The NG Times Newspaper

The Upper Canada District School Board Accommodation Review has been a hot topic over the past few months. With the final opportunity for presenting to the Board of Trustees coming up this week, and final decisions about the closure of schools at the end of the month, there is no doubt that children and parents alike are sitting on the edge of their seats. There has been a lot of talk about the value of rural schools, much of which has been discussed in this paper. Rural schools like Oxford-on-Rideau in North Grenville and Wolford Public School in Merrickville have a long history in this area and provide education for children in their own neighbourhood. There is a sense of community that surrounds these schools, where the school is small enough that all the kids know each other and even the bus driver knows them all by name.
There is no doubt that both these schools, along which several others within the UCDSB, are under capacity, and there are some financial ramifications in this for the School Board. Something definitely has to be done. The Board has said that, with such a small population, they feel it is also difficult to provide the types of programming that they would like for the students. For example, at the last public meeting, where the Board of Trustees heard the staff’s final recommendations, it was made clear that, in order to offer dual track (French and English) programming, the school would have to have a population of at least 250 students.
This makes sense to me. After all, if you are going to offer a program, you need to have enough students interested enough to fill a class in order to make it worthwhile. What doesn’t make sense to me is the argument that the Board has made for super schools with a population of 1,500-2,000 students. With that many students in a school there is no doubt that class sizes would have to be upwards of 30, putting significant strain on the teachers and taking the personal relationship with students out of the equation.
It’s not that students can’t get a quality education going to a super school. A few of my friends growing up went to a high school in Toronto that had more than 2,000 students. A friend of mine, who is now a teacher, says that she enjoyed going to such a big school because there was so much diversity. However, she did admit that the class sizes and sheer number of students that the teachers dealt with on a daily basis must have been a challenge. She also didn’t have any trouble academically or socially, which could play a huge factor in the success of a student in such a big school. More students in the class means less time for teachers to get to know their students and help them succeed in the way that works best for them.
I can imagine that it would be more likely that a student with a learning disability, or other special need, would slip through the cracks in a larger school than get the help they need. UCDSB staff have made a point of saying that, according to their research, what matters most in a school is trust and caring adults, not the size of the school. This may be, but I don’t see how that trust and care can develop between adults and students if the kids are a dime a dozen. Of course, there is always an exception to every rule, and I am sure that there are great student-teacher relationships that develop in larger schools. I’m just saying that it is less likely to happen if teachers feel as though they are spread too thin.
UCBSB staff say there is no definitive research to suggest that there is an optimal size for schools. I’m not going to say what the magic number is, because I honestly have no idea. I will say, however, that I believe super schools are not the answer. I don’t think that to have a few split classes in a school is the end of the world, and I don’t see how a student who is used to going to school with 150-200 kids is supposed to flourish at a school the size of a small town. It may be the more economical way for the school board to go, but, when it comes to the well-being of students, I think the jury is out.



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