UCDSB holds Seaway ARC meeting

A standing ovation at the end of Morning Mullin's presentation to the Seaway ARC 2a meeting January 31st. (The Leader/Blancher photo)
A standing ovation at the end of Morning Mullin’s presentation to the Seaway ARC 2a meeting January 31st. (The Leader/Blancher photo)

IROQUOIS — A crowd of over 800 people packed the gym at Seaway District High School for the January 31st Accommodation Review Committee 2a meeting. Additional space for the overflow crowds was made in the cafeteria where over 90 spectators viewed the presentations on screens. This was the second of two public meetings to receive delegations to present to ARC members.

The meeting started with a  brief video presentation and opening greetings from Cornwall, Highland and Dundas family of schools superintendent Tim Mills.

“The purpose of the ARC meetings is to be a conduit of information from the community,” said Mills.

“The ARC members are not the final decision makers, the trustees are.”

Ten delegation presentations were selected for the meeting.

“We had more delegations than we were able to handle,” Mills told the crowd.

Geoff Howard presented first called ‘A parents perspective’.

“For me education is preparing our kids for success,” said Howard.

Howard’s presentation suggested supplementing classroom learning with online, teleconferencing and other technological services to enhance learning.

“We could be on the cutting edge of something great here,” said Howard.

South Dundas parent Lisa Vreman spoke on the issue facing special needs families including the effects in school and transportation.

“Longer bus rides may lead to sensory or behavioural issues,” said Vreman.

Vreman cited issues with transition to new schools on a short timeline.

Susan Barkley, a retired teacher with the UCDSB spoke regarding the boards living Credo and the province’s pupil accommodation review guidelines.  Her presentation tied the three South Dundas schools’ success to being small schools.

Barkley’s solution touched on putting early French immersion in Morrisburg Public and reducing the modular/portable classrooms at Iroquois Public. Her proposal left Seaway DHS open and untouched.

“It is now time to walk the walk,” said Barkley.

Local retiree Wayne ‘Chick’ Barkley presented a grandparents perspective on the process.

“I stand against these changes,” said Barkley. “I have four kids in the school system in Iroquois and I am determined to stand up for them.”

Barkley reviewed the process so far. Followed by talking about the cultural ties of the schools in South Dundas.

“I believe institutions evolve over time,” said Barkley. “Institutions should never have their doors closed.

The fifth presentation by Morning Mullin spoke of keeping all schools open citing Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter’s comments in the media on distances between the schools and the top up funding received.

“Wouldn’t it be unethical to put our kids at risk,” asked Mullin.

Mullin challenged the funding figures from the board, citing cumulative funding missed by the board.

She continued that the birth rates are up 46 per cent and then advocated to keep all three schools open.

“If we close Morrisburg more kids will go to the Catholic board,” said Mullin.

After a brief intermission, the meeting continued with a presentation by South Dundas resident Michael Staebler called “Preserving our future”.

Staebler presented he challenged the board’s numbers in the initial report, that there were financial errors made.

“Mistakes happen, but the board and trustees have a chance to correct this,” said Staebler.

His presentation outlined that early French immersion in Morrisburg would attract students from the Catholic board.

“This would put the occupancy at 80 per cent at MPS,” stated Staebler.

Staebler continued to question the closure of Seaway and the plans to send South Dundas students to South Grenville and North Dundas high schools, comparing catchment rates of those schools compared to Seaway.

“South Grenville parents aren’t picking South Grenville high school, why should South Dundas students have to go there?”

Staebler stated that one parent had told him that his kids would go to South Grenville “over his dead body”.

He continued to challenge the board’s top up funding figures and talked about the benefits of the schools to the board.

“Seaway has a Grade 7 capture rate of 81 per cent, this highest in the board,” stated Staebler.

As an alternative to closing Seaway, Staebler presented a ‘Plan B’ spoke of a Kindergarten to Grade 3 at IPS, Grade 4 to 12 at Seaway, “Iroquois campus” model.

An alternate plan to the closure of schools in South Dundas and South Stormont was presented by Tom Manley. Called “Meeting the needs of South Dundas and South Stormont,” this proposal calls for all four elementary schools in South Dundas and South Stormont to remain open and have early French immersion programming. A new central high school would then be built to replace Seaway and Rothwell-Osnabruck high schools located next to Upper Canada Village.

“We want to leverage the capacity and partnerships with the area,” said Manley. “Let’s use the assets here.”

South Dundas mayor Evonne Delegarde and councillor Marc St. Pierre presented a brief overview of the impact on the South Dundas community.

St. Pierre spoke of South Dundas moving to help start a High Skills Major program at Seaway in communications technology. Already the municipality has support from Carleton University, St. Lawrence College, Ross Video, Eastern Ontario Training board and other partners to implement.  St. Pierre added that the municipality wants to launch a small business and technology incubator center.

“The high school is a viable part of the community’s future,” said St. Pierre.

Delegarde spoke of the municipality’s support of South Dundas schools.

“South Dundas does not support any school closures.”

Asked by an ARC member about the funding of the program, Delegarde said those discussions would happen once a decision was made.

Paul Horne presented on his family’s experience having moved from North Bay. Horne cited issues with that areas board ARC process.  Schools there closed and then had to reopen after because of “board shortsightedness”.

Horne spoke of his children’s experiences in choosing the schools in South Dundas. He spoke of challenges in getting support from the school board after a surgery for one of his children.

“The board failed our Seaway students,” said Horne. He then spoke of the programming surveys that parents completed in the spring of 2016.

“The survey presented the programming survey in the spring as a false pretense to school closure,” stated Horne.

The final presentation came from Seaway students Jayme Henry, Spencer Fawcett, Nate Collard and Quinn Horne. The students spoke of the athletic and community opportunities in they have access to in South Dundas. Fawcett spoke of the capture rates of Seaway Grade 7 and Grade 9 being higher than the UCDSB board averages.

Collard presented his portion of the presentation in French to highlight the immersion program at the school.

Once switching to English, Collard asked why the numbers at Morrisburg Public are low.

“If the numbers are low, would logic not dictate to simply give MPS an immersion program,” said Collard.

Seaway student council president Quinn Horne, spoke of the impact of the closure of Seaway with numbers.  Horne spoke numbers suggesting to change the boundaries for the Seaway to have all students living in South Dundas attend South Dundas schools.

Horne continued that with the planned development of the Dutch Meadows and Ross Video’s expansion would add more students at the schools.

“You don’t have to be in Toronto to have the best education,” said Horne.

The meeting wrapped up with statements from the public.

Further coverage on the ARC meeting will be in the February 8th issue of The Leader.