Students don’t want to go to Barton, Orban says
A last-ditch appeal to keep Hill Park Secondary School open until a new high school is built south of the Lincoln Alexander Parkway hit a flat note when the area’s trustee could only muster the support of one colleague.
Ward 7 trustee Lillian Orban unsuccessfully argued at Monday’s public board meeting that Hill Park, rather than Barton, should serve as a transition school for the new school, scheduled to open in September 2016.
“This community has not been heard,” she said, citing petitions with more than 2,400 signatures opposing the plan to shutter Hill Park in June.
Orban said the Barton plan will force students enrolled in a specialized arts program at Hill Park to travel 10.5 km by bus to Sir Allan MacNab, which will now host the program.
Many of the remaining Hill Park students will go to Sherwood, with about 10 per cent set to attend Barton next fall.
“Here we have the central Mountain completely devastated because the kids are being moved to Ward 6 or Ward 8, and that’s a real problem for me,” Orban said.
“I believe the Hill Park students really don’t want to go to Barton, and if Barton doesn’t want to come to Hill Park as a holding school, then they could go to Sherwood,” she said, questioning the board’s overall plan`.
“We’re going to have to spend 31 million dollars to renovate Sherwood. Well, excuse me, what about our school? It’s there; we have 13 or 15 acres of land.”
But Judith Bishop, trustee for wards 1 and 2, said making a renamed Barton the transition school is designed to let students and teachers there move en masse to the new high school, to be built in Shermal Estates in Ward 7.
About half of Barton students will go to the new school, she said, and closing Hill Park will provide the necessary enrolment to offer a full range of course options that aren’t presently available at either school because both have seen a steady drop in students.
“The whole aim is to have the students all together socially and they move as a whole school to the new south school,” Bishop said.
Ward 6 trustee Laura Peddle, who also opposed reversing course, said she supports the transition plan because it moves students “to the new world” that will exist once Hill Park, Barton and Mountain are closed.
That world includes school boundaries that run east-west, rather than north-south by ward, with most Barton and Hill Park students north of the Linc going to Sherwood and all those south of the Linc attending the new high school, she said.
“I’m not concerned that there’s going to be an entire population of school kids that I represent in the elementary level going to a Ward 7 high school. I don’t care,” Peddle said.
“It’s impossible, impossible, to align the schools by political wards, and quite frankly that would be wrong. This is not a decision about political boundaries. It’s about what works for students.”
Trustees also rejected separate proposals by Peddle to close Mountain in 2018, rather than 2017, and Flamborough representative Karen Turkstra to delay Hill Park’s closure until June 2015 to give students more time to adjust.
“You only have buy in from the community about these transitions with time,” Turkstra said, citing the experience inDundas, where Parkside is set to close and shift students to a renovated Highland.
“I don’t think these schools (Barton and Hill Park) are at the critical point where the programming is so horrendous that they’re not going to graduate. They’re not at the Parkside critical point of less than 500 students.”
But Ward 8 trustee Wes Hicks said extending the deadline only delays the transition.
“The calls I’m getting are, ‘Wes, make up your mind so that my child or student can now go to either MacNab or Barton or Sherwood,’” he said.
A proposal by Peddle to change the boundary for Sherwood by adding Eastmount Park students living east of Upper Wentworth Street fared better, with trustees referring it to staff for consideration after a central Mountain elementary accommodation review is completed.
Peddle said the boundary change would allow about 20 students per year to walk to Sherwood instead of taking two buses to Sir Allan MacNab.
While Orban supported the referral, she objected to the proposal.
“This is what this board has been doing through the years. To fill in a school, we change the boundaries,” she said. “This is the way we’ve been keeping Sherwood open throughout the years.”