Tecumseh’s Trees Obscuring Educational Forest

By Jason Menard

In a true case of not being able to see the forest for the trees, the battle over a small public school in South London has become the focal point of the debate regarding the Thames Valley District School Board’s future – and it’s preventing us from taking a good hard look at the education system as a whole.

As a former student at South Secondary School – the big, bad entity that’s going to swallow up Tecumseh Public School – I found myself thinking that what was being obscured was the loss of what potentially is one of the most unique learning environments in the city – good ol’ SCI. Would annexing the neighbouring facility not precede an increase of student enrollment? Would that educational Mecca be trampled underfoot of a stampeding horde of additional students?

But my memories betray the reality of the situation. I remember a school where 700 kids grew together, learned together, and enjoyed a community environment that didn’t exist in other schools where enrollment was larger. We pretty much knew – or knew of – everyone else in the school and there was a comfort level attached to it. My worry, upon following this story, was that this small-school benefit would be lost.

Lo and behold, maybe it already has. And maybe we’re arguing for a past that no longer exists. In speaking with South’s current principal Barb Sonier, and Chris Dennett, the manager of public affairs and community relations for the TVDSB, today’s situation differs greatly from my almost 15 years’ past reality.

South is bursting at the seams. With nine portables and over 1,000 students, there’s no elbow room. The student body can’t fit into the auditorium at the same time. How can minds expand when there’s no room to breathe? So, with declining elementary enrollment and need for space, the annexation of Tecumseh’s facilities by South just makes sense, right? Maybe. But perhaps there are other answers.

And by focusing on these little brush fires, we’re missing out on actions that we can take to put out the raging inferno that’s building. We can’t continue to apply band-aid solutions to our education system. We can’t continue to play feast or famine with various schools, depending on demographic or residential swings. The time to take broad, decisive actions is now.

We have to stop thinking regionally. We should be thinking of the betterment of all students. It’s hard to argue that the kids in Old South shouldn’t be able to go to their school. It’s hard to look at their cherubic little faces in the paper, or see the heart-felt appeals they make to save their school, and say that it’s not possible. But it’s equally hard to say that other students – maybe older, maybe from a different area – don’t have the right to a maximized education as well.

How do we decide? Case by case won’t work. And pie-in-the-sky calls for more funding will continue to go unheeded. It’s time to work towards a cure of our education system, not just treating the symptoms when they flare up, with the tools at our disposal – today.

And first and foremost, we have to look at where education should be going. Our system has been in place for years, but the world is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. Are our schools meeting the needs? Not all that long ago, you could argue that having a separate school board for Catholic students and a quote-unquote public system (which, not too long ago was often referred to as Protestant…) made sense. In today’s multi-cultural and multi-religious society, one would be hard pressed to find an argument in favour of the duplication of effort, the waste of resources, and the imbalance in facilities.

Patching the holes won’t work any more. We need to tear down and rebuild the system. We need to find one that works for all students. Obviously money is at a premium, so why not do our best to maximize the allocation of these precious resources? Instead of two separate school boards, roll them together and focus on the creation of programs that embrace our society’s multi-denominational status, so that we can learn to love, respect, and understand one another.

And the short-fall in the elementary system won’t be restricted to there. In time, those diminished numbers will filter up to the high school system. Do we wait for a crisis at that time, or do we take the steps necessary to ensure our system, as a whole, is ready for the challenges that are before us?

Tradition has a role to play in our society and we should embrace it, but not at the expense of any child’s education. Although the decisions may be tough, we have to ensure that the already stretched dollars and overtaxed teaching resources aren’t strained until the point where they snap. It’s time for someone to take a carte blanche approach to the education system and create a best-practices scenario for today’s demographics.

We can’t just hold onto the past. The tighter we squeeze, the faster it slips through our fingers. The South of my memories is gone – but the commitment to excellence in education remains. Let’s just make sure that today’s students have the same opportunity to succeed that I did. And that comes with defining a plan, using resources wisely, and dealing with today’s realities – not yesterday’s memories.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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