Open letter from Windsor West MPP and NDP Education Critic Lisa Gretzky on the Importance of Neighbourhood Schools

May 17th, 2016

Hon. Liz Sandals
Minister of Education
22nd Floor, Mowat Block 900 Bay Street Toronto, Ontario M7A 1L2

Dear Minister,

People in Windsor and throughout Ontario are immensely proud of their community schools. These schools are often steeped in history and function as the bedrock of our most liveable neighbourhoods.

Minister, your government is forcing the closure of our schools and hollowing out the neighbourhoods they serve.

The Greater Essex County District School Board announced they are considering an accommodation review of several community schools in Windsor’s city centre, also referred to as the “core,” of the city. Hugh Beaton, Prince Edward and Queen Victoria public schools may be on the chopping block. These schools are vital to the health and well-being of the communities they serve, and their closure would compromise the long term viability of the surrounding neighbourhoods.

For instance, Hugh Beaton has serviced the well-established South Walkerville area for over 85 years and is highly regarded in the community. Queen Victoria and Prince Edward also enjoy a long and storied history serving our community and provide students, staff and faculty with the opportunity to walk to school. Schools like Hugh Beaton, Prince Edward and Queen Victoria are more than just bricks and mortar. They are our parks, our gathering places, and true hubs of community activity, yet your government continues to put these schools in jeopardy.

The current accommodation review process forces trustees to close schools and inherently places core area schools at a disadvantage. For instance, emphasizing past and current enrolment figures in accommodation reviews does not allow boards to plan for growth in their community. More importantly, this model ignores the fact that core schools are vehicles of growth in the neighbourhoods they serve. Closing these schools makes the neighbourhood less desirable for young families—a critical demographic for the long term viability of an area. School closures also hinder any community revitalization efforts.

Minister, rather than forcing trustees to close schools in their districts, the government should allow for creative solutions from community members and local trustees to keep schools open. Last year’s changes to the public accommodation review guidelines mean that public meetings on school closures are cut in half. The minimum timeline for the entire process was cut from seven months with four public meetings to just five months with only two public meetings. A new loophole even allows for an “optional shortened accommodation review process,” with no committee and only one public meeting—this process would only take two months. Reducing the length of time of this important process limits the ability of community members to participate in a decision that will impact their neighbourhood for generations to come.

Accommodation reviews and school closures are occurring at a time when the province should be investing in our schools. Ontario families were enthusiastic when your government announced plans to utilize schools as community hubs but so far, this enthusiasm has become disappointment. The central location and immediate vicinity to other services makes core area schools ideal candidates to be used as community hubs. The province should be enabling and incentivizing boards to easily utilize core area schools as community hubs rather than forcing their closure.

Minister, it’s time to recognize the value and importance of core schools and develop creative and innovative ways to allow these schools to remain open.

Sincerely,

[Original Signed]

Lisa Gretzky, MPP
Windsor West
CC: Percy Hatfield, MPP Windsor- Tecumseh