School closure process continues Wednesday
Despite community outrage last fall, no residents signed up to speak, with deadline looming
McDOUGALL TWP. - Local 12-year-olds may soon be attending high school alongside 18-year-olds, and it seems once irate parents are losing interest in doing anything about it.
ARC to be held at McDougall School.
McDougall Public School will be the site of the second local ARC meeting set for Wednesday March 20.
As of press time, there have been no submissions by the public applying to present at Wednesday’s Accommodation Review Committee meeting, despite a set deadline of 4:30 p.m on Monday, March 18. 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 once-controversial plan to move Grade 7 and 8 students from area elementary schools to Parry Sound High School (PSHS).
On top of a lack of delegates for next week’s meeting, attendance numbers at the meetings on the issue have been in decline. In October, a meeting at Parry Sound High School that featured Near North District School Board chair Kathy Hewitt and director of education Geof Botting attracted more than 200 community members, while the first Accommodation Review Committee meeting generated an attendance of roughly 80.
Greg Mason, one of the voting parent representatives on the ARC, said he thinks the issue is still important to many people in the community.
“Some people were saying the first ARC meeting had low turnout given everything that happened in the fall . . . I don’t really buy that,” said Mason. “I think the way the board handled things in the past, they may have created a general apathy in the sense that there may be a feeling among folks that the board is going to do whatever it wants to do, regardless of this process, and that may be keeping people away.”
Last fall, the Near North board made the decision to move the Grade 7 and 8 students from area elementary students into Parry Sound High School as of September 2013. Following a steady stream of opposition from the community that included calls for resignations, official letters from local politicians and protests outside the North Bay school board office, the board deferred the move until September 2014 with an ARC being held to hear community input on the issue.
“I can only hope people come in and honestly engage the best they can. This is kind of the shot to take,” said Mason. “We asked for it, so let’s take advantage of it. I’m fine with the turnout, and I hope it carries on and hope there’s more and it ends up in productive dialogue.”
Leigh Spinney, another voting parent representative on the committee, said she believes the reduced attendance is probably just a result of people being busy, but there are clear signs the communities are still passionate about the issue.
“I think just trying to get people out to the meetings all the time can be rather difficult with different schedules. I know a lot of feedback is coming from people who can’t make the meetings, they’re sending their information to the ARC members as well, so even if they’re not there in person, their ideas and their thoughts and comments are still coming in,” said Spinney.
Kelly Krist Hergaarden, a voting parent representative on the ARC for the McDougall area, points out that even if attendance is down, those who are there represent a sizable group in region.
“I am sure as the process moves forward, and the media covers more meetings, the attendance will improve,” said Krist. “The purpose of the ARC remains the same, and yes people are just as passionate, if not more. Remember, those 100 people may be representing probably 300 children. In our region, that is a significant amount.”
The first meeting, which was focused on defining the process and determining what information the committee would need, was dominated by community members looking for additional data on the potentially affected schools.
Paul Addie, facilitator for the local ARC, said administrators are bringing back a significant quantity of new information for next week’s meeting.
“We’re bringing back most of the data that was requested and there’s an opportunity for delegations to speak,” said Addie. “What we can expect is the ARC committee to begin to process the data and look at it. Staff will explain the data they’re bringing forward both on enrollment and on capacity.”
Next week’s meeting wont result in a recommendation. Following Wednesday’s meeting, there are two more meetings planned.
“The decisions are all made at or after the fourth meeting. This is data gathering and processing of the data and the April meeting will also be about that,” Addie said.
All of the committee members the North Star spoke with say they are optimistic the committee will reach a solution everyone can be happy with.
“I am certainly keeping an open mind until all the information and data is presented to us over the next few months,” Krist said. “At the end of the process, I am confident our committee will present an alternative solution to the Near North School Board that will encompass all of our community concerns, while at the same time providing a fiscally responsible option.”
From the beginning of the process, the board has pointed to significant financial constraints as the motivating factor to major changes and closures across the board.
The second ARC meeting is scheduled at McDougall Public School on Wednesday, March 20. The third meeting 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.