Education Action: Toronto

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School Closings on the TDSB agenda and what we can do about it

by David Clandfield

The TDSB has launched seven Accommodation Review Committees (the provincially mandated “consultation” process required before closing schools). This initiative, in a stunning reminder of George Orwell’s “Newspeak” of 1984, is called “Better Schools Brighter Futures.” They use this upbeat name to trumpet the virtues of larger schools (minimum of 450 for the elementary panel) and an end to the tiered junior- middle system in favour of K-8 schools. The majority of the research is against them on both fronts on just about every measure of school and pupil welfare and success. The list of school systems round the world with a three-part junior-middle-secondary is impressive and average school sizes in many European countries are about half the TDSB target or lower. Smaller schools are favoured because the research supports them and communities thrive.

Of course, the Board is not acting for educational reasons, but to
achieve economies of scale. Fewer schools means fewer principals,
caretakers and secretarial staff to pay and fewer buildings to heat and
equip. And the sale of school properties, after closure, is one of the
few sources of revenue available to Boards, still suffering from the
massive Harris cuts and centralization of power that have not been
reversed by the McGuinty government. Where schools are not sold, the
Board leases them out. Remember that seventeen private schools are now
leasing former public schools still owned by the TDSB. Communities have
lost their neighbourhood schools and now watch as fee-paying students
make use of buildings built for the local community and paid for with
that community’s taxes. A vicious circle is created as the board
facilitates the flight of students to private education at public
expense.

What can we do? Three things. First and foremost, all school communities need to join forces to resist these efforts to close and sell off public assets providing essential services and amenities to our children and communities. There will be a ferocious public relations effort by the TDSB to convince people that this is for their own good. Officials will work hard to make sure that trustees, who might yield to community pressure in an election year, stand firm against any resistance. Secondly, we must bring our politicians, all of them, trustees, mayors, municipal councillors and MPPs, together in a determined effort to get the Province to call a moratorium on all school closings and to work on educational restoration funding comparable, in part at least, to what is going on south of the border, where the per-pupil allocations in many cities are now rising to become double what they are here. Thirdly, we need a persuasive alternative for the use of schools affected most by declining enrolment. That alternative lies in the use of schools as community hubs, housing a wide variety of municipally and provincially funded programs that support and sustain community development: daycare and family services, adult education, newcomer settlement, intergenerational learning, public health, fitness, recreation, community kitchens and gardens, community theatre, music and dance, local green energy initiatives. These are all things that can connect pupils’ learning with the daily realities of their lives, an essential key to learning success for all children, but most critically for children from poor and racialized immigrant communities.

Education Action: Toronto is out there, working directly with some
ARC communities and also helping in the Save Our Schools effort
throughout the city organized by the Campaign for Public Education.
Those interested in learning more about schools as community hubs
should check David Clandfield’s Power Point slides. You’ll find the
link in the article on hubs listed here.


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