Making a promise.
Near North District School Board trustee Jeff Serran, centre, talks to Parry Sound area trustee Jim Beatty, left, and Carling Township resident Greg Mason during a break in the school board meeting Tuesday night. Serran pledged to consider any recommendations from an Accommodation Review Committee before supporting the shift of Grade 7/8 students from three elementary schools into Parry Sound High School.
NORTH BAY – They didn’t apologize. They didn’t really explain themselves.
But on Tuesday night Near North District School Board trustees, who
last month angered Parry Sound area parents with the sudden decision to
move Grade 7/8 students from three elementary schools into the Parry
Sound High School next fall, put the decision on hold – at least for a
On Tuesday, facing about 25 residents who made the two-hour trip to
North Bay to protest outside before moving into the boardroom, trustees
voted 6-3 to defer the implementation of moving the Grade 7/8 students
from their current schools to Parry Sound High School to September 2014.
Whether they intend to gather community input and revisit the
decision, or forge ahead while appearing to take some advice along the
way depends on the interpretation of the motion, and the interpretation
of the conversations that took place before and after it was passed.
The motion to postpone also called for an Accommodation Review
Committee process for the “Parry Sound family of schools in order to
communicate the reasons for the board’s decision to consolidate programs
in Grade 7 to 12 settings and seek input on the implementation of the
decision from the community…”
First Nation trustee Linda Williams said she opposed the decision,
because the wording didn’t appear to leave room for new suggestions.
“I can’t support this motion because all it does is move it over an
extra year, saying ‘Yes, you’ll get an ARC, but movement of the seven
and eights to the high school is still happening.’ ”
Parry Sound trustee Jim Beatty voted for the move after he understood
that, despite the wording, his fellow trustees’ intent was to allow the
community to come up with its own suggestions – whether those included
moving Grade 7/8 students or not.
“I’m willing to go along with the spirit of this thing if at the end
of the day we come up with solutions that are more viable,” he said.
A few minutes later, after Beatty introduced another motion that he
had prepared that called for a rescinding of the original Sept. 25
decision, he asked for clarification on the board’s goals for the review
“My understanding is that the motion that we passed to open the ARC,
it supersedes the motion to move Grade 7 and 8s in … to the high
school,” Beatty said.
“No, that is not correct,” Chair Kathy Hewitt answered. “The parents
would have input into how that would happen … the whole process of
putting students into the high school.”
“We’re not rescinding our original decision,” said trustee Michelina
Beam. “We’re deferring implementation to get consultation on how the
move will happen.”
Only trustee Jeff Serran said he expected the community consultation
would start from scratch, and provide its own recommendation – whether
that meant moving Grade 7/8 students or something completely different.
“I’m saying, as a trustee across from you, if something better comes
along, that’s the way we have to go,” Serran said to Beatty.
North Bay trustee David Thompson did offer that an earlier ARC process in North Bay had changed the board’s mind.
Beatty also criticized the board’s quick September decision.
“… the bottom line is the public didn’t know, and I told you they
didn’t know,” he said. “This is a board responsibility, not an
individual responsibility. To decide to do the consultation process
after the fact is wrong, disrespectful and not fair. It was a
last-minute addition to an agenda, there was no need for the hasty
addition. It could have been moved to the next agenda.”
The board made the decision based on “space allocation,” Beatty said,
without any apparent staff consultation and preparation or evidence of
improved program opportunities for the younger students.
“I believe we have an opportunity tonight to do the right thing,” he said. “Listen to the people of Parry Sound.”
Only Beatty, Almaguin trustee Al Bottomley and First Nation trustee
Linda Williams voted to rescind the September decision, and were
During a recess, Serran, surrounded by concerned Parry Sound parents,
repeated his pledge to listen to any community suggestions.
Chair Hewitt’s intent was less clear.
“This will be an accommodation review for the schools in Parry
Sound,” Hewitt said after the debate. “We have too many empty spaces.
The ARC will make its recommendations and we will consider them.”
Asked whether the decision meant the move of Parry Sound area Grade
7/8 students might not happen, Hewitt said, “no, I don’t think that’s
the intent of the motion.”
Of the trustees who supported the September resolution, only Serran expressed regret over the hasty move.
“We need to learn from this and how we communicate at all levels,” he
said during the meeting. “I urge that we learn from this and move
forward with the intent of transparency.”
Following the meeting, trustee Debbie Williams, who represents the
region that includes Nobel Public School, said she had no regrets about a
lack of consultation ahead of the September decision.
“No, I don’t, because it was on record at meetings,” she said. “I don’t
know if trustee Beatty was there, but it was discussed at a workshop.
(The public) have the options of attending all the meetings, reading the
minutes. The meeting it was brought up in was open to the public. It
was a board decision and the board stood behind it.”
The Sept. 25 decision which motivated municipal resolutions asking
Near North Chair Kathy Hewitt to resign and a letter from MPP Norm
Miller requesting the Minister of Education to overturn it, meant Grade
7/8 students from William Beatty, Nobel and McDougall elementary schools
would move to the high school next September.
Approved without appearing on the agenda, the decision prompted a
groundswell of local opposition culminating in about 300 angry parents
and residents gathered at the high school last week voicing concerns and
criticizing the lack of community consultation, before Hewitt and
director of education Geof Botting called the meeting to an end after an
hour and left to jeers.
In November, trustees will meet to set the parameters of the
Accommodation Review Committee. Those parameters will include whether
the committee will be struck just to look at the Grade 7/8 move, whether
it will look at all grades in the high school as well as William
Beatty, Nobel, McDougall and Victory schools, or whether it will also
look at schools in outlying areas, or other scenarios.
Once the board sets those parameters, a group of teachers, parents,
trustees, businesspeople and a board appointee will begin a consultation
process to produce a recommendation for the board’s consideration.
Whatever the outcome of the process, whatever the recommendation, the decision remains in board hands.