Friday, 3 February 2012

The Winter of Our Discontent

The yuletide season was framed for the PCVS community by two powerful and cathartic collective experiences: the PCVS holiday gala at winter solstice and the mid-January public meeting with facilitator Joan Green.

Though one was a joyful celebration of artistry and citizenship at PCVS and the other a marathon of criticism of the incompetence of KPR administration, the two nights had much in common.

The emotional atmosphere in the PCVS auditorium was charged to to its maximum as Master of Ceremonies Dan Fewings and Principal Denise Severin, two prominent figures in the promotion and maintenance of the unique spirit and astounding success of PCVS, took the stage to repeated bursts of deafening applause. Fewings rose to the occasion with auctioneering antics to raise funds for the less-privileged in our own community and overseas, and had the pleasure of introducing a steady procession of top-quality, creative music, dance and theatrical performances by PCVS students (and a few of their teachers), each act different from the one before. Below are a couple of photos taken by Scott Walling at the event.

The talent on display was impressive enough, but, emblematic of PCVS as a whole, the diversity was overwhelming. A large group symphonic arrangement was followed by a folk duet, followed by a black-light group dance performance, followed by a jazz quartet, followed by a dramatic monologue, followed by the djembe group, followed by a solo singer-songwriter, followed by a production number from the musical Chicago, followed by Kate and Janelle doing Neko Case, followed by a school singalong. This is to name only a fraction of the acts. And yet Severin could truthfully comment later, as the energized and rejuvenated audience made its way out the doors, that this spectacular output is everyday fare at PCVS.

You can hear Evangeline Gentle’s love song for PCVS on Youtube, and enjoy the Isaac Maynes, Quinn Henderson, Marcus Schafer and Chris Foster jazz quartet improvising on the Harry Potter theme. There’s much more video of the wonderful event up on Youtube, listed here. 

Evangeline singing "184"

Four weeks later, it was the Evinrude Centre’s turn to host a standing-room-only crowd of passionate PCVS supporters. This time the woman at center stage, Joan Green, was there not to perform but to listen to the audience members, nearly fifty of whom signed up for a turn to vent their just displeasure with school board mismanagement over the microphone to resounding applause and cheering. Rarely does a Ministry-appointed facilitator even need to call a public meeting during these kinds of administrative review processes. In booking the massive Evinrude conference room, Green and the Ministry showed that they were not oblivious to the magnitude of community resistance to KPR administrators’ power-play. The politically astute Green had wisely planned to be patient and to hear out every speaker, even though it meant a five-hour marathon. To do otherwise would have sent the wrong message.

As at the PCVS gala, the quality of the speakers at the meeting – every one of whom seemed to know more about the issue than any KPR Trustees or administrators have shown – was overshadowed only by their diversity. We heard students, parents, grandparents, graduates, former teachers, former Trustees, doctors, a municipal councillor, and a former chair of the Board of Governors at Trent University. We heard the perspectives of the First Nations living off-reserve and of recent immigrants to Canada, of student leaders and of underprivileged students, of females and males, of straight and gay, old and young, of downtown homeowners and rural residents, of business people and politicians.

Each speaker had a unique and valuable point to make on how KPR’s pathetic accommodation review process had failed them, failed their families, and failed their communities. The personal concern for community health and integrity was palpable in virtually every speech, and was often powerfully moving. In spite of the length of the meeting, few were tempted to leave early, swept up in the cumulative cathartic effect of hearing for the public record the multitude of voices of reason exposing the incompetence of school board officials. PCVS neighbourhood resident Bill Templeman hit the nail on the head late in the night when he called KPR’s accommodation review process an “inept sham.” In another situation, this comment might have seemed hyperbolic – but KPR’s mismanagement continues to defy exaggeration. You can read the Examiner report on the meeting here.

Now that we’ve reached what the Celts call Imbolc or St. Brigid’s Day (or some would say Candelmas), halfway between solstice and the vernal equinox, our natural interest in weather prognostication has been extended to the political climate. What happens next in the battle for community control over our schools? Will it come down to legal action or a tax revolt by the property-owners of Town Ward? What kind of backroom conversations are going on right now?

While KPR appears to be trying to spend money to upgrade TASSS as quickly as possible,
ensuring their commitment to the facility, a citizens’ group, the Kawartha Safe Technology Initiative has taken matters into their own hands, sending a newsletter directly to all KPR teachers, informing them of the high levels of radiation in the wireless systems recently installed in KPR schools.

Many citizens have begun connecting the dots between the various forms KPR’s mismanagement has taken, particularly the one between the massive sums of public money which has been spent on unnecessary and unwanted wireless technology and the drive to close schools, lock up classrooms, and skimp on textbooks. In spite of the fact that virtually every study shows that the number one factor in educational success is small class size and individual attention, KPR’s big thinkers have decided that buying digital technology on credit is preferable to investing in teachers and in communities.

Not satisfied with their attempt to shut down PCVS, KPR managers are planning to close more schools in the near future, thereby saving more money to pay for the massive technology debt recently incurred. According to the report made to the resource committee in May 2011 by board manager Norm Breitner, Norwood District High, South Monaghan Public, and either King George or Armour Heights will soon be under assault, to name just the Peterborough-area schools mentioned in the document. 
KPR administrators will continue to spin this drive as a sensible response to the “declining enrolment,” a term which has been heard in commentary on Ontario’s education system over the past 10 years almost as frequently as the words “fiscal responsibility” have issued from the mouths of conservative politicians – and with about the same degree of truth and transparency.

It’s time to put some fresh wiper fluid in the reservoir and have a good look at the highway for ourselves before self-interested public servants and unprepared elected officials end up driving us into the ditch.

Something from St. Brigid’s well might do the trick. St. Brigid, will you please help us now envision “The ARC that Should Have Been?” In the next post, we’ll set the stage by clearly examining the real “reality” of “declining enrolment” in Peterborough and Ontario.  

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