COLUMN: A tale of five high schools

For everyone involved with the accommodation review process underway in Upper Canada District School Board, the past five months have been a roller coaster. A roller coaster ride that, for some, ended with the release of the final report from staff on Monday. That report was presented Wednesday night and now sits with the elected trustees to debate, amend, and finalize. Within the Cornwall and Highland areas of the board, every high school was under review and recommended for closure or changes. The finalized report removed two high schools from consideration for now, with a long term plan for two more to merge, and one to close. To say it has been, or still is, a trying process is an understatement. It is interesting though to look at the final version of the report and compare that to what happened in the process.

The most glowing evaluation, if you can call school closure recommendations glowing, was for Glengarry District High School. The revised report referred to the community partnerships, connection to the community, cultural and historical ties. The school was removed from consideration under this process, stating more time was needed to evaluate the options. Long term the school is not safe from closure, but for this year it may be. Those who followed the process and the meetings will remember that North Glengarry presented details about their growth plan including infrastructure plans. The Save Maxville school group also presented offers of “in-kind” work from area businesses and North Glengarry township. It shows a municipal view of support, something that may have made a difference with school board officials.

Next on the list that, while not glowing, showed progress was Char-Lan District High School. Williamstown Public will get an expansion that has long been needed and Char-Lan is off the list for this year. The final report stated the community support, ties and so on, similar to above. The difference here is that the community was, albeit grudgingly, willing to lose S.J. McLeod Public to save the high school. As one trustee had said to this writer, to save a school you need to close a school. S.J. McLeod will close but Char-Lan gets more time and hopefully with that, a brighter future.

Losing the closure battle is Rothwell-Osnabruck Secondary. To be clear, the elementary side stays open. Kindergarten to Grade 6 will stay at R-O. The Grade 7-12 students will leave R-O at the end of this year to go to Tagwi Secondary near Avonmore. This is not the first time R-O has been on the chopping block. It was previously during Boundary 20/20 and supporters of R-O state the process hurt the viability of that school. Given R-O Secondary is still slated for closure, it is hard to disagree with it. But the proposals to save R-O bear some scrutiny.

South Stormont township put forth details of their record growth and how they are on track to being the largest municipality in SD&G within 15 years. Great. They also touted their community ties to the school, support, and so on. Again, great. But there was no concrete offer of something to help the school board make the school viable in the board’s eyes. North Glengarry offered the board in-kind services, and had contractors willing to donate manpower and materials to make things happen in comparison. Meanwhile the save Longue Sault Public/R-O group put up a great plan of how to keep LSPS, add programming to R-O, and have LSPS become a feeder to R-O again. In a sense, correcting the issues the community felt there was from the Boundary 20/20 process. In all of this though, there was no sacrifice. The Char-Lan school community is grudgingly OK with closing one school, to save another. Granted the R-O group didn’t have a school to close in sacrifice. If you don’t have a school to give up, but you want the board to spend more money in a school they already want to close, how do you convince them to save your high school? Go back to the township and come up with a new plan that isn’t just cheering for your community and hoping for the best. While those groups are at it, the energy put into the rhetoric against the board, the school your community’s kids may end up at (Tagwi), and a partner township in the county (North Stormont) would be better spent coming up with a revised plan.

Lastly are the two schools in Cornwall, Cornwall Collegiate and St. Lawrence Secondary. Both schools with long and distinct histories in the city. The plan outlines that once the board can get the province to agree to pay for it, the two schools will be merged into one. Let’s not mince words though. St. Lawrence Secondary will cease to exist and CCVS will be the new school, where ever it is located. CCVS has the Baptista endowment attached to it. So regardless of the history of the St. Lawrence name, it will go. The board does have a way to speed up the process of building a new school, but it would require some sacrifice of its own, being the General Vanier building that it still uses. If the T.R. Leger School, Contact North and the board’s building services were removed from GV and placed in the unused spaces at CCVS and St. Lawrence, it would remove “On The Ground” spaces in said schools. This would improve the overall occupancy numbers of the schools, and while it’s moving numbers around on a spreadsheet, it places those two schools in a better chance of getting provincial funding.

Meanwhile the GV building could finally be disposed off of the UCDSB books. Given the recommendation from the English Catholic board ARC process is to keep St. Joseph Catholic Secondary School where it is and expand to a Grade 7-12 school, the UCDSB should find a willing partner to take over the building. Maybe St. Matthews Catholic Secondary could use part of it too as they also want to increase to a Grade 7-12 school and have a gymnasium.

This process is unfinished. All parties have their homework to do before the public delegations and the final board meetings. Class has not dismissed yet and no final decision has been made. Get to work.