Wednesday, 2 November 2011

How KPR’s Accommodation Review Policy Encourages us to Misunderstand Our Schools

To get some perspective on KPR’s modus operandus, let’s look outside the Board for a minute. At the same time as the Cramahe-Castleton review in 2007-08, an accommodations review for the Niagara District Secondary School was conducted in tandem with four area JK-8 feeder schools. The committee met over the course of 12 months for a total of more than 100 hours, including 3 general public consultation meetings, plus an “open house” meeting at each of the schools under review, and 9 non-public working group meetings. The administrative review facilitator’s report, which you can view here, also notes that “additionally, opportunities were provided to ARC members to visit schools in other jurisdictions that offer different school organizations,” including New York State, Thunder Bay and Port Dover (p.6-7). The Niagara ARC decision met with a petition, but it is clear that the process was far more advanced than KPR’s version. The idea, as promoted by the Ministry, was to avoid pitting one school against another in a simplistic process by encouraging School Boards to look at the bigger picture of larger demographic changes in a given area, whether shrinking or growing. The Niagara DSB had got the message, even if they couldn’t please all their constituents.

The Ministry specification of a minimum of four public meetings suggests that there may indeed be more required, particularly because one of the meetings is intended to be held at the conclusion of the process to present the report and recommendations to the public. The guidelines say nothing about how many non-public meetings may be held by the ARC. Indeed, in specifying that “all meetings shall be open to the public,” KPR’s policy diverges from standard practice among other Boards in Ontario

The “valuation process” specified by the 2006 Ministry guidelines was meant to encourage objectivity in considering schools in terms of four factors – value to the student, value to the community, value to the school board and value to the local economy. A list of core criteria by which to make the valuations (not “evaluations,” of course – evidently, that can only be done by schools, not to them) is given, which individual Boards may choose to tailor to their specific needs. KPR, reluctant to give up its control over its operations to actual community members, wrote their policy so as to cram “community” and “economy” into one factor and relegate it to the bottom of the list. 

Yet “community” and “economy” are plainly not the same considerations. The only common criteria in both the community and economy lists is “value of the school if it is the only school in the community” (p.4) - all other factors are different. A key item under “economy” which should be noted in this case is the extent to which the school in question “attracts or retains families in the community.”

In KPR’s document B.A. 1.2.1 Appendix C, which specifies the framework of the School Information Profiles, you can see how the four areas have been reduced to three, with community and economic value consolidated into one category, identified on the charts by the code “VC” (value to community). Although KPR has expanded on the Ministry’s listed factors to some extent, it has also failed to include some of them, and significantly re-worded others not to the end of achieving “further understanding of the schools” (p.3) but apparently to reduce the level of understanding possible .

The “VS” (value to students) and “VB” (value to Board) lists consume three pages between them, while the “VC” list consumes one. In this way, the original intention of the Ministry guidelines to encourage a strong consideration of local economic issues and community issues in relation to the value to the Board was subverted by KPR. In addition, the “VB” items number only one fewer than the “VC” items, elevating the value to the Board almost to the level of the value to the students, in plain contradiction of the specified intent of the guidelines and KPR’s own policy document (BA 1.2.1, article 1.5), further distorting the accommodation review process toward a Board-centric perspective.

KPR didn’t have a secondary school version of these guidelines until very recently. Secondary schools had historically been largely immune to the kind of fluctuations in enrolment experienced by small elementary schools, and their proposed closings were much less often an issue. Because the Capital Needs Assessment of 2007 had suggested a secondary school review for the Peterborough area for 2014, KPR staff and Trustees thought they had better create a set of criteria specifically applicable to secondary schools. However, the document at which they arrived shows little evidence of deep consideration, as only a few phrases have been changed here and there to nominally adapt the policy to secondary schools. I will show in subsequent posts how basic concerns regarding enrolment in elementary schools have been distorted in KPR policy to create fictitious concerns regarding secondary schools.

But first, let's look at two important points at which KPR’s misrepresentation of Ministry guidelines come into play with regard to the Board’s devaluation of PCVS specifically.

First, “value of the school if it is the only school in the community” has simply been changed in KPR policy to “value if it is the only secondary school in the community” (KPR BA 1.2.1 Appendix C, p.5). The term “community” is deliberately vague in the guidelines, presumably with the aim of including a wide range of kinds of communities, from high-density urban populations to tiny rural hamlets. PCVS, as the only school of any kind within the most densely-populated part of Peterborough, occupies a special place which cannot be considered in the decision-making process at all if the guideline “only school in the community” is interpreted as “only secondary school in the city.”  

You may be appalled to learn that KPR’s policy document excludes entirely the factor of the extent to which a school “attracts or retains families in the community.” Given that proximity to schools is among the most important factors in a family’s decision of where to house themselves, it is difficult to fathom why this would be omitted from the policy.

Yet another key omission from KPR policy is the factor listed by the Ministry under “value to the student” as “extracurricular activities and student participation.” In the Ministry guidelines, this is a separate item from “the ability of the school grounds to support healthy physical activity and extra-curricular activity.” KPR’s version excludes entirely “extracurricular activities and student participation,” and instead focuses exclusively on the ability of the school grounds to support healthy physical and co-curricular activity.” Thus, the School Information Profile format established by KPR makes it impossible to place value on extra-curricular activities and student participation facilitated by the institution itself and its location within the community.

The availability of community space beyond the immediate grounds of a school, once a key factor in school-building decisions which resulted in the creation of schools in the center of urban areas, is completely disregarded by KPR policy. In other words, the prominent value once placed on a central location by educational administrators has been erased from the equation entirely, thereby excluding consideration of the very aspects of PCVS which have made it so successful an institution decade after decade.

One further peculiarity in KPR's policy is the fact that minimum time-frames as specified by Queen’s Park are turned into fixed time-frames, with no rationale provided whatsoever. The inevitable result of this policy is rushed decisions.

These areas of discrepancy help explain why not only the recent review of secondary and intermediate schools was flawed, but why any ARC struck by KPR is likely to be ineffective in making decisions, and their recommendations likely to be the subject of petitions for administrative review.

1 comment:

  1. Fixed time frames seems like a good resolution. There are some things that are necessary for the system to work properly. When I was in Argentina, they had the same problem with regard to accomodation. A hotel in Buenos Aires had to established fixed times for the stay because people were leaving later than they were supposed to. Things should be clear from the beginning!