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COMMUNITY COLUMNIST: Entire school closure process dysfunctional, needs repair

By John-Paul Danko, special to the News

Sixty years ago, as the expansion of urban development of the Hamilton Mountain began, Queensdale School was built on a quiet street beside a grove of massive old oak trees.
Over the next several decades, the public school board trustees of the day had the vision to strategically acquire property that could be developed into new schools as needed.
In those days, the driving factor that determined the location of a new elementary school was walkability. No one would even consider driving their kids to school.
Through the wisdom of those trustees, and in a mutually beneficial partnership with the City of Hamilton, a web of small, walkable community elementary schools was developed across the central Mountain.
With the increasing demand by families for the modest, affordable urban housing available throughout the central Mountain, these same small community elementary schools are even more important today as an engine of reinvestment and revitalization.
However, in an act of unprecedented shortsightedness, the very model of small community elementary schools is about to be irreconcilably dismantled by the modern counterparts of those trustees.
By the next municipal election in October, the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) trustees are poised to have closed a total of 52 schools since 1998. The process used by the HWDSB to justify these closures is called a Pupil Accommodation Review Committee (ARC).
Having just witnessed the workings of the central Mountain ARC, it is clear that the entire process is dysfunctional.
From the initial staff option that pits communities against one another in a fight to stay open, to the lack of transparency or willingness to address community questions and issues, the ARC process is set up to maintain the self-fulfilling prophecy of declining enrolments.
The HWDSB has a clear documented agenda to close and consolidate small community elementary schools in favour of an imported, Americanized vision of large elementary schools with three or more classes per grade. Children are reduced to widgets in an economy of scale.
Couple this with an ingrained culture of secrecy and dismissal that seems to permeate the public school board and the public is left with nothing but a hollow excuse for public consultation and a bitter adversarial relationship between the HWDSB and the communities it was created to serve.
As the people who actually fund the entire public education system though our tax dollars, we understand that the HWDSB does face very real financial constraints.
However, a broken ARC process that is run by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats and manipulated to suit their internal agenda does not satisfy anyone – let alone the public school board trustees who will be left standing alone, red-handed, when they face re-election in October.
John-Paul Danko is a professional engineer with Ellis Engineering Inc., and the owner of Blur MEDIA. He is a life-long Hamilton Mountain resident and parent of two Queensdale students.

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