Monday, 19 December 2011

Raiders vs. the Lost ARC

It’s been a busy year for supporters of PCVS and Peterborough’s neighbourhood school network against a hostile takeover by out-of-town forces at KPR.

It was exactly one year ago that ambitious but inexperienced Director of Education Rusty Hick persuaded Trustees to launch the infamous Accommodation Review Committee, or ARC, throwing Peterborough schools into a perverse real-life game of “Survivor,” which Hick himself ended by pointing his imperial finger at PCVS – the most venerable, economical, innovative and academically successful secondary school in the entire Board.

This autumn, the channel has been changed to “Raiders vs. the Lost ARC” as the stalwart supporters of common sense, community-based schools, and PCVS itself have stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the autocratic folly of KPR’s myopic upper management and self-interested or deluded out-of-town Trustees.

At the end of October, the formal petition requesting the Ministry of Education appoint someone to review KPR’s decision went to Queen’s Park. In November, MPP Jeff Leal presented several citizens’ petitions to the legislature, one of which was focused on KPR’s ignorance of Ontario’s plans to increase the population density of downtown Peterborough, as reported in this Examiner article. Even former local PC candidate for MPP Alan Wilson got busy, attempting to set up meetings to lobby Trustees to change their minds. On November 24, a dozen concerned Peterborough citizens, including many experienced and well-respected professionals, formally asked the KPR Board of Trustees to let common sense to prevail and put the brakes on the ill-considered closure decision, while hundreds more occupied the Fisher Drive building.

On December 5, nearly five hundred PCVS students and supporters, led by tireless senior students Matt Finlan and Kirsten Bruce and powered by PCVS’s dynamic drummers, held a hugely successful rally at Queen’s Park, bringing Leal out of the legislature to speak to them. Our MPP told the Examiner that he “admired the engagement and passion” of the PCVS “Raiders,” who reminded him of his own days as a student activist. NDP Education Critic Peter Tabuns also came out to voice his support for the cause.

On December 15th, hundreds more PCVS supporters gathered at Fisher Drive as veteran Peterborough Trustee Roy Wilfong, responding to citizens’ requests at the previous Board meeting, made a motion to delay the closing of PCVS by one year. Wilfong’s motion was, predictably, supported only by Peterborough Trustee Rose Kitney and by Norwood Trustee Shirley Patterson, who must sense that Norwood District High will be the next to be closed down as part of KPR’s relentless drive to consolidate control and cut accomodation costs to pay for exorbitant and ill-advised expenditures on technology. At KPR it continues to be the tail that wags the dog, as Hick was allowed by Board Chair Diane Lloyd, over the objections of Wilfong, to behave as if he were an elected Trustee rather than an employee. Hick and Lloyd continued to downplay the enormous ramifications of the decision they obstinately refuse to reconsider, as it was Lloyd’s turn to compare the closing of a thriving, 180-year-old institution, a case of major civic and educational surgery, to “pulling off a band-aid,” as reported by the Examiner.

Asbestos-removal and other renovations at TASSS are expected to cost over a million dollars. Buses to bring students to the inconveniently-located school next year are expected to cost another $200,000. Remember that KPR also paid Don Blair $60,000 to chair the ARC, and ZAS architects $27,000 to provide a prohibitive estimate on converting the TASSS building to board offices. And don’t forget the $7 million in so-called “capital costs” the board has spent this year on computer technology likely to be out of date in five years or so.

Small wonder, then, that KPR adminstration is so desperate to shut schools, deprive French teachers of classrooms, force teachers to buy classroom supplies out of their own salaries, and are reportedly aiming to eliminate preparation time from any elementary teachers without a home-room in the upcoming collective bargaining session.

Let’s do some counting here. On the side of maintaining PCVS we have Wilfong and Kitney (the Peterborough Trustees who actually sat on the Lost ARC), Mayor Daryl Bennett, city council, the DBIA, the Chief of Police, Liberal MPP Jeff Leal, former PC candidate Alan Wilson, the NDP education critic, the entire PCVS school community, and thousands upon thousands of Peterborough citizens, whose tax-dollars supply KPR’s budget.

On the side of closing PCVS, we have seven out-of-town Trustees, one of whom was forced in 1984 to resign his position as MP for Scarborough due to tax-evasion and in 2008 was asked (but refused) to resign his position as Trustee over public comments blaming immigrants for Canada’s problems, one of whom was removed from the Board in 2010 for failing to file his campaign finances, one of whom admitted she had no clue that intermediate schools had been part of the ARC’s focus, and one of whom is a listing agent for substantial property in the TASSS area. We also have the TASSS school community, which is largely composed of students bused in from Keene. Finally, we have the pride of Port Perry and his crew of number-crunchers attempting to manage our school system as if it were a chain of warehouses.

KPR’s response to the Peterborough Needs PCVS petition for administrative review, filed at the end of November, is available on the KPR website. Much of the defense offered by Hick and Lloyd for standing by their tremendously unpopular and autocratic decision amounts to saying “we did the bare minimumwhat’s the problem?” I’m sure every KPR teacher has heard this same line coming from the mouths of students who rush through their work as it were a race to the finish line, then approach the teacher’s desk dumbfounded as to why they got a “D.” The document’s opening point says it all, presenting the rationale for closing a school as simply that four secondary schools had an average student population of less than 75%, so therefore only three schools are needed. This gives us confidence that KPR administrators are capable of grade four level math.

Given the emphasis on standardized EQAO testing for all Ontario students, and the requirements of teachers to continually upgrade their credentials, is it not time for administrators to be held to some basic standards? The egregious examples of institutional ignorance before us at Fisher Drive should be motivation enough for the establishment of an “Administrative Quality Accountability Office” – or “AQAO.”

I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a battery of questions testing administrative competence to which the brilliant minds at KPR could set themselves down at a desk to answer for a day or two every few years. If we could develop a province-wide test, we could compare results with other Boards of Education, and find out just how poor a job KPR is doing relative to neighbouring boards.

Imagine administrators taking home six-figure salaries at your expense struggling to answer basic questions such as “how many minutes did you spend in a KPR school this year?” and “how many teachers and students do you actually communicate with on a regular basis?” Advanced portions of the AQAO test might quiz administrators on the principles of democracy, urban planning, community well-being, the mental health of children and teens, and even (dare I say it) provincial educational policy.

2012 has to be an improvement on 2011. We’ve already upgraded from “Survivor” to “Raiders vs. the Lost ARC.” Let’s make sure the next show on station KPR continues the trend to better quality "programming" for Peterborough.

Maybe, just maybe, as the Lorax said, if we all care a whole awful lot, sanity will prevail, and our mother tree won’t be looted by Grinches bent on hauling our Whoville gifts back to Fisher Drive.

Dear Santa: I’ve been very good this year. All I’m asking for is not to have the heart ripped out of my neighbourhood. I hope it's not too much to ask.

Thanks in advance,


PS: the carrots are for the reindeer


  1. Thanks Brent, add the following to your catalog of woes: In their response to the Ministry, the board proclaimed that the closing of PCVS will not have a significant impact on the downtown economy of Peterborough. Does the board employ economists, urban planners or business analysts? If not, then how can they make such a presumptuous prediction? Or do we have here another example of opinion posing as fact? Our tax dollars at work.....

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