Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Woodcroft/ Ritchie vote

Last night was a gruelling ordeal. The meeting went until midnight.

After all the discussion, the vote came in:
6-3 to close Ritchie.
5-4 to close Woodcroft.

I don't know if I have the constitution to go through this every year (as it appears we must). The pain, loss and disappointment was incalculable and, at the end of the night, we were urged not to put other communities through this process of false hope and then crushing defeat. "If you are going to close schools, just do it."

In the book, Stumbling Upon Happiness, a case study was done on the health of senior citizens in a nursing home and how it was affected by regular visitors. In one group, the seniors had control over when the visitors showed up; in the other group, the visitors controlled when the visits happened. Over a period of time, they noticed that more seniors died in the "no control" group. The study was discontinued and then something unexpected happened: the "control" group suddenly had a dramatic and frightening spike in their death rates. They were literally dropping like flies. The study concluded that not having control adversely affects health... but having control and then losing it, is much, much worse. I wonder what we've done to these communities by giving them some sense of control through the sustainability process and then rendering them completely and utterly without control last night.

I'm going away for four days to reflect and restore. Right now, I have nothing to give and the need just grew exponentially.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sue

My heart goes out to these two communities who fought so valiantly with fairness and integrity. Another 2 communities are being devastated by this and I only hope that they are treated better than the communities effected previously but I am not convinced that will happen. It seems that EPSB is devastating the city of Edmonton one community at a time...what a legacy.

However, I am proud and pleased with the way you served your ward's interests even in the face of opposition and defeat. You showed the board and your constituents the right way to represent your ward. There are a few trustees who have much to learn in this area. Thanks for your good work.

To the 2 communities: take some time to lick your wounds, but please return to the fight because next year and the next and the next...more communities will need your insight and knowledge. Keep your heads up and make the best possible decisions you can for your children who are taking the biggest loss in this. Make sure the board hears about every one of them that struggles or grieves or worse. They are gaining an ever larger glaring blot on their reputation because of this and it will continue if no one knows. I hope that you will all be able to relocate, settle in quickly and begin again to flourish. Even if it takes time, work toward that end.

Laurie Simpson said...

I would like to post my extremely personal observations about the sustainability/ consideration for closure process in order to allow you to understand the personal difficulties that individuals is this process face. We were constantly reminded that the last thing that we wanted to do is upset the trustees. This truly is a rock and a hard place because it essentially limits what we can say or do. If we mention unfairness as we did at the first consideration for closure meeting, we are accused of pitting one school against another. If we mention that we have ideas to increase enrolment we are told that our increased enrolment must come from somewhere and it is not right for us to poach students. Our reply to this was that we only wanted our own students back, and yet we still stand as deficient somehow for losing our students in the first place. If we mention certain trustees past voting histories we could be perceived as going for a personal attack, etc., etc. I have read so many presentations and comments made from different schools during the “consideration for closure” process and the underlying thread is the unfairness of it all. And all of the schools made good presentations with valid reasons for being open, hope for the future, and plans to increase enrolment. Most of these plans involved work by the parents with little or no help from the EPSB. And do you know what, despite the presentations, petitions, plans, and effort, all of the schools were voted for closure and they closed (except Stratford and Mill Creek). Stratford remained open not because of a trustee vote but because EPSB did an interesting end run around this so-called process. The regular program did indeed close but in that they had already closed one of the grades it was determined that it did not require the official School Act Closure process because three consecutive grades were not being moved. In addition it was decided that a Cogito program would go into the school and thus again, no consultation with the community was required since after all, there would still be a "school" there albeit not the one that the regular program students were attending. After reading all of this it seemed hopeless to even bother since it appeared that the result was a foregone conclusion once they had voted to consider closure. Lovely term that since it is obvious to any logical person that considering closure occurs when the sustainability review occurs. Certainly by the time the administration is recommending closure they have done more than merely consider it. The reason that this is important is that there is a whole process to follow when closure is considered. Of course the response is that consideration only takes place with the trustees vote. Still we continued to fight because what else can you do.

It becomes frustrating that our role as a parent is ever expanding. We are to market our schools, lest we be accused of apathy because of course we must have been aware that something would have to be done if our enrolment did not meet benchmarks. We are to advocate for special programs (because when our principal tried to obtain a science program at Woodcroft and it was instead awarded to Elmwood, the EPSB response was that their parents seemed more interested). We are to fundraise to provide our schools with things like library books and technology. We are to be politically aware of the EPSB and the minister of education, even though so many decisions happen without public involvement and the research that I did to save Woodcroft turned into a fulltime job. All of this is supposed to take place regardless of other fulltime commitments such as work or education. And then finally, mystically, we are supposed to find that magical quality time to spend with our children, despite the fact that looking out for their basic welfare at school has consumed all of the spare moments. What I would really have liked to ask our trustees is how is it that anyone is supposed to have any faith that the EPSB is genuinely concerned about our children’s welfare when they make these types of decisions. My ten year old son threw up the morning that I had to tell him that Woodcroft was considered for closure. A week later, the Public Health Committee was calling parents from Woodcroft to find out why there were 23 children (out of 95) home ill. Gee, do you think that it could be all of the stress experienced by both the parents and the students? And yet, no counseling or support of any type was provided. The only solution is that the entire sustainability / review/ consideration of closure process must stop. Either it becomes genuinely democratic with real public input and genuine consideration given to the perfectly valid points raised or let’s call a spade a spade – tell people that their schools are just going to be closed period and save them the time, effort, and accompanying stress that this process involves. And in a nutshell, that is why I continued to fight this process, even though I had the nagging feeling that the outcome had been predetermined. Woodcroft lost and I never heard one single valid reason why. The standard argument was that big schools could offer our children more than small schools. Further, the "proof" that bigger schools were better was offered by the lower test scores in small schools. At Ritchie's public meeting this issue was addressed. Most of the district centre children are in the small schools, so there is no apples to apples comparison here. But was this mentioned by planning or administration? Or the trustees determined to close Woodcroft?

Clearly, I have no answers at this point, because I never heard a single valid reason why Woodcroft alone of all the elementary schools was closed. It made it very difficult to explain to my children how it was that this happened. I could not offer them any just reasons, nor could I instill in them any faith in the political process. This could have been a wonderful learning experience about how a few people really can make a difference, but, of course, that is not what happened. Instead, at the ages of six and ten, my sons have already had their faith in the system completely and utterly destroyed. And once again, it is, us as parents who have the unenviable job of explaining the unexplainable.

I am by no means done fighting. And if that fight is not for Woodcroft, then it will be for all of the other community schools. If I can save one parent, one child, or one school from standing where we at Woodcroft are standing today, then perhaps I can look my children in the eye and tell them that bleak as this is, somewhere, something good can come from it. Unfortunately, at this moment in time, I cannot do that.

Anonymous said...

I generally like to keep my comments private, but I am sure I am speaking for more than just myself when I say thank you Sue. Although the outcome was not what we expected or wanted you are not soley responsible for the board and their actions.

I believe that in order to make an informed desision, you must first be informed. You were clearly trying to make yourself informed.

It would be nice if fact and fiction were not so intertwined from the administration, but when you want what you want and have the means, you can make any fact from any study mean whatever you want it to.

I am a parent of Woodcroft-currnetly in mourning- and these are some of my views and comments.