By Sean Meyer/London Community News
London may be losing three schools come next year — or it might not — but residents are going to get a chance to have their say about it.
The Annual Pupil Accommodation Report being presented to Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) trustees on Tuesday (Nov. 29) will recommend the closure of six schools — three of which are in the Forest City.
The report recommends closure of Sir George Ross Secondary, Thames Secondary, and Lorne Avenue Public School. Other schools included in the report are Maple Lane Public School and Rolph Street Public Schools, in Tillsonburg, and West Elgin Senior Elementary School, in West Lorne.
Karen Dalton, TVDSB executive superintendent of operations, said she understands how the public reacts when it hears school closures are on the table. However, she again said people will get to have their say.
“As soon as a community hears their school may be closing, it is emotional. That is a reality we deal with,” Dalton said. “The process allows for lots of public input, lots of information gathering and a lot of opportunity for the community to ask the questions they need to ask.”
From the beginning of the ARC to a final decision is approximately a yearlong process. In that time, there are at least three meetings within the ARC process for public input. Then the public has the opportunity to provide input into the ARC’s draft document before speaking directly to the board of trustees before they make the final vote.
As the name Annual Pupil Accommodation Report suggests, trustees are presented with a yearly summation of where the board stands when it comes to issues such as accommodation, enrollment and programs.
Some years, Dalton said, TVDSB administration recommends an Accommodation Review Committees (ARC) in those areas where it is decided an examination is needed to best accommodate students in fewer facilities so we can improve programs.
“Last year we did not make any recommendations, this year, we are making four recommendations for Accommodation Review Committees to be studied,” Dalton said. “We are looking at how we can augment programs and better use the facility in a more advantageous way.”
If you take the ARC recommended for the Sir George Ross and Thames schools, which feature vocational and technological programs, administration is recommending their closure. But how that closure would be achieved — to the betterment of the students — is key to what the ARC looks at.
“So we want this ARC to look at how we can best accommodate the Ross and Thames students, but also how do we allow all students in the city, if they wish a full vocational program, how do we give them access?” Dalton said. “We are proposing in the report that you close Ross and Thames, you renew facilities elsewhere in the City of London — with declining enrollment we can do that — and you consolidate those students in those renewed facilities. That way you have emphasis schools for others looking to pursue some vocational programming.”
In addition to that accommodation review, the ministry has another policy called Encouraging Facility Partnerships, which requires the board to annually list schools where there may be possible opportunities for community partnerships to better utilize a facility.
“We are looking at how we can augment programs and better use the facility in a more advantageous way,” Dalton said.
If a school is under 60 per cent utilized or has more than 200 empty pupil places and is not involved in any other kind of initiative like an Accommodation Review Committee, then we can put it out there as a potential partner with a community initiative.
An example of this process can be found as recently as last year when Sir John A. MacDonald had just been through an ARC and so the board would not look at closing that school.
Even though it is only 51 per cent utilized and it has 235 empty pupil places, it was decided as a building in excellent condition with a significant number of students, it was well suited for a partnership.
“That is why we put it out there for an initiative earlier and that is why Best Start went in there to provide a day care,” Dalton said. “We want them to look at how do you accommodate the students with that study area in a more feasible manner and improve programs?”