Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Future of our High Schools

Remarks by Mayor Gord McKay, Midland
Simcoe Muskoka District School Board – Accommodation review Committee
February 4, 2014
I want to begin by thanking the members of the ARC for their work on a subject that we all recognize as being very difficult and also essential to the future of our North Simcoe communities.

This evening I am speaking as a mayor and admit to little competence with regard to educational policy and pedagogical methods. Like many other challenges that land on my desk, I gather input from those who do know and use that to shape the policy direction for our community. 

One other caution – I am the Mayor of Midland and so may be suspected of being a bit biased.

A bit of background on the decision before us:
-          Third iteration of the ARC for North Simcoe – a process that has gone on far too long
-          Area high schools face a projected long-term, low and stable level of enrolment, relative to the space available – the demographics are established
-          Budget pressure on the Board has it looking for more efficient delivery
-          Quality modern education is increasingly critical for our children’s success and our communities’ future

It is time to make a decision and resolve the matter.

The question then – How should our area high schools be best organized to meet the needs of the students and the community?

Looking at Options

All mayors want a high-school in their community – educational asset, community spirit, a more complete community, economic development. That desire to keep their own high-school exists in both Midland and Penetanguishene. In fact, the municipalities have been working collaboratively for years to improve the economy of the entire area. Having either community lose its high-school will have an impact on the whole area.

So could we share a school? – one school with two campuses. It should save money; would support local communities and would satisfy two mayors.  Seems to make sense.

With that thought I had discussions with both principals and a number of parents. Their over-riding concern was the quality of the educational experience – both academic and social. In no uncertain terms they said that a split school may sound good in concept but trying to deliver it while optimizing the student’s experience is problematic. Further comments were that the students generally were onside with a one location school. It was the parents who were opposed.

For me the bottom line is the educational experience – what best prepares our children for the future?  What decision do we take that will have parents choose to educate their children in our area as opposed to moving to Barrie. We cannot afford to maintain two sub-optimal schools and expect our children and our area to succeed.  Our new school must deliver the best in modern education and seamlessly serve the entire catchment area.  And that area is Oro Medonte, Springwater, Severn, Christian Island, Tiny, Tay, Penetanguishene and Midland.

If it is to be one school where should it be? I will speak in favour of Midland and what Midland has to offer the school.  
-          Cultural infrastructure – the new MCC and Town library
-          Sports infrastructure – the modern NSSRC and three new soccer fields
-          Location -  in the middle of the urban area, providing downtown amenities and opportunity for active transportation
-          Location – central to the catchment area
-          Public transit

Midland has much to offer in enhancing the educational outcome for our areas’ high-school students.


My recommendations to the ARC are guided by the “prime directive” – ensuring that we provide the best education and student outcomes for our public high school students throughout the entire area

My secondary considerations are those of budgets and municipal boundaries.


-          That the one area high-school solution be adopted
-          That available funds be used to construct a new school, or failing that to extensively refurbish the existing school
-          That the school represent the area and be named accordingly – eg. Huronia High School
-          That the school be located in Midland
-          That the School Board provide budget to improve after hours transportation for students to all areas, allowing students to fully participate in all the school has to offer. Extending Midland transit to link to Penetanguishene should be considered
-          That the school Board provide budget/staff to assist with the conversion of surplus high school real estate to other useful purposes

-          Conclude the ongoing ARC process by making a firm decision

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