It has been two and a half years since we started to fight for our children. We have fought for smaller schools, community schools, parental involvement, board responsibility, government accountability. During that time, we have tried some ideas that worked, some that failed.
The Minister took our calls on her cell phone, the HRSB Superintendent did not, the consultants started by ignoring us and in the end they too took our calls. The elected school board got fired, though we cannot take sole responsibility for this. In the end, we succeed, and none of the schools proposed for closure will be closed.
Let’s review, for a moment. The original proposal on fall 2006 was a staff proposal to closes Inglis, St Mary’s and Le Marchant/St Thomas to create a single mega-school, 700 students P-6. Parents fought and defeated that.
We insisted that parents should be involved, as they were in the 2002 school review and that we should make recommendations to the Board. We were initially promised that by Carol Olsen, in June of 2007, but by September it had turned into parents talking to consultants from Toronto who would then write a report for all of the peninsula, with no direct parental involvement. Nevertheless, parents came out for meeting after meeting to try and shape the process, no matter how biased and unfair the process the consultants were running was designed to be.
The consultants proposed, in spring 2008, to close three schools on the peninsula. HRSB staff submitted their own report, and proposed to close different schools. Parents and school communities organized again, came out again, to argue their case. In the end, the one man school board, Howard Windsor, decided to close St Mary’s and St Patricks/Alexandra. One school had been recommended by the expensive consulting process that no one supported. One had not.
In October 2008 a new smaller board was elected. They decided to review the decisions. Today, they have decided to close St Pats. St Mary’s for the millionth time has been saved from the chopping block. While today there are some parents at St Pats who are very upset, most believe a single better resourced school will serve that community better.
While we have every reason to celebrate beating back the poorly thought out decisions of a bureaucracy at HRSB that no longer seems associated with the reality of education in this city, you can expect the celebrations will be muted.
Hundreds and hundreds of hours of parent volunteer time has been poured into saving schools, participating in processes, fighting the school board, mobilizing communities. There is only a finite amount of time each parent has in each school to help make that school a better place. Instead of raising money for playgrounds, organizing extracurriculars, supporting teachers in the classroom, parents have been sending emails, writing press releases, making placards, attending endless meetings.
We can only hope that the school board will force staff to accept a new model of capital planning that would ensure parental involvement at the beginning, to ensure the communities are heard at all levels of planning, not just in the dramatic and emotional end.
Congratulations to all the families who have worked so hard to save these schools, you deserve a break, and I am sure you will all enjoy a return to your normal, uninterrupted lives.