7-12 High Schools in Kanata: My Case Against

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board is on the brink of approving the shift to grade 7-12 high schools in Kanata North – that means moving our grade 7 and 8′s to Earl of March SS and West Carleton SS.  The move is being considered as a way to relieve the overcrowding in our schools – a situation all parents with kids in the Kanata School system is well aware of. 

I am completely against the 7-12 solution as an ad hoc solution to this problem – it is a huge educational policy change and the students of Kanata North should not be experimented upon in this fashion.  If the Board wants to consider 7-12 high schools it should be a board-wide conversation with a thorough consideration of the impacts on the students and schools – both the elementary schools who will lose their most senior students and the programs which go with them as well as the high schools which will have to accommodate a huge influx of younger students with different needs.

Costly additions to both Earl of March and West Carleton would be part of the move of the 7 and 8s to those schools.  Knowing the pressures facing the Provincial budget right now, if those additions were approved it would almost certainly mean that it would be years, if not decades before this area received further funding for an elementary school or the high school which is currently planned.  The move of these students would end up being permanent, even if the rest of the Board never adopted the 7-12 model.  Again, our children should not be experimented with.

Parents of Kanata North: I very urgently need you to get involved in this issue and, if you are against the ad hoc move please make your position known to the OCDSB.  Contact Cathy Curry, our elected OCDSB Trustee (cathy.curry@ocdsb.ca).  Contact Jack MacLaren, our Member of Provincial Parliament (jack.maclaren@pc.ola.org).   You can find out information on the OCDSB website specific to the Kanata North Accommodation Reveiew Committee which is studying this issue:

http://www.ocdsb.ca/sch/as/Pages/KanaNorthEleAccomRev.aspx

My entire case is laid out in a letter I recently sent to the Hon. Laurel Broten, Ontario’s Minister of Education:

Dear Minister Broten,

I am writing to you to request your intervention in a matter currently before the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (“OCDSB”).  The matter involves attempts to deal with severe over crowding in the elementary schools which plague the Kanata North Area.  In short, the OCDSB is poised to undertake a major educational policy change, moving grade 7 and 8’s to secondary school, in a small, limited portion of the Board on a completely experimental basis, as a result of decades of mismanagement by the Board of facility needs in the area.  Whether 7-12 secondary schools are a good educational policy choice or not is not my concern at this point; I am concerned that the students in this one area of Ottawa will be subjected to the change without a Board-wide discussion of either impact or implementation on an ad hoc basis.

In 2010 an Accommodation Review Committee (“ARC”) was struck and I was selected as co-chair of the Kanata North ARC, a position I held until I resigned in June, 2011.

I am the parent of one child in full day learning JK (with my second child scheduled to enter next fall) at the only school in the Kanata North area which currently can accommodate FDL.  His school is currently at 115% capacity with various enrollment projections (depending upon the various over-crowding solutions adopted) putting his school at between 150% and 222% capacity.  The other four elementary schools in the ARC area have similar current capacities and similar projections.

Between my work on the ARC, numerous public meetings I’ve attended as well as my recent role at the Ontario Liberal Party Candidate in Carleton-Mississippi Mills, I have heard many stories from parents with regards to the over crowding in our schools.  There is no doubt that the pressures of over crowding in our area in the OCDSB are enormous and that drastic action must be taken to ease the pressure.

I applaud the KN ARC for all their hard work and for the diligence which has been shown in addressing such a range of different solutions to the over crowding problems in the Kanata North OCDSB Schools.  After months of hard work, which included numerous public consultations, the ARC has recently presented to the OCDSB Board a set of recommendations.  Boiled down, these recommendations include one set of scenarios which allow for the Board to locate land and build a new school and another set of scenarios which assume no new school is built and which move the grade 7 and 8 students out of our elementary schools and into our two local secondary schools.

Although the recommendations could leave the casual reader optimistic about the scenarios which involve the building of an additional school in the area, OCDSB staff have shown no progress in this area and when questioned about it refuse to divulge the “possible sites” which are under consideration for fear of jeopardizing the negotiation process.  This claim is absurd given that there are relatively few parcels of land available and given that the Board considering purchasing the land from one of the developers currently holding it would not possibly drive up the cost of the land.

Assuming that there is no new school built in the foreseeable future, we must examine the fall back position which I feel the Board is almost certain to endorse, the 7-12 secondary school model.

My biggest concern is that a 7-12 model is too big of a policy change to force one small section of the City into as a result of over crowding.  This is an educational policy change which should be considered Board-wide and not used as a stop-gap measure to address a critical problem which has arisen as a result of not building enough schools in a timely fashion.  The 7-12 model is a permanent solution to a problem which should be temporary.  The ability to reverse this decision will be almost nil once the additions which are part of the recommendations are built on each secondary school.

I am also very concerned that the capital investment which will be required to implement the 7-12 model at both Earl of March SS and West Carleton SS, in the form of additions to each of those schools, will result in no new elementary school being built in Kanata North for years to come.

OCDSB Planning has created a situation where there will, unless immediate action is taken, never be an elementary school in one particular neighbour hood: Kanata Lakes.  It is unclear why multiple plans of subdivision have been submitted in this area, which has exploded in growth and which houses literally thousands of families, without a single plot of land being reserved by the Board for an elementary school.  However, the situation cannot be allowed to continue.

Land must be immediately sought in this area and expropriation of the land must be explored.  Although minimal land exists in this neighbourhood, there are still some remaining parcels.  Land acquisition efforts by planning staff appear to have been focused on land in other neighbourhoods and while there are needs in those neighbourhoods as well, Kanata Lakes cannot be allowed to never have a school in it’s community.

Additionally, as a member of the ARC I raised, on several occasions, the possibility of sharing facility space with other school Boards.  OCDSB staff rejected this option out of hand and did not pursue it.  I believe that this option should be explored as a stop gap measure, considering that numerous other boards have recently built new schools in the Kanata North area.  It is my sincere hope that the Ministry will open the discussion with Boards all over Ontario regarding the sharing of facility space, a move which I believe to be critical to address our educational facility needs over the next few decades, particularly with the full implementation of full day learning.

I am also concerned that funds recently announced to renovate W. Erskine Johnson PS for the implementation of the FDK program could be funneled towards an expansion of Earl of March SS to allow the 7-12 model to be realized.  It is my understanding that this is what the Board plans to do with these funds.  I do not believe that this is what the Ministry of Education intended when they envisioned Full Day learning being implemented in Ontario and allocated resources to this program.

I do not believe that tax payers in our community would approve of the expenditures which are being contemplated.  What the community of Kanata North needs are two new elementary schools, as well as an additional secondary school in the near future.  The Board is contemplating extremely costly additions to the two existing secondary schools, one of which is a rural school and not on City services, meaning that the renovations would be especially costly.  If funding for these two renovations were to be approved, a substandard solution to the immediate problem would have long lasting consequences.

As the former co-Chair of the ARC I am also very concerned that, in my opinion, OCDSB staff advocated for the 7-12 model from the start of the process.  I feel that staff steered the ARC in the direction of the 7-12 model and in fact OCDSB staff have been quick at public meetings to speak to the viability of the model and leave the impression that staff are indeed pushing this model.  I think, perhaps, that Board staff believe that a 7-12 model is a feasible way to deal with the infrastructure demands of the implementation of FDK across the Board.  However, if that is the case, then a fulsome discussion of the model should happen which engages the entire Board: the Kanata North schools should not be used as experimentation to point to in the future.

Parents in Kanata North are so frustrated, after decades of over crowding and promises of new schools which never materialized (while watching other school Boards all build new schools on viable sites in our community), that many have disengaged from this current discussion.  It is alarming that the Board could sneak an educational experiment into Kanata because parents have become so disheartened and lost faith in the Board.  Numerous parents in Kanata North have felt compelled to remove their children from the Board and send them to the Catholic Board as a result of the over crowding.  No parent should be put in the position of making this choice.

I urge you to intervene in this situation before the Board makes a decision which is experimental, costly and permanent.

Megan Cornell

c.c.:      Jack MacLaren, MPP, Carleton, Mississippi Mills

Cathy Curry, OCDSB Trustee

Marianne Wilkinson, Ottawa City Counselor, Kanata North

Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen

2 Comments »

 
  1. Heather Elder says:

    School boards are UNTOUCHABLE. They have been set up as corporations and lack any type of independent watch dog agency. There is no Ombudsman, no agency with teeth that is able to look into the activities of a school board. Interesting really to have a completely publicly funded “corporation” without any accountability to the tax payers.
    I’ve been trying to get criminal checks 4 all volunteers in our schools. Despite 66 boards demonstrating best practice and due diligence in child safety, OCDSB has been allowed to do what they want and NOT do criminal checks 4 all volunteers. Minister of Education Bronten supports OCDSB’s decision in this matter.
    Biggest issue ? Give students, parents and tax payers an INDEPENDENT AGENCY with teeth (powers) to be able to address concerns. Heck, inmates have the Ontario Ombudsman, give us something too.
    Heather

  2. Mel says:

    Thank you for sharing this letter. I am poised to register my son for JK beginning in September and have been agonizing over the best choice of school in Kanata North. We’ve also been considering the Catholic board as an option to avoid overcrowding issues. Is full day learning such a wonderful thing if the schools are not equipped for it? If you had it to do over again, would you register you child at the same school?

 

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