Minister of Education visits Bruce and Grey Schools
by Sandy Lindsay

April 20, 2017


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Chesley students protest the closure of their school ...

... and follow the Minister's vehicle as it leaves Paisley

Ontario's Minister of Education, Mitzie Hunter, paid a quick visit to Grey and Bruce Counties stopping at Paisley Central School in Paisley and Beavercrest Community School in Markdale on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 19th (2017).

Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter arrives at Paisley school

Both schools were granted a reprieve from immediate closure the night before (June 18) by Trustees at the Bluewater School Board meeting.

(L)Pat Jilesen of Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Paul Eagleson Mayor of Arran Elderslie and MPP Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Bill Walker wait for the Minister to arrive at Paisley school

Although several dignitaries, including Arran-Elderslie Mayor Paul Eagleson and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker along with several Bluewater Board Trustees, were on hand, Hunter primarily focused on the young students.

Paul Motz, Chair of Bluewater School Board greets Minister Mitzie Hunter

During a media questioning period, Hunter was pressed for an answer as to why her government was against a school closure moratorium.  Hunter said that her government was against taking that step because "... we don't believe that there's a one size fits all solution."  Again, she was pressed to answer when it was suggested that that was the whole point where rural schools are concerned and was asked why the Ministry doesn't just call the whole thing off for a few years and figure out what is going on.  Hunter replied that school boards had to continue to make decisions.  "Each of the school boards are at different stages and we need to give them the opportunity to make the right decisions for themselves."

When asked if community partnerships for schools is what the government is looking at, Hunter said that it was a possibility.  "I sent a letter out to School Boards and Municipalities encouraging them to work together to ensure they were making the best decisions possible for their schools and that could include community partnerships ... it's a wonderful for opportunity for boards to have those conversations."

Hunter was asked if it was not creating a 'have and have-not' situation for schools that were not in a position to have someone (like a Chapman's) step in and rescue them.  "This is about coming up with innovative and creative solutions that are right for communities.  If we have a situation where a school is more than 20km away from another school then we will continue to provide top-up funding to that Board so it has the choice of keeping that school in the community while at the same time having the option to provide better programing to support students."

Upon leaving Paisley school for the next leg of her visit to include Markdale, the minister was met with an unexpected and very vocal protest by secondary students from Chesley District Community School.


At the Bluewater School Board meeting held the night before Hunter's visit, Trustees voted to close Chesley as a high school and turn it into a Jr. Kindergarten to Gr. 8 school.

Although it is anticipated that Chesley school will continue to grow in enrolment given the surrounding population growth in communities and the expected Bruce Power life-extension spin-off, the school currently has only 144 students who, in September will be dispersed to Owen Sound, Hanover, Walkerton and Saugeen Shores.

(L) Meghan Boarder and Ashley Verhees

With students still chanting that they want a moratorium on school closures, they were left with little satisfaction.  The Minister did stop and talk briefly with student Nicole Burrows.  "I told her that it's people like her who are the reason we can't go to our schools and why they are closing," said Burrows tearfully. 

Parent, Brandi Gowan, added that her daughter will be graduating next year and, now, instead of graduating with classmates she has gone all through school with, they will be separated into three different schools.  "I will be tracking this situation and the mental health of my daughter," she said.

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According to Arran Elderslie Mayor Paul Eagleson, seeing Chesley school close as a high school is a "sad day". "I don't think a thing has changed," he said referring to the Trustees decision to close the school at the Bluewater School Board meeting on Tuesday, April 18th.  "This school has gone through three ARCs by the province, is an academic leader in the province, was renovated to the tune of millions of dollars three years ago, is the leader in the province for High Skills Major in Agriculture ... and now they're closing it?

Eagleson also questioned why the Minister had stopped at two schools that were given a reprieve the night before at the Bluewater Board meeting and yet had not made time to stop at Chesley School that was being chopped.

From Paisley, the Minister and entourage were off to Markdale's Beavercrest school, which is in an entirely different situation than that of Paisley.

Beavercrest Community School

Ashley Chapman of Chapman's Ice Cream has pledged $2 million with a matching donation by developer Parataxis toward the maintenance of the school and a plan for a possible new school in Markdale.

At a previous Board meeting Chapman pointed out the company's expansion and housing development that is taking place in Markdale and that a key to the community's growth is the presence of a school.

In a private meeting, Hunter met with Bluewater District School Board representatives, the Mayor of Grey Highlands Paul McQueen, Ashley Chapman of Chapman's Ice Cream and Parataxis Design and Development Corporation representative.

"We look forward to receiving the business plan in June," said Hunter. "It's important to give the process an opportunity to unfold.  The School Board is working together with the municipality, local businesses and with the community and I think it's an exciting opportunity and I'm looking forward to receiving their proposal."

Minister Hunter chats with girls in tech class

"I'm very supportive of schools doing innovative and creative projects and that's why I sent the letter to the school boards and municipalities across the province," added Hunter.  "This (Markdale) is a perfect example of that (collaboration).  We are fully on board in terms of supporting the local school board in its priorities. I am very much interested in considering it (developing a community hub).  As a province, we are interested in supporting the capital and on-going operations the school and I want to make that very clear."

MPP Bill Walker said that he had not heard anything that hadn't been said before.  "Why should schools have to depend on business and communities to save them.  This government has wasted billions of dollars on gas plants, Ornge, e-health and other things and now they are trying to save money on the backs of students.  Maybe, it's time to give control back to local school boards.  If they don't change the funding formula, there will be another round of schools that will be on the chopping block."

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Thursday, April 20, 2017