Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The ARC That Should Have Been, part three: How Does the Adam Scott School Neighbourhood Stack Up?

Let’s imagine that we’re KPR planners. One day when we’re out at the sugarbush we realize that spring has sprung, and when we get back from swilling sap in the woods, we’re supposed to do our annual report on accommodations.

We read the latest posts on PCVS Cornerstone and learn that the demand for spaces in Ontario elementary schools isn’t going to drop any further, and will likely start increasing again in a few years. We recognize that Peterborough, the Board’s only urban center, is no exception. The city’s population has been growing steadily, while the population of the rural areas surrounding it has remained status quo or declined. We see from the Ontario demographic projections that this trend is going to continue for the next twenty-five years. In this light, we open up our enrolment spreadsheet to see what we can see.

Unlike the real KPR planners, however, we’re not accomplices to a political power play. We aren’t being directed by computer fanatics, ex-urban refugees, self-interested entrepreneurs, or shopping-mall enthusiasts. Our Board isn’t in debt for many millions of dollars as a result of the computer-toy “vision” of our superiors. There hasn’t been a decision made to keep TASSS open no matter what the cost. We’ve got an up-to-date, “best-practices” accommodation review policy based on the Ottawa-Carleton model which we can trust to bring out the best in the school communities we’re serving. And we understand that when the province’s accommodation review guidelines suggest that we look at groups of schools together, they mean neighbourhood networks of elementary and secondary schools, not a city-wide survey of secondary schools. Most importantly, we never forget to cross-check our data with our common sense and our intimate knowledge of Peterborough schools.

KPR is comprised of three divisions – the Northumberland area, the Clarington area, and the Peterborough area. The Peterborough area comprises seven secondary schools, one independent study centre, and twenty-eight elementary schools.

Five of the elementary-secondary networks are centered on the city of Peterborough, while Lakefield District Secondary hosts students from the village of Lakefield and points north, while Norwood District takes in students from the Norwood and Havelock areas.

We check the 2010 taxpayer numbers from the Trustee allocation report and see that the population graph for Norwood and Havelock is flatter than a pancake, while that of Trent Hills, Douro-Dummer and Smith-Ennismore-Lakefield is beginning to drop. Norwood is 30 km away from Peterborough, but only 24 km from Campbellford and 9 km from Hastings, which are nominally in the Northumberland area. So we decide to put Norwood aside – we’ll look at it later when we consider the rural areas. Today we’re focused on the urban center of Peterborough. But we’ll keep the Lakefield network in mind and take a look at it in relation to the Peterborough scene, because Lakefield is only 10 km from the northern limit of Peterborough, closer than some of the rural elementary schools whose graduates attend Peterborough high schools.

Let’s start with Northcrest ward, or “the north end,” serviced by Adam Scott CVI, located on Hilliard between Barnardo and Water. Northcrest is a primarily residential neighbourhood and is packed with schools. In sharp contrast to the situation in Town Ward, where PCVS is the only school of any kind, Northcrest is served by Adam Scott, Queen Elizabeth, Edmison Heights, and R.F. Downey, PCVS feeder-school Highland Heights, and two Catholic schools, Saint Anne’s and Saint Paul’s, whose graduates attend Saint Peter’s.

Northcrest has been growing steadily as a residential area since the second world war, and continues to do so. The Carnegie subdivision at the far north east of the ward has been in development for some time. The city has recently annexed the area just west of the Canadian Tire store on Chemong, and new subdivisions are being “infilled” immediately north of Highland Heights, across the Parkway Trail. The city plans to widen Fairbairn, and the area around Towerhill and Fairbairn is likely going to be subject to new residential development in the near future. The neighbourhood as a whole is highly suburban in design, but still has a reasonable level of density and potential for more, as the new residential multiplex planned for Hilliard near St. Anne’s indicates, and the Parkway Trail provides a perfect walking route between areas, allowing pedestrians to avoid major car-oriented thoroughfares and their steep hills. 

Let’s look at the neighbourhood’s public school network by the numbers in the chart below. Note that a sizeable percentage – about one-quarter – of Adam Scott’s secondary students are in fact graduates are graduates of Chemong Public, bused in from the Bridgenorth area. Adam Scott is currently serving about 800 students with a capacity of 1000, a perfectly acceptable percentage of 80%. This percentage hasn't changed much in the past three years. However, if the Bridgenorth students were to be sent to Lakefield District, which is about the same distance, Adam Scott’s population would drop to about 600, or about 60% of capacity, which would raise questions of viability.

Almost all the figures in the chart are officially “projections” by KPR, even the ones dated in the past, as actual numbers are hard to come by from this board. Most of them come from KPR annual budgets posted online here. We have projected figures for Adam Scott Intermediate as a result of the School Information files prepared for last year’s actual accommodation review, but not for the other elementary level schools. Given that we have seen KPR’s estimates to vary widely from the actual (and from one another), these numbers must be taken as relatively rough. As a result, I’ve rounded off most of the figures given for percentages and averages. Utilization percentages are as of 2011-12. Nevertheless, we can easily see that the decline in enrolment at all six schools has not been at all steep in recent years, and mainly appears to have levelled out.

KPR projections

per grade
Adam Scott

RF Downey (JK-6)

Edmison Heights (JK-6, FI)

A.Scott Intermed. (7-8, FI)
Queen Elizabeth (JK-8)

Chemong (JK-8)


total elementary


One easy way of making estimates as to the future of secondary school enrolment is to divide the elementary enrolment in half, then look ahead five years. The reason for this? Elementary schools comprise nearly ten full grades, now that JK is almost universal and about to become full-day, while secondary schools comprise about four-and-a-half, since many students do not complete their diploma in the four-year minimum. In addition, there are a number of students transferring into the system from home-school or private school elementary programs. Thus the “half-total” figure is provided for enrolment and capacity.

We can see from the above chart that Adam Scott has signficantly more spaces available (over 1000) than the “half-total” capacity of its feeder schools (less than 800). If we project the “half-total” elementary enrolment from 2009-10 of 710 forward to 2014-15, when students who were in grade five are in grade ten, we can see that KPR prognosticators were feeling optimistic about the prospects of new residential development, neighbourhood turnover, and further increases in secondary level French Immersion enrolment by students from outside the neighbourhood, projecting enrolment to reach about 900 by that time.

Adam Scott is also home to Peterborough’s secondary level French Immersion program, which draws students from beyond the borders of Northcrest. The effect of this can be seen in the “per grade” enrolment numbers for Adam Scott Intermediate, which are in excess of the per-grade averages of the two JK-6 schools which feed it (Downey and Edmison). The French Immersion programs in Peterborough, as across the province, have been steadily increasing in popularity, particularly in neighbourhoods whose residents have a high average level of education and income, like Northcrest. Edmison Heights has had portables on site for years as a result of the demand for French Immersion, and finally KPR is about to build a new wing to reduce (but strangely, not large enough to eliminate) the use of portables. The surplus of students at Edmison and the large numbers at Adam Scott Intermediate are thus partly responsible for the lower numbers at the nearby Queen Elizabeth.

One of the proposals floated by KPR’s real planners has been to turn Edmison Heights, where French Immersion students already noticeably outnumber their English counterparts, into a French Immersion-only school. This is the kind of lure to which school board managers have often succumbed, disregarding the reality of school and neighbourhood life while looking for simple management solutions.

If Edmison Heights is overcrowded due to French Immersion programming bringing students in from outside the neighhourhood, and the program continues to increase in popularity, why not start up another French Immersion program at another school? For years now, East City parents wanting French Immersion programs for their kids have sent them across the river to Edmison.

Single-stream FI schools are easy enough to run, but they don’t score very well on any other front. They quickly lose their neighbourhood feeling when too many students are bused in, short-circuiting opportunities to build community integrity. They become bubbles of privilege, isolating students from their non-FI friends and neighbours. When a student is obliged to drop out of the program, s/he has to change schools. And the students with behaviour problems end up being concentrated at the English-only schools.

The French Immersion issue aside, we can easily see from the chart that the only school with enrolment figures reaching the 60% “problem level” as specified KPR’s "partnership policy" is Queen Elizabeth. Adam Scott’s secondary enrolment is healthy, as is that of the neighbourhood network as a whole.

The only real issue with Adam Scott comes not from enrolment but from building quality. Built on a budget and in a hurry during the days of baby-boomer expansion in the 1960s, Adam Scott has the worst facility condition index rating of the city’s secondary schools, and was deemed “prohibitive to repair” by a provincially-contracted engineering audit done ten years ago. Another such audit is in the works, so any decisions based on building quality will have to wait until after that is done. Even if the facility was to become substandard, the only practical option would be to build a new replacement school on the same site or on a similar one nearby.

Does the Adam Scott network of schools need to be made subject to an accommodation review?

The only apparent issues are 1) the future of French Immersion, 2) the related low enrolment at Queen Elizabeth, and 3) the building quality of Adam Scott itself. The first two could be addressed by considering programming changes, catchment boundary changes, or a community partnership, such as a daycare. The third isn’t a pressing issue, as the building is still functioning well enough at present. Unless the Bridgenorth students begin clamouring to be sent to Lakefield, the network makes sense the way it is with only minor tinkering likely to be necessary in the future.

In conclusion, we can safely set aside the Adam Scott neighbourhood school network, confident that an accommodation review isn’t necessary at this time. If our projections don’t come to pass, and if the school starts falling apart, we’ll revisit the network in a few years time.

In the next post we’ll have a look at the PCVS neighbourhood school network. You might be surprised by what you’ll see. 


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