SDG – Senior officials from the Upper Canada District School Board were at the SDG County Council meeting, attempting to open lines of communication between the two government bodies.
The deputation by UCDSB chair John McAllister, director of education Stephen Sliwa, and Ward 9 trustee John Danaher, happened at the September 16th county council meeting in Cornwall.
Danaher led off the board’s presentation giving an overview of what the board does, moving forward from the school closure process from 2016-17 that at one point had 29 schools in the board up for consideration to be closed.
“The board has moved to a strategy of sustaining its remaining 79 schools,” said Danaher. “As we look down the road, the difficult budget process we just went through, you may be going to go through the same process as well. Working together is a better opportunity for all of us.”
The UCDSB completed its budget in June 2019 having to trim an $11.7-million deficit.
McAllister told the council that his goal is to raise the profile of public education. He said the school closure process in 2016-17 was painful but necessary.
“There are no further school closures on the table,” McAllister reiterated saying that the board’s goal is to maintain the existing footprint of the board.
Sliwa highlighted some of the enrollment challenges the board has faced, and some of the successes it has had.
The school board presently has a graduation rate of 88 per cent, with the goal of achieving a 90 per cent graduation rate. Last year the board had 385 students graduate with a red seal on their diploma due to the growing Specialist High Skills Major program.
“There are six times the number of students in a SHSM than in business classes,” Sliwa said, highlighting a move to experiential learning.
Councillor Kirsten Gardner (South Dundas) said she was “conservatively optimistic” that the board has moved past the school closure process.
“Some of the schools that have grown in the board were slated to close in 2017,” she said, adding that leading up to the closure process some of those schools were impacted negatively by programming and leadership issues.
“The status quo is not working and we need to see innovation at the elementary school level,” Gardner said. “There is room to improve.”
She highlighted the success at Morrisburg Public School where enrollment numbers are up since 2017.
“There is proper leadership, where things are challenged,” Gardner said. “MPS has increased its numbers.”
Gardner said that schools should be treated equally when looking at programming, which was echoed by councillor Carma Williams (North Glengarry).
Williams asked about French-Immersion programming for schools like Maxville Public, which is surrounded by Francophone residents.
McAllister said the enrollment numbers were not high enough for immersion at Maxville. He alluded to an upcoming review of how the board provides French instruction, both core and immersion. That review may change how programming is delivered in many of the schools in the board. In a follow-up email to McAllister, he told The Leader that there is no formal review to French programming coming.
“I would have to say that the review that I speculated upon is premature. As you know, the Board has already engaged in a wide-ranging Program Review in 2015-2016 including the approach to FSL. I remain open to any suggestions and/or requests about the necessity of such a review though I can say it is not on the Board’s agenda at this time,” he said. “As the Board and it’s schools are just now consolidating the operation of the timetable for this school year, it may be premature but it is a thought. The Board may wish to consider such a review in its mandate.”
Councillor Bryan McGillis (South Stormont) told McAllister that school closures are still a big issue in his community.
“It is hard to attract people to move into the community when the school is closed.”
Rothwell-Osnabruck Secondary in Ingleside was the only secondary school closed in the 2016-17 school closure process. Since the end of June 2017 there has been a province-wide moratorium on school closures.
McGillis said that the Township of South Stormont has uses for the shuttered high school which is attached to Rothwell-Osnabruck Elementary.
“Are you going to allow us to use R-O,” McGillis asked.
McAllister said that the school board has a community use policy and that the board is open to other use of the building if it dovetails with the school.
Councillor David Smith (South Stormont) echoed McGillis’ comments.
“We still haven’t come to our senses of why R-O closed,” Smith said. “Now kids in our communities are missing out because they are on buses for longer.”
Smith told the UCDSB delegation that area businesses and farms in South Stormont are suffering because they don’t have students for jobs now because they have longer travel times to school.
“We need to make it easier for our kids to be able to have those experiences,” Smith said.
McAllister’s final remarks restated that the UCDSB does not have any plans to close more schools, even if the province lifts the moratorium.
“We have no planned closings,” he said.
Danaher closed out the deputation with an invitation to all members of County Council to become a student for a day in a UCDSB school.