Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Rough Winds Do Shake the Darling Buds of May; or, "Another Day, Another KPR Boondoggle"

The merry month of May has brought us beautiful, seasonal weather here in Peterborough – perfect for outdoor community events in public parks.

Two such events held last week in central Peterborough focused on local public secondary students and their communities.

PCVS Drummers (photo: Save Our Schools)
The first, on Friday morning, was a largely failed, unimaginative attempt by KPR administrators to get high school students from various schools to mingle with one another at Nicholls Oval, costing taxpayers $14,000.

The second, on Saturday afternoon, was a grassroots initiative by the “Save Local Schools” group in Confederation Square beside PCVS that brought local citizens together to address the Ontario government’s destructive obsession with closing schools, in solidarity with other communities across the province - costing taxpayers nothing, and hoping to save them millions.

KPR administrators, possibly having been told they should organize something for “Education Week” and “Mental Health Week” to justify their sizable publicly-funded salaries, announced in an April 30th press release that “over 1000 Peterborough secondary students will participate” in an event called “Highlight!” supposedly aimed at “expanding positive relationships among students, schools and the community.”

The imperative implicit in the phrase “will participate” was made plain ten days later after only a handful of students returned permission forms allowing them to attend the event. Estimates of the number of PCVS students who returned the forms ranged from 8 to 16, and interest was reportedly little higher elsewhere.

What was KPR’s answer to the lack of enthusiasm for an event unable to elicit interest from justifiably skeptical students? On Wednesday, administrators suddenly decided that permission forms weren’t necessary after all – and that attendance for grade 10 and 11 students would be compulsory. Imagine how teachers trying to cram in curriculum requirements only four weeks before exams felt about that last-minute call.

In this Examiner article, KPR Chair Diane Lloyd insists that nearly 900 students attended – an obviously inflated figure, more than double the count made by the Examiner reporter. An hour before the end of the event, there were observed fewer than 300 students listening to a student jazz band playing “St. James Infirmary Blues” on the Folk Festival stage.

The “featured performer” at Highlight! was Cameron Hughes, a man who gets paid by professional sports teams to get up from his seat and do funny dances and strip-tease routines. If you want see what KPR spent $4500 of your tax dollars on, watch any of Hughes’ videos on YouTube, starting here. Yes, you read that right – $4500 for a “motivational speaker” whose claim to fame is taking his clothes off at hockey games. One student assessed his performance at Highlight! as more obnoxious than motivating. But hey, why pay a qualified classroom teacher for a month when you can hire Cameron Hughes for one hour?

As if Hughes wasn’t enough, KPR also decided to spent over $6000 buying 1200 neon yellow, green and orange t-shirts – about three times as many as were actually needed. Organizers then forced the students who showed up to wear them in a botched attempt to get people from different schools to mingle with one another. The scheme was to distribute the t-shirts randomly, then put the matching colours into “teams” for group shouting activities, hoping to get students from different schools to mingle. But with only three colours, everyone could easily find dozens of people from their own school with the same colour t-shirt to hang with – and they did. Why buy class sets of textbooks when you can buy 1200 matching t-shirts?

In total, KPR spent a staggering $14,000 on the event. Lloyd, now highly experienced in defending terrible KPR decisions, reportedly told the Examiner “it was worth it.”

Another day, another KPR boondoggle. No wonder they can’t afford to keep schools open.

Cutting back on such boondoggles evidently isn’t the direction KPR wants to go. Instead, they’ve now drafted a letter calling for the province to merge KPR with the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland Catholic School Board, as reported by the Examiner. If you were the Catholic board, would you want to touch KPR with a ten-foot pole? Didn’t think so. The last few lines of this article confirm this suspicion. 

Meanwhile, PCVS student leaders were busy with other duties. Some were up at Trent doing leadership activities with elementary school students, while Collin Chepeka was being interviewed for CBC’s news program The National. Chepeka echoed the feelings of thousands of Peterborough citizens when he told the National that KPR’s decision to close PCVS continues to “boggle his mind.”

When confronted by the CBC, Lloyd continued to pump out the misleading and simplistic KPR party line, stating that Peterborough has 4000 secondary pupil places and only 3000 students to fill them. Of course, she left Crestwood out of the equation, which if included would make about 4000 students for 5000 places. More importantly, she left out the fact that over 600 of those “empty places” are at one schoolTASSS. Have a peek at the enrolment charts listed on the sidebar of this blog and see for yourself.

Sanity thankfully was restored as the next day the “Save Local Schools” group held their own community-building event across from City Hall that didn’t cost taxpayers a penny. The rally provided good vibes, free entertainment, and information for anyone who wanted to come by of their own volition. Nobody was forced to wear coloured t-shirts, yet, amazingly, people actually introduced themselves to one another, as students, parents, residents, alumni, activists, musicians, and public figures mixed and mingled.

Local doctor Paul Cragg set up a boat-turned-parade-float as a stage on George Street with City Hall in the background, creating a perfect backdrop for a celebration of community, education, and democracy. Longtime Peterborough stalwart and entertainer "Reverend Ken" Ramsden, who lived for many years kitty-corner to PCVS on Aylmer Street, dropped by to tell a tale of a PCVS student protest back in 1919. Ramsden then joined in with Cragg’s trumpet on the PCVS school song as the assembled went on an energetic march down Water Street to Market Hall and back up George Street to the park. 

Bull, Bruce and Chepeka in the front line (photo by Josh Gillis)

Former PCVS principal Shirl Delarue, one of the affiants in the Peterborough Needs PCVS judicial review case, took the stage to inform the community of the state of the legal proceedings. The affiants will be cross-examined in the coming weeks, then lawyers and judges will convene in a Toronto courtroom in the first week of June. Don’t forget that KPR administrators will be spending even more of your tax dollars paying lawyers to defend themselves against charges of incompetence.

Errol Young, a former Toronto school board trustee, spoke of the disturbing situation in Toronto, where the board is being told by Queen’s Park not only to close schools but to sell off the properties. His anecdote about one school which was closed, then later re-opened due to renewed demand for its facilities, showed the folly of selling off public property.

A blog post by one of the Toronto speakers about Saturday’s event features some fantastic photos and a rundown of the day. Another post on the Save Our Schools blog looks into the psychology of power that trustees often become possessed by.

A host of local musicians entertained the assembled over the course of the afternoon, including PCVS students Kirsten Bruce, Evangeline Gentle, and Devlin Flynn, PCVS alumni Candle Cave Ensemble Part II, and a student rock band from TASSS. The Examiner report on the afternoon is here.

Such events are what public parks should be used for – community-building arts and consciousness-raising gatherings, open to all. It’s too bad KPR administrators didn’t avail themselves of the opportunity to participate. They might have learned a thing or two about the people they’re supposed to be serving. 

Sadly, we’ve long since ceased expecting KPR managers to show much interest in either learning or community.

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