ARC wants mandate clarification, parents want answers
Roland Cilliers/Beacon Star
Greg Mason poses a question to the assembled Near North District School board staff members during Wednesday night’s meeting of the Accommodation Review Committee (ARC.
MCDOUGALL TWP. - The board brought pages of information, but wasn’t able to answer many of the community’s biggest questions.
The second Accommodation Review Committee meeting was held Wednesday night at McDougall Public School. The committee has been assigned the task of developing a recommendation on both the relocation of students from Nobel School to McDougall School, and the plan to move Grade 7 and 8 students from area elementary schools to Parry Sound High School.
Despite an impressive stack of paperwork provided at the entrance to the meeting, the roughly 70 parents in attendance had so many questions and comments for administrators that the meeting ran almost an hour-and-a-half beyond its scheduled ending time.
Discussion on the move of Grade 7 and 8 students to the high school dominated the meeting.
John Dawson, an attending parent, seemed to express the feelings of many in the community when he told the committee why all the information they have been presenting hasn’t been appeasing parents.
“I drive by [Parry Sound High School] and any given time I see thirty kids out there smoking. There has to be alcohol problems at the school. It’s a high school, it’s a given there is going to be drug use. I drop [my son] off here and there are no kids smoking. I don’t have the fear of alcohol here. It’s different and that’s the concern that is not being addressed,” Dawson said.
Near North District School Board officials arrived at the meeting with answers for 15 different information requests posed at the previous ARC meeting. One of the requests was to provide a study of interactions of 11 and 12-year-olds with 18-year-olds.
Tim Graves, superintendent of schools, had collected a variety of studies around the issue of a Grade 7 to 12 configured schools. He provided those in attendance with a summary of the findings of the studies.
Graves was careful to point out that the studies do not have a conclusive result. He said the biggest factor in student achievement is their teacher and the evidence indicates that grade configuration plays a comparatively minor role.
“What we as parents are most afraid of which is when my child goes to this school they are going to get bullied or run into some scenario they ought not to be involved in. When we look at the research around it and the anecdotal evidence from Ontario school boards that have engaged in this we just dont see it,” said Graves.
At other points during the meeting both committee members and attendees expressed frustration with the whole process and how it seemed to be framed to achieve the result the board of trustees is perceived to want. The new Kindergarten to Grade 6 school planned for construction in Parry Sound arose as a topic for conversation at several points during the meeting. Members expressed interest in recommending the school be configured for Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Paul Addie, facilitator for the committee, said he’s not certain the ARC has any ability to change the direction of construction of the new school.
Meridythe Wilson, voting parent representative, said that if the ARC is unable to have any effect on the new school then there really aren’t a lot of options for the committee to discuss.
“If we dont then I can’t understand why we’re sitting around the table as an ARC if we have no other direction to go but a 7 to 12,” said Wilson.
“I can’t see there is any other possible route. It’s a route that I am not going to wish to take, and I am going to be looking at other options, such as going to the Catholic school for my children, because I don’t want them in the high school.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, around 10 p.m., the board administrators were provided a number of requests. In particular, they were asked to go to the board of trustees and get clarification of the ARC mandate specifically as it relates to the new school.
Greg Mason, parent representative on the committee wanted to know if there was a precedent to go back to the board of trustees and seek clarification on the mandate.
“There were clearly discussions on the evening when this motion was passed that indicated there was interest on behalf of the trustees that they would consider alternatives. Now that wasn’t written into the motion and that’s extremely disappointing. There is some confusion, and that confusion has come over to the public,” said Mason.
Paul Addie said he was happy to go back to the board to seek clarification.
The third meeting of the ARC is set for April 18 at Nobel Public School, and the fourth will be on May 16 at Parry Sound High School. All meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and run until 8:30 p.m.