Letter: ADSB Decision A Bad One - Wildman
Jody Wildman for local2 sault ste. marie
June 13th, 2012 at 10:35am
I was very disappointed to read reports that at their Board meeting June 12, six out of ten Algoma District School Board (ADSB) Trustees ignored the opinions of the majority of parents and will force all central Algoma area Grade 7 and 8 students to attend Central Algoma Secondary School starting in September 2013.
Almost 60% of parents in central Algoma oppose the Grade 7-12 experiment and believe our children deserve to continue to have the high quality education and community school experience the JK-8/9-12 model provides. In my community of St. Joseph Island, we encouraged residents to look at both sides of the JK-8/9-12 versus JK-6/7-12 debate and write ADSB to express their opinion. Fifty-nine percent of our school parents wrote in, almost 87% were opposed to the JK-6/7-12 experiment.
We understand that the provincial funding formula and declining enrolment mean that status quo is not an option and parents have shown they want to be involved in trying to find innovative ways to help the ADSB and our teachers continually improve. However, consolidation and centralization should not be confused with innovation or reform. I do not accept the assertion that "bigger is better" nor do I believe that the JK-8 model is a hindrance to academic success, even in smaller schools. We should be looking for ways to guide our children through the education system and bring teachers together without taking these kids out of their home communities.
ADSB Staff have presented the 7-12 grade configuration as a superior model for academic achievement. Unfortunately, there actually is no conclusive evidence to support ADSB assertions and there was little opportunity to fully discuss parent concerns. Public meetings were tightly controlled and there are indications that teachers who opposed the 7-12 experiment were "muzzled" by their employer.
In Sault Ste. Marie, Kirkland Lake, North Bay, Manotick and Kemptville, ADSB staff and parents toured some impressive 7-12 schools and some 'not so impressive' 7-12 schools. In comparison with the six schools we visited, CASS ranked behind only two of them on the Fraser Institute's 2011 "Report Card on Ontario's Secondary Schools", based on EQAO testing. When asked, staff members in those two schools would not credit the 7-12 grade configuration as a significant factor leading to their success.
There is immense concern about what this experiment will mean for our elementary schools. Throughout the ADSB process parents asked how ADSB planned to help work through the changes that would come about with the loss of the Grade 7/8s, and what resources would be available to strengthen these new JK-6 schools. Nothing in the public meetings nor in the ADSB Staff report addressed any of these question or concerns. The lack of clarity on these questions has led many to draw their own conclusions and gave further weight to their concerns.
There is significant concern about what our Grade 7 and 8 kids will lose by not having the chance to mature in their elementary school. There is something about being in that Grade 7 and 8 classroom that gives kids an extra bit of confidence and responsibility. They feel like leaders in the school and are relied upon. They are able to take on this role in a safe, small environment where they have school staff who've seen them grow from kindergarten and where they see their parents or friend's parents volunteering in the school regularly. Research in childhood development supports the idea that kids in the crucial 11-14 age range benefit from the familiar, safe and nurturing environment their community elementary school provides. School Boards across North America are heeding this and are moving back to the JK-8/9-12 model and leaving behind failed middle school experiments.
I believe that a strong school is one of the building blocks of a strong community and of strong future residents. We have a strong school on St. Joseph Island. We are a community school, and have a good group of dedicated parent volunteers who not only help with school trips, fundraising and breakfast programs, but who have also gotten involved over the years with programming, accessing funding and helping in the classroom.
Many factors contribute to student success. Some of those can be attributed to teachers, school staff and the Board, some to parents and community. I believe the 7-12 experiment will weaken the connection to these latter two.
St. Joseph Island