Sunday, April 27, 2014

Public High Schools in North Simcoe

Presentation by Mayor Gord McKay, Midland
To ARC Special Board Meeting, Tuesday, April 29th
Concerning Public High School Configuration for North Simcoe

An ARC process is an exceedingly difficult experience for any community or group of communities.  It forces citizens to confront the cold reality of change for a matter that we all hold very close – the education of our children.

Change is never easy.  Change that causes immediate upset and is unlikely to show benefits for many years is even more problematic. On top of that, the change contemplated by this ARC process pits the high school in one town against the other.  It is no wonder our communities want to stop the ARC process. But the situation demands that we must continue and bring it to conclusion.

The Compelling Need for Change

So why must we change?

When I first came to Midland, many of the old timers told me that Midland and Penetanguishene would never cooperate on anything. Wasn’t in their blood. Then is 2010, with some new leadership, the municipalities recognized that things had changed around them – that they had to cooperate or face an increasing bleak economic future. We looked at joint policing (unsuccessfully), sharing sewer and water services, and most successfully economic development.  Over four years the four communities have built a progressive economic partnership that has attracted the attention of the province and many other municipalities. So yes we can change.

Why the need to change our public high-schools?

The School Board has made us aware that our local high school environment has changed significantly:
-       The two high-schools are both significantly under capacity. Given feeder school projections, that situation will remain for at least a decade
-       Both high schools require significant capital investments. There is insufficient funding for both schools
-       The Board has funding for improved education.  A funding request for the status quo – that is paying for two sub-optimal schools – will move that request well down the priority list
-       Small poorly funded rural schools are increasingly unlikely to attract quality teachers and programming. And with that our area will not be able to attract families who are increasingly selective about the school they choose for their children.

Yes, there is a compelling need for change.

Advantages of Change – One Area High School

I believe that North Simcoe will be best served by one area public high-school, built to accommodate the educational needs of the modern student.

My belief is founded upon the central purpose of our educators; our trustees; and our School Board – to deliver the best educational outcomes for our children. Those best educational outcomes will be achieved through a modern scale-appropriate school that has the range of programming and activities needed to fully meet the needs of the modern student.

The other supportive arguments, and there are many, are secondary to this;
-       That the one high-school model is the one most likely to be funded
-       That modern families are most attracted to modern schooling – both for breadth of programming and facilities
-       That we will finally have a facility that breaks the status quo and stops the bleeding of students to other area and non-area schools

The one school model delivers many benefits, and above all the most important one – providing our children with the best in quality modern education.

Perceived Problems with Change

Are there drawbacks with the one-area-school approach? Absolutely.  Otherwise we would have settled the question some time ago.

Closing a school raises the perception that a community loses. It is the loss an educational asset; it strikes at community spirit; and it diminishes economic development. It causes people to question whether their town is growing or falling back. All understandable concerns.

These concerns parallel those of the four North Simcoe municipalities when they set out to build their economic partnership. Local leadership recognized that our future lay in coming together for common purpose, not in clinging to a service model that divided us. We had to give up the historical notion that each community had to have their own. And we did so - we put aside the mindset of four separate development offices because we profoundly understood that we would all gain more by coming together – by sharing a common vision and pooling our resources and energies. That same argument applies just as strongly to the challenge before us – the education of our children.

And while many of my comments seem to have been directed to Midland and Penetanguishene they apply to the entire catchment area.  They embrace the common educational vision we must all share in Tiny, Tay, Christian Island as well as Penetanguishene and Midland.

What will be Preserved of the Status Quo

So what we get out of this is the best educational outcome for our children. Something we have always valued and will continue to value. We will have our own area school that represents all of us, our combined community – something that we all own collectively and equally. And as a side-bar we can turn our collective attention to working on related concerns that all communities want to resolve such as transit for students among the communities or pursuing improved educational funding with a louder combined voice.


For me the bottom line is education – what best prepares our children for the future?  What decision can we make today that will have parents choose to educate their children in our area as opposed to moving to Barrie?

Our one new school must deliver the best in modern education and seamlessly serve the entire catchment area - Tiny, Tay, Christian Island, Penetanguishene and Midland. Our two schools must become one.

So in summary, I recommend:
-          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 entire area and be named accordingly
-          That the school be located in Midland due to its central position in the area and access to school related infrastructure
-          That the School Board strengthen the integrative role of the school by helping fund improvements to 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
-          And finally, bring the ongoing North Simcoe ARC process to an end – make a decision

Thank you.

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