School closures based on outdated report
by Sandy Lindsay

March 17, 2017


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Hwy. 10 Population Growth
(fille photo presented by Michelle Patey)

Jennifer Macdonald, Chair of the School Community Council at Macphail School in Grey Highlands, recently expressed her concern over the Board's proposed closure of Beavercrest school in Markdale and the impact it will have on Macphail school when it will be required to take in 112 students from Beavercrest.

Jennifer Macdonald

Macdonald presented her concerns, along with 12 other presenters, at the Bluewater Board's delegation meeting on March 9th in Chesley.

École Macphail Memorial is a two-track school in that it is actually two schools in one ... an Engish stream school of 12 classrooms and 55% of the student body and a French Immersion program with 10 classrooms and 45% of the student body and with only one surplus classrooom.  There is a capacity for 600 students and each classroom is now filled based on provincial guidelines.

As with most schools in the Bluewater Board, Jr. and Sr. Kindergartens and early primary grades are bursting at the seams with over capacity in some cases.  As it stands, Macphail has the capacity to take in 85 additional students but it would mean the elimination of a resource room and one other room.

The population and enrolment have seen a steady growth of 13% over the last five years, with a slight decline in English students from 310 English students to 286. French Immersion however, has grown from approximately 150 to 250 or 33% of the student body in 2011 to 45% in 2016.

Throughout the area, there has been increased growth in population which is expected to continue as people migrate from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) due to extreme housing costs.

 Dundalk now has two extensive housing developments underway.  Dundalk Edgewood Green has a planned development of 770 homes to be built within three years (2020) with 86 already sold in Phase one.  The White Rose Park development has sold 32 homes and has another 34 or more planned.  This would result in Dundalk's dwellings going from almost 700 now to over 1500 within three years.

According to Macdonald, "If only 10% of new Dundalk families choose French Immersion, Macphail will see 24 new students in 2017-2018. and French Immersion is exploding across the province."

The Bluewater Board has based their proposed school closures on outdated numbers from what is known as the Watson Report of 2013, that was based on the 2011 Census Report.  Unfortunately, not only are the population numbers outdated, they fall far short of what is actually happening and is expected to happen in the near future throughout the region.

According to another presenter, Michelle Patey, the population growth along the Hwy. 10 corridor was based on old data while the numbers are actually dramatically different based on the newer 2016 Census.

  2011 old Census 2016 new Census
Orangeville 5.6% 3.3%
Shelburne 13.5% 39.0%
Dundalk 1.7% 2.3%
Markdale 0.4% 3.0%
Flesherton:  adjacent to Markdale can only approve developments of 5 or fewer homes at one time

 "These numbers do not even address what's coming or what's in our catchment area," said Patey.   "A lot has changed since the Watson Report and rural Ontario is not what it was a few short years ago. The incredible growth in Orangeville and unattainable pricing in the GTA is driving people north and Markdale is the next potential for growth."

Markdale, where Beavercrest is slated for closure, is in fact about to undergo its own housing boom with the Municipality of Grey Highlands currently in advanced negotiations with developers for a major subdivision.  In addition, Chapman's Ice Cream, the major employer, is presently adding 25% more space to its 100,000 sq. ft. facility that employs 600 people and is expected to grow to 1,000 in five years.


Click the orange arrow to read the second column

"Markdale is about to go through a population explosion," said Patey.  "We have a new hospital about to be built, new subdivisions, new expansion to Chapman's, a new major grocery chain store is coming ... the Trustees must turn this closure (Beavercrest) down.  You are being asked by 'staff' to vote on something that, in September, you will be very sorry you passed."

Macphail school is currently at an 84.5% utilization rate and, with Beavercrest students, that would rise to 103%.  The total capacity,  Macdonald points out, is 600 students and with the new additional students, the number would go to 650, which would mean portables would have to be added to accommodate the students.

"This does not even address the enrolment from Dundalk nor the impact of overcrowding which would impact several areas such as the playground area," she added. "The space is already small for 600 students and there is extremely limited parking and the space for extracurricular activities, assemblies and holiday concerts is extremely stretched.  The gym is already booked to capacity and cannot expand to include three or four more additional classrooms."

Most concerning are the implications stemming from the Bluewater Accommodation Review policy that outline qualifying criteria to launch a review process.

According to the policy, 'an Accommodation Review is to be launched if a five-year enrolment forecast indicates that a portable accommodation at the site will extend beyond five years.' 

"Therefore," said Macdonald, "the Board recommendation to re-allocate 112 Beavercrest students to Macphail as part of this Accommodation Review process can immediately trigger a second review process for Macphail.  This can be extremely detrimental to the healthy learning of students. The Bluewater Staff Report is not offering a viable solution to Macphail but is, instead, creating a new problem that did not exist before."

The primary goal of a school board is to increase student achievement.  To obtain the goal, a school must be able to provide each student with a wide range of programs, services and time.  Macdonald added that it is the responsibility of a school board to place students in workable classes provided with resources.

"The solution offered by the Board does not meet the criteria," Macdonald stressed. "Updated Macphail registration numbers should at least be included before any decision is made." 

"We hear about the explosion of population numbers around us but they were not included in the Watson Report," concluded Macdonald. 

Patey added that if the closures go through, given the homes that the area is growing into. "It is detrimental to stick hundreds of kids on buses instead of having them walk to school. EAs have been cut and that's been taken up by volunteers who walk to the school."

"The community has worked together and has come up with several initiatives to keep the school in Markdale," concluded Patey.  "Whether it's Beavercrest or a new school, we have shown the Board how to resize the school; we have offered money to keep it afloat; we have offered financial resources to renovate or build new; we have shown you how to effectively make this happen by working together.  Turn around (Trustees) and listen to the facts and give the Minister and Premier a good news story.  Send staff back to the drawing board. This is your decision." 

A final vote on school closures is slated for April.

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