Friday, 10 February 2012

That ARC That Should Have Been, part four: PCVS and the Central-West

In the previous post, we ruled out the network of schools around Adam Scott CVI as needing an accommodation review. Now we’ll turn our gaze to the central and western parts of the city serviced by PCVS.

PCVS was built at the city center in 1908, just a few blocks from the Otonabee River at the northern edge of the commercial strip on George Street. Over the past century, the city has expanded steadily to the north and west of PCVS. Central Public School, the original PCVS feeder school located immediately north of the courthouse just east of what is now the police station, was closed down around the same time that KPR was formed, forcing downtown residents to truck their children all the way across the commercial core and beyond the boundaries of Town Ward altogether to attend Prince of Wales or Queen Mary on the west side of Monaghan Road. Highland Heights students, who live just east of Jackson Park and just north of Parkhill Road in the southwest corner of Northcrest, are also routed to PCVS, as are students living in the hospital area attending Westmount.

On the map below, I've also marked the Centre for Individual Studies, the de facto secondary school that KPR administrators conveniently left out of last year's accommodation review because it's a "hot potato." We'll look in detail at CIS, which KPR plans to relocate to the PCVS site next year, in a subsequent post.

Overall, we see that the area PCVS serves is roughly bordered by the GE plant to the south, the hospital to the west, Jackson Park, the Parkway trail and Parkhill Road to the north, and the river to the east. However, due to its central location, its Integrated Arts program, and the reputation it has earned as a lively, accepting place to grow, PCVS has continued to attract students from areas beyond, even from outside the city itself.

Let’s look at the PCVS network enrolment figures on the following chart. Unlike the situation in Northcrest, all of the PCVS feeder schools run JK-8. There are two French Immersion schools, Prince of Wales and Westmount. Immersion students who want to continue with the program in high school proceed to Adam Scott. Others opt to transfer to St. Peter’s. These losses to other networks are more than offset by the transfers into PCVS for the Arts program and by students seeking the PCVS atmosphere.

KPR projections

per grade


(all JK-8)

Highland Heights

Westmount (FI)

Queen Mary

Prince of Wales (FI)


total elementary


Note that the “half-total” capacity of the feeder schools is almost exactly the capacity of PCVS – a near-perfect fit. Prior to 2009-10, PCVS was over-capacity for many years running. The estimates provided by KPR administrators during the real accommodation review showed a precipitious decline in enrolment from 2011 to 2015 which was clearly unrealistic and designed to make PCVS appear to be a sinking ship.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, PCVS is nearly full up this year, with a hundred more students than KPR would have led us to believe would be enroled. The “half-total” elementary enrolment from 2009-10 projected forward to 2014-15 also shows the KPR projections to be too low by a hundred students.

Take a close look at the enrolment patterns for the feeder schools. Is their enrolment decreasing?

No! It increased from 1282 in 2009-10 to 1303 in 2010-11 to 1305 this year.

With a capacity of more than 600, Prince of Wales is one of the largest elementary schools in the city, surpassed in size only by James Strath. Even when its enrolment was at its lowest two years ago, it hosted more students than any other elementary school except for Strath and, for that one year, Edmison. Since then, enrolment has increased by more than fifty students. Even operating at 75% capacity, the school population is large by elementary standards. Given that Prince services a wide swath of lower-income areas and routinely deals with many children with behaviour problems and special needs, one wouldn’t want the student population to be much more than it is. Prince of Wales in many ways provides a model for PCVS, as its French Immersion program lures privileged and high-achieving children from the downtown core and “the Avenues” to mix with lower-income students, and the instrumental music program run by the indefatigable William Hamilton for many years provides a focus on co-operative creativity and discipline that has launched many graduates on to musical careers at PCVS and beyond, while maintaining a joyful spirit at the heart of challenging neighbourhood. 

Westmount, like Edmison Heights, continues to be overenroled due to the popularity of French Immersion, and the “portables” on site have long since become fixtures on the tarmac. Enrolment at Queen Mary is stable around 80% and shows no signs of changing.

The only school in the network that appears under-enroled is Highland Heights, which is currently operating at about 60% of its capacity of 291. Like its south-Northcrest neighbour Queen Elizabeth, some students from the area are drawn away by the French Immersion program at Edmison Heights. But even at 170 students, the school is able to provide one full class at each grade level. If enrolment were to drop below 150, near the 50% level, there might be cause for concern. However, as noted in the previous post, there is a new subdivision currently being constructed immediately north of the school, right across the Parkway trail. There are also plans for signficant expansion in the Fairbairn/Towerhill/Lily Lake area to the northwest of the school. Clearly, there will be no shortage of students for Highland Heights in the foreseeable future.

In sum, it is evident that the PCVS network of elementary schools is the right size with stable enrolment numbers that will likely only increase in the coming years with new residential development around Jackson Park and the increased density in the downtown core called for by the City plan and the province’s Places to Grow act. PCVS itself is perennially at capacity, and its reputation and success as a school only continues to climb.

The PCVS building itself was built to last, and over a hundred years after its construction it remains the most attractive in the neighbhourhood. Many renovations have been made in recent years, and its heritage qualities continue to inspire everyone who enters its doors to high levels of conduct and creativity. The location can’t be beat, as virtually anyone in the city can access the school directly through the City’s bus system with the terminal only a few blocks away. The school is within walking distance of 50% of Peterborough’s residences. Operating costs are the lowest of any of Peterborough’s secondary schools, and there are no grounds to maintain. Students make use of playing fields and courts within walking distance at Nicholl’s Oval, Bonnerworth, Simcoe-Bethune and Millenium parks. There are a dozen performance and gallery spaces within walking distance for the Arts students.

Conclusion? The PCVS neighbourhood school network makes sense in its current configuration with a stable enrolment pattern that will likely only trend upward in the coming years. Is there any reason for an accommodation review? Not a one.

In the next post we’ll take a look at Peterborough’s south-west neighbourhoods and Crestwood Secondary. 

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