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Therese Rive - Friend of NDSS

Presentation to the DSBN, Tuesday April 8, 2008

Thank you very much. My name is Taysha Palmer and I'm here representing Friends of NDSS I am also here as a parent of a 10-year-old who goes to Colonel Butler elementary school in the Niagara on the lake.

I have been asked to do a presentation today to talk to you about the concept of a smart schooling that the friends of NDS as have come up with

Just a background of Friends of NDSS, it is a non-profit organization they have been around since 1999, though informally before that fundraising for the high school. Over the course of its history it has raised over $50,000-60,000 for the high school.

Friends of NDSS is dedicated to preserving and enhancing community-based secondary education in Niagara on the lake. Members of friends participated in the 1999 review of N. DSS. They also organize the 50th anniversary reunion just last year.

Right now there are just over 300 supporters and growing every day, with 40 on the ground active on the ground volunteers.

So, just look back for a moment to where we are today. As you know, we have five elementary schools representing 887 students in Niagara. You can see the distribution in this chart. In terms of a secondary school, we have one. Presently it educates 322 students. 281 out of 718 students are available within the town of Niagara on the lake. Another 41 come from elsewhere, who come for the DNA arts program.

A total of 453 Niagara on the lake, secondary students that is 61% of the entire in potential catchment base attained even the separate board, DSBN or alternate schools. I am here to ask whether 61% seems high to you. it seems high to me but we have been unable to get the other numbers from DSP and schools and what the rate of alternate school attendance is.

In Niagara on the lake, the secondary population breaks down like this in the pie. Unfortunately my eating eyes cannot see the numbers. I think NDS is at 39% of the pie, the separate board having 21%, and Eden 23% Sir Winston Churchill is 8% and the remainder distributed as you can see.

If you take out the separate board, which by the way we have calculated at the given 21%. Another question that I would pose is 21% and average number for separate board attendance across the DSBN or is that number unique to Niagara on the lake.

When you take out the separate word, you see that you see the NDSS catchment go up to 49% of the potential student enrolment. When you take out the separate board, you end up with 568 students available with Eden having 30%, NDSS 49%, Sir Winston Churchill 10% and so on.

So what that breaks down in to actual student bodies is 168 of those bodies are going to Eden, 54 to Sir Win, 14 Governor Simcoe, Kernahan 16, 4 to Lakeport and schools to Niagara Falls are capturing 31.

Now, when we look back at information provided through the ARC, the reasons Eden were choosing to attend an alternate school, and that being 168 students or 38% of Niagara-on-the-Lake's catchment base was Christian orientation; course selection; their friends go there; perceptions of limitations at NDSS.

For Sir Winston Churchill, the reason was the extended French program, 54 students or 10% of the Niagara-on-the-Lake public board. Another question that I would pose, "Is any follow-up done to determine whether students actually continue in the extended French program after they registered for in grade 9 or are they continuing to go to that school for that program but not attending.

When we think about why people have a perspective of limitations at NDSS, it seems highly likely that image and reputation is linked to the physical building. Neglected schools give the impression that the students and education in those buildings are not valued. Newer schools are generally perceived better, more comfortable and more high-tech.

Other reasons for attending alternate schools, none of this information came through the planning survey, is that the DSBN makes it really easy. There doesnít seem to be any follow up on whether the students are taking the alternate programming enrolled in. There doesnít seem to be any need for an academic reason to attend an alternate school and the DSBN provides free transportation.

Now the ARC recommendations that came out of Niagara-on-the-Lake considered closing three out of the five neighbourhood elementary schools. Building one new elementary school and building a new right sized high school and looking to the Ministry for more appropriate funding model for rural high school.

The Friends of NDSS would like to expand on those recommendations and little bit and look at them from a slightly different point of view. We have created this approach, S.M.A.R.T. which I will guide you through.

The "S" stands for sustainable. Sustainable economically and from an environmental and public health point of view. I will go through each of the sub-categories so I wonít go into them here.

For the DSBN, fiscal considerations obviously will come very high. If I were a trustee sitting in your place, I would certainly be wanting to know, how can I make a decision that's fiscally responsible and yet meet the educational requirements and take into consideration that the high school is an essential part of this community.

The ARC recommendations ask for a new high school. I can only imagine that one of your considerations will be the capital costs for building that high school. Can it be revitalized through renovations or is a new build required?

Operational costs as well. Does it make sense the most to continue JK-8 and 9 to 12 grade configurations or will it make more operation and fiscal sense to look at reconfiguring grades?

The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, in terms of our economy, the school board tax base is only going to grow. Without a secondary school, Niagara-on-the-Lake surly will become a less livable community. We perceive that there will be impact on quality of life, not only for youth who will be doing all of that commuting, but for the people who live there and even on property values, student employment and support for the business community.

Many of our Mom and Pop businesses are just that. Mom and Pops who have kids and families and I'm not sure those people would live in Niagara-on-the-Lake if there wasn't a high school there. I myself was actually raised in Niagara-on-the-Lake and came back here to raise my family after having been away, because I wanted my child raised and educated in a community based environment.

In terms of rate payer contributions to the DSBN, another number that we would be grateful if you could provide is how much we are actually paying as rate payers. Not only directly to the DSBN through our school board taxes, but in-directly through the region and provincial contributions. Compare that to how much is actually coming back to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We would also love to know the costs for busing students out of town to accommodate preferences are. When I say that I mean preferences versus academic needs. For example, a child going to Kernahan because they need a skills based program compared to a child going to Eden for religion needs. We would like to know what would be the costs for busing 718 students out of town every day.

In terms of economic sustainability we would also highly recommend you consider using the principles of smart growth in your decision making. That would mean co-ordinate use of all the available resources to serve the community as a whole. Let's not look at our elementary schools and high school as silos, but look at the community as a whole and educational system as a whole and how we can take all of our resources, including land, capital funds, operational funds, private sector funding and even municipal infrastructure resources. How can we make maximum most effective use of all those resources to serve the community as a whole. That is the future of planning in North America. I think it's considered the gold standard and the way to go. I'd love to see some talk about smart growth.

I won't go too far in to environmental public health, because I'm not expert in those areas, but clearly there are air and water impacts of busing. Health impacts on the youth, quality of life impacts on youth and families and the fact of sitting on the bus. One of our calculations is that students are on the bus for one hour going to school and going back each day that actually calculated to 51 eight-hour school days in a year, for each student.

The "M" in SMART, stands for majority serving. Niagara-on-the-Lake has its own characteristics. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a municipality, its not a suburb of St. Catharines, it's not a bedroom community of Niagara Falls. It is its own municipality. The community of Niagara-on-the-Lake is highly engaged. We have an agricultural sector, we are in the green belt and have a significant Christian population, strong family values. We have five distinct villages, is a rural community. Niagara-on-the-Lake is affluent relative to other communities. We raise that issue because we are fortunate in the sense that because of that we donít have the inner city issues that some schools and middle schools in the USA have because of levels of poverty.

We are asking trustees to please revision and revitalize our area high school to enable it to compete for our area students and to become the school of choice for the majority of Niagara-on-the-Lake students.

We also strive for academic excellence. Niagara-on-the-Lake families generally expect to proceed to post-secondary education. I won't repeat what repeat what you heard Therese speak about, in terms of graduation success. Just over half of the graduates last year were on the honour roll at our school. This rate is significantly higher for NDSS than for the one other school we were able to access information. We tried to get that information; we were told that it would be necessary to contact the guidance department of every school to get the information. This was slightly shocking. I know that if I were in the business of selling widgets, I would want to know how many widgets I actually sold and were on the shelf. I'm assuming that the trustees would be interested to know what those rates are for the different schools and would be capturing that on a systemic basis.

We are also asking for our schools to be resourced adequately. We encourage you please work with the Ministry of Education to create a funding formula that supports community based education in rural municipalities that have nearby cities.

We are asking you to secure capital funding to achieve new or revitalized facilities for our high school that are on par with the competition. It's not a pleasant thing to think about with funding by enrollment, but we have no choice we are in competition with other schools. We are asking you to please allow us to compete for our own students.

We also ask you to build and enhance community partnerships for such things as shared facilities. Its also to maintaining the strong existing connection to the community groups such as Kinsmen, Rotary, Lions and the Friends of NDSS.

Finally the "T" in SMART speaks to trailblazing. What we would like you to consider is looking at Niagara-on-the-Lake as place where you can build a flag ship education system to reflect today's demographics. Niagara-on-the-Lake is not the only community that has shifting demographics, this is the case for everywhere in North America, pretty much, with schools that have too much capacity and not enough students.

Niagara-on-the-Lake has been given an opportunity her to do something wonderful, to strengthen a community, to keep Niagara-on-the-Lake vibrant and livable for the future and to start to thinking holistically. Think about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

What we suggest to get there from here, ideally acting on the ARC recommendations, moving fullt on them as they were passed. If that is not considered feasible by the trustees, then we would ask you to please look at principles of smart growth. To co-ordinate with the public and private sectors to create a vision for a systemic whole, to deliver a full package of education. A full continuum from JK to Grade 12, within our own municipality.

To provide our community with reliable information on grade configuration options and how other configurations have worked in other municipalities. In our early research, we have determined that there are 11 boards in Ontario that have different grade configurations that include anything from 7 to 12, together on one site or in separate buildings on the same site. Some of them working very successfully.

But unfortunately our community was given information that was about inner-city schools in the USA, about middle schools in inner-city USA that frightened the bejesus out of them frankly. It gave people the impression that their children were going to be subject to most of the things that come along with inner-city poverty, which are not the cases in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

So we would encourage you to please, if the purpose of an ARC review, to the ministry guidelines is to have an informed local public, then you inform the public on the options and that you don't let the public become misinformed and they base their decisions and opinions on misinformation.

The benefits of SMART schooling is going to provide the best education for all of the students in Niagara-on-the-Lake for JK to 12. Community based education as you all know only too well, is what gets the best results, is the consensus in the literature that it has lower drop-out rates, higher post-secondary entrance rates and a sense of community identity and confidence in those kid's scores.

In terms of community cohesiveness, I fear if trustees are not able to see their way to providing a full continuum from JK to 12 that we will have a very sad division within our community and it will have very unhealthy consequences. The issues of public funding of the Christian school, becoming an issue that divides our community. I would hate to see that happen, but I can almost guarantee that it will. That rate payers are satisfied with return on investment, for all of the money that they're putting into the DSBN and haven't seen back in recent years. In terms of wise use of available resources, will it serve the entire community, not only those members with children? And of course the final benefit being an environmentally sound approach.

So, in summary, please make our education system sustainable. Please give us an education continuum from JK to 12. Allow us to achieve excellence, in academics, arts and athletics. Resource our schools adequately and blaze a trail, create a flagship system in Niagara-on-the-Lake using smart growth principles.

Thank you


 
     

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