard to fathom why Diane Lloyd would reject the perspectives of Adams, her immediate predecessor as Liberal candidate for MP, a highly educated professor and one of the most successful and respected representatives in Peterborough history, and also that of Roy Wilfong, who has served as a Trustee over a 40 year period - ever since that first fateful attempt to shut down PCVS.

Diane Lloyd, Chair of KPR Trustees

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