Friday, 10 February 2012

The ARC That Should Have Been, part six: Kenner and the south end

Kenner CVI, named after longtime PCVS classics teacher Dr. H.R.H. Kenner, whose son Hugh Kenner went on to become an influential English professor in the U.S., was built in 1952, at the southern extreme of the newly-built tracts of bungalows whose creation effectively extended the “South End” of Peterborough all the way to the river. The Kenner location was as far away as they could get from PCVS, which up until then had been the only high school in town.

At times over the years, Kenner has gotten an undeserved bad rap. Serving the working-class part of town located between the older GE area and the newer industrial areas around the Parkway, it hasn’t had the opportunity to host many privileged students. But the neighbourhood integrity of the south end is high. Some families have lived there for generations, and residents justifiably take pride in their neighbourhood school. Kenner has developed a reputation for a solid “tradeschool” education, and has abetted this in recent years with the International Baccalaureate program.  

The truth is, however, that the rate of decline of enrolment at Kenner has been sharper than at the three schools we’ve considered so far. Because it was built right near the river, there hasn’t been much possibility of its immediate residential neighbourhood expanding.

Nevertheless, the south side of Peterborough is clearly the growing side. With Lansdowne Place and the Memorial Centre as anchors, and Home Depot, the YMCA, the Evinrude Centre and the Canoe Museum all located nearby, this area has become a commercial and cultural center for automobile-driven families, just as the downtown core has been for pedestrian-oriented families.

In addition to the immediate neighbourhood kids from Roger Neilson, students from the east side of the river who graduate from Otonabee Valley cross over to attend Kenner, and Keith Wightman students from north of Lansdowne also come down to Kenner.

As the chart below shows, however, the total numbers of students from these three feeder schools isn’t really enough to sustain a school as big as Kenner was built to be. And unlike Adam Scott and Crestwood, it doesn't have any rural feeder schools to boost its numbers. In fact, though Kenner's enrolment looks low in comparison with those two schools, the number of students attending from the city of Peterborough is about the same.


per grade

Keith Wightman (JK-6)

Otonabee Valley (JK-6)

Roger Neilson (JK-6)

Kenner Intermed. (7-8)

total elementary


The “half-total” capacity of the three schools is only 700, while Kenner’s capacity is 918. Even if the elementary schools were full and sending all their graduates to Kenner, the high school would be only at 76% of capacity.

About eight years ago, KPR designated the Kenner Intermediate wing, with a capacity of about 300. All three feeder schools send their graduates on to Kenner Intermediate, so it’s easy to see how many students are likely to be occupying the high school halls in a few years by the numbers in the intermediate halls.

What does the near future look like? Kenner Intermediate’s enrolment trend over the past three years shows a slight increase. They’ll be sending about 115 students on to Kenner CVI next year, while about 150 might graduate with their high school diplomas at the same time. KPR’s projections show this expected drop of about 35 students.

But what about the following years? Otonabee Valley’s enrolment is steady as she goes, but that of Roger Neilson and Keith Wightman has been dropping quickly. All three schools are operating at 62% capacity. The total number of students they’ll be sending to Kenner Intermediate each of the next few years looks more like 85 than 115, so we might expect a further drop of about 30 students per grade at Kenner five years down the road.

With only 85 students in each grade, we might expect Kenner CVI’s total population to drop to about 400 eight years from now, and this is the course that KPR’s projections do in fact suggest. At this level, the question must be posed: how small is too small for an urban high school? With only 85 students in each grade, how feasible is it to offer the range of courses one might desire? At what point can’t we justify maintaining the shop space? What’s the effect of a small student population on extracurricular activities?

But wait – before we answer these questions, let’s have another look at the map. The “Coldsprings” area south of Guthrie Drive and west of Wallace Point Road is slated for extensive development. This is a chunk of land annexed by the city and being readied for residential and commercial development. You can read all about the plan in a city-comissioned report on the subject, by clicking here.

With highway 115 running right through the industrial area around Bensfort and Ashburnham and joining up with highway 7 at Television Road, one might have expected that the area would eventually be ripe for development. The city has for ages designated Lansdowne East as a commercial growth area, but developers have responded by fixating on the Parkway side. Now, however, it seems that Coldsprings will be the next significant new neighbourhood in Peterborough. Much of the property is owned by major local developers AON Inc., and plans are being laid for housing for more than 10,000 new residents, presumably over a long span of time, likely about 20 years, going by the provincial demographic estimates suggest for Peterborough’s overall population growth.

KPR was consulted on the plans, which suggested that, if the full development came to pass, there might be a need for not one but two new schools. KPR administrators gave their opinion that given the ways demographics have been shifting, one school might well suffice. 

These same administrators also told the City that any residents moving to newly-constructed homes in the Coldsprings subdivision prior to a new school being built there would be attending North Shore Public School in Keene, then sent up to TASSS for high school. Check page 22 of this city report on the Coldsprings development and see for yourself.

Imagine – you’re looking for a new house for your expanding family. You’ve been living downtown in apartments for a few years with your partner. Now you’re ready to have kids, or maybe you already have a toddler. Older downtown houses are expensive, and finicky to maintain. Like so many young couples before you, you find yourself getting curious about just buying a newly-built house in a subdivision on the fringes of town. Why not? It’s close to the highway, and you might have to commute to Toronto or Oshawa one day.

You assume you’ll be sending your kids to Otonabee Valley school, just one kilometer away, on the north side of the highway where River Road turns into Bensfort. You go to the school to introduce yourself. “Coldsprings?” they say. “You’ll be going to Keene.”

Hmmm, you think. Maybe I'll try St. Patrick's, right around the corner. Maybe the Catholic board has more sense than KPR.

It’s true – KPR plans to be the only school board in Ontario to bus students out of a city to a rural school 20 kilometers away when there’s an existing school with a hundred and fifty free pupil places just up the street.

The bus companies must love KPR administrators. But how quickly do you think the new Coldsprings houses are going to be selling when this information gets out?

Why would KPR want to try to persuade Coldsprings parents to let them bus their kids all the way to North Shore?

Because North Shore feeds to TASSS.

Yes, although Kenner is only one kilometer from the Coldsprings development area as the crow flies, and only about 5 km as the car drives, KPR plans to bus Coldsprings teens 8 km up to TASSS.

When was this consultation done? In the summer of 2010, some six months before the accommodation review for Peterborough secondary schools was called by the Board of Trustees.

This is yet another piece of evidence showing that KPR administrators had already decided that TASSS was going to remain open in the long term prior to actually beginning the accommodation review. More evidence can be found in the “Making a Farce out ARC” series from October’s blog posts.

What would happen if the Coldsprings students were to be sent to Otonabee Valley and then to Kenner?

We wouldn’t have to pursue those questions about “how small is too small?” Kenner wouldn’t need to be put under an accommodation review. The south-end residential community wouldn’t be faced with the prospect of losing their neighbourhood school.

But still, you might say to yourself – Coldsprings is on the east side of the river, in Ashburnham Ward. Sure, it’s a long, long hike all the way up to the northeast corner of town to attend TASSS, but it’s not exactly convenient to drive around the river to get to Kenner either. And as we’ll see in the next post, TASSS is in much the same boat as Kenner when it comes to enrolment patterns, but with even more excess space.

What can we say about the Kenner school network, in conclusion?

The student population of the three JK-6 schools is probably going to sit at 60% for a while before increasing. That means that Kenner Intermediate might fall to 50%, and Kenner CVI below 50% before demand rises again.

So our question becomes, how small is too small to maintain over the short run? If Coldsprings parents insist on sending their kids to Otonabee Valley in the short run, the kids are going to want to go to Kenner with their friends, and the “short run” might be quite short. If KPR manages to persuade people otherwise, Kenner might have to struggle along for a while with a student body numbering in the four-hundreds.

With Keith Wightman, Roger Neilson and Otonabee Valley at 60% capacity, partnerships for schools must be considered. In previous posts, daycares have been suggested. This is an idea which was vigourously promoted by the highly-respected Fraser Mustard, whose Early Years Study suggested integrating early childhood education with existing public school facilities, creating a seamless transition for children and making schools more than ever community centers. Mustard’s study influenced the current government’s decision to implement full-day Kindergarten.

Fraser Mustard, "Renaissance man" and education expert,
says put pre-school programs in schools

A truly progressive-thinking school board with some free spaces in its buildings (like the Board we imaginarily work for) might jump on this idea and start some pilot projects. It looks like these three south-end schools might be just the place. Let’s start the dialogue on this with young south-end parents, early childhood education providers, and the school communities at large, including teachers and principals.

We can easily guess that the families of the south end aren’t going to want to give up Kenner CVI, forcing their children and grandchildren to bus all the way up to PCVS or out to Crestwood. We might surmise that even if we try to force Coldsprings parents to send their kids to Keene, most of them are going to refuse. Some of them might bite on TASSS – but some might not.

All this considered, before recommending that Kenner CVI and its neighbourhood network be made the subject of an accommodation review, let’s wait a year to have some discussions around how early-childhood education integration might be a part of the future of Keith Wightman, Roger Neilson and Otonabee Valley.

While that’s going on, we can take a good look at the situation around TASSS.

What is it about TASSS that has made KPR administrators want to try to direct Coldsprings kids all the way to Keene so they can later be sent up to TASSS for high school? We’ll find out in the next post.  

No comments:

Post a Comment