School Board Trustee: Why the Potential Closure of Rideau High School Affects all of us

by Shawn Menard
Rideau High School is not located in our neighbourhood. In fact, it isn’t even in Zone 9, the one that encompasses Capital and Rideau-Vanier Wards.
Yet the potential closure of this 60-year-old school, in the highest-needs area in Ottawa affects all of us.
As has been written in these pages before, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board is undertaking accommodation reviews across the city. It has begun in the western and eastern portions of the district and is scheduled to continue, at least, over the next five years. There is a need to re-evaluate our schools, boundaries, and how the needs of students are being met. During the course of this review however, some profound questions are being raised.

How important are community schools?
What language options should be offered in local schools?
How is the provincial government playing a role in potential closures?

The answers to these questions are, of course, nuanced. If you talk to OCDSB senior staff they might tell you that in the future there will continue to be closures of under-enrolled community schools, that language options may be consolidated into single-track schools (one for English and one for French Immersion) in many parts of the district, and that the provincial government is phasing out the declining enrollment grant for lower-enrollment schools, so it affects our financial situation when we have too many spaces and not enough pupils.

The solutions to these issues are nuanced as well. I personally believe that closing seven schools in the west end and the highest-needs high school in the district in Phase One of these reviews is overdoing it. I would prefer to see the board take a path that is measured in its response, one that values small community schools in addition to our larger centers. This does not mean that school consolidation won’t happen, but it might in a way that does not rush a process (to be implemented by Sept. 2017), considers more options for communities fully (presently only one option is floated as the appropriate choice) and involves parents in the decision-making process (rather than setting up an adversarial confrontation).

Rideau High School is a perfect example of the issues the district faces. It has low enrollment (that is expected to grow over time) and a reputation that does not match the high-quality staff, students and community that make up that school. It is presently an English only high school, and would no doubt do well to add French Immersion as an option.

The real reason the potential closure of Rideau High affects all of us is the canary in the coal mine scenario it presents. Unless there are voices who stand together to oppose inequity when it presents itself, it is highly likely that when that process comes to your neighbourhood, that inequity is emboldened.

I was heartened by a group of parents from our community who recently came together to demand changes to a guiding School Program Framework, which affects the entire district. They advocated for community schools and made a difference when we were able to get several amendments passed.

The next few years will be critical for K-12 education in Ottawa and no matter which community changes are being made to, it affects all of us.

Shawn Menard
Ottawa Public School Board Trustee

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