Funding Announced to Explore Schools as Anchors of Community Vitality

Our municipality, in partnership with the Rural Ontario Institute, will be collaborating in a research study to demonstrate the role of schools in rural communities. Northern Bruce Peninsula Council applied for this grant on the recommendation of the Peninsula Action Committee for Education.

The project will explore the relationship between what makes a rural community a good place to live and the role that schools play is sustaining the viability of the community.
As the study progresses we be seeking input from both community members and those agencies who provide health, education and social services in Northern Bruce Peninsula.

ROI grant presentation pic

Photo:  Mark Cassidy, Measuring Community Vitality Project Manager from the Rural Ontario Institute, presents a cheque to Mayor Milt McIver and Dianne Thomson, Project Lead for our local initiative, Schools as Anchors for Rural Community Vitality

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Catching up with PACE

This blog has been very quiet over the past year – partly due to the administrator suffering a repetitive strain injury that severely limited her computer activity, and partly because we didn’t have a tonne new to report. However, we are picking up our pace (PACE, get it?) as we have some exciting news to share about some future forward initiatives. Watch here for updates and invitations to get involved!

The core group of PACE members has continued to be actively engaged and visible in education advocacy and policy review since the spring of 2015. Key activities undertaken on behalf of North Bruce Peninsula school communities, in collaboration with our municipal council, include the following:
– commenting in detail on the revised Bluewater DSB Accommodation Review Policy and Procedure. (In fact, our 4-page submission received multiple compliments and comments from Trustees and board admin, as being thorough and thoughtful);
– attending the Board’s Community Planning and Partnership meeting with municipalities to explore possibilities for potential community partnerships in schools;
– engaging with the Rural Ontario Institute to explore opportunities to use the North Bruce Peninsula as a test/model site for rural education initiatives and contribute to community hub possibilities;
– continuing to explore research proposals to test rural school solutions;
– engaging with the Community Schools Alliance to explore Schools as Community Hubs, and meet with the Premier’s Community Hub Advisor;
– engaging with People for Education, an independent education advocacy organization, to keep rural education and small school needs on their radar as they develop their action plans; and,
– keeping ourselves informed of the local decisions related to Accommodation Review processes.

In October 2015 the BWDSB announced which schools would be considered for closure in this round of Accommodation Reviews, and none of the North Bruce Peninsula schools were identified. We have tremendous empathy for the school communities in Meaford and Owen Sound who are being considered, as well as for the Board of Trustees who have some very difficult work ahead as they consider these proposals. Note that there is an Accommodation Review Spotlight on the BWDSB homepage if you wish to follow the results of that process: http://www.bwdsb.on.ca/

We are SO very lucky to have informed community leaders who are monitoring education issues and initiatives, as well as dedicated and responsible trustees … indeed, we are very grateful for all of the support and success that PACE has received from community members.

So, keep watching – more updates to come!

This PACE update was prepared by Jennifer Barratt Parker.

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Mid December update – and opportunity for action!

This PACE update includes several items to bring you up to date on the activities of the past few weeks, and highlight the latest news regarding NEW Ministry guidelines for school closures.

1. PACE Round Table Meeting Nov 26 2014
A good number of PACE members gathered to review our key accomplishments and outline next steps. It was a very positive meeting as we discussed the high profile that education matters were given in the recent election, and the vocal support that the North Bruce Peninsula community has expressed to support our schools in Tobermory and Lions Head.

At this time, no Bluewater schools have been formally identified for closure. The Bluewater District School Board is holding off on any announcements until the new Ministry guidelines for closing schools are released (more on that in Item #2!).

So, we find ourselves in a bit of a “wait and see” situation as our NBP schools may or may not have to undergo an Accommodation Review. We do not know what the new process will entail … nor when such process will initiate.

Therefore, we turned our attention to discussing what types of actions we CAN be taking as we await the announcement of proposed school closures in our Board. There was much lively discussion about the positive attributes of St Edmunds Public School and Bruce Peninsula District School. One member in attendance eloquently expressed that we should change the conversation – rather than articulating the ‘problem’ of having a ‘deficit of students’, we should emphasize the positive outcomes and strengths that our schools bring to Bruce Peninsula students and communities. We decided to initiate a positive communications campaign, while continuing our promotion of bigger picture solutions to the provincial approach to school funding and support for rural schools. (More on that in Item #3!)

2. Opportunity to comment on NEW school closing process – TIGHT TIMELINE
Last week it was made public that the Ministry of Education intends to release later this month its new “Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines (PARG)” that govern the local school board process to close schools. People for Education has prepared an excellent overview at this link:

http://www.peopleforeducation.ca/pfe-news/changes-coming-to-school-closing-process/?utm_source=E-Newsletter&utm_campaign=5c05db7610-News_Dec_8&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_422aeb3dbd-5c05db7610-18774981

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) is coordinating the preparation of a formal response. PACE members are working with the Municipality of North Bruce Peninsula to prepare input to the AMO submission. Members of the public may also comment directly … one source tells us that they are accepting feedback until December 18th.

To provide feedback directly to the Ministry, contact Grant Osborn: Grant.Osborn@ontario.ca; Mathew Thomas: Mathew.P.Thomas@ontario.ca, or Cindy Ryder-Davis: Cindy.Ryder-Davis@ontario.ca

Since its formation, PACE has indicated that the school closure process is problematic as it pits communities against each other and emphasizes economics over student and community well-being. The new guidelines seem to be aimed at making it easier – and faster – to move quickly to close schools.

3. PACE project updates: a) positive communications campaign and b) PACE research proposal

a) Megan Myles and Jennifer Barratt Parker met to brainstorm a framework for the positive communications campaign that was proposed at the PACE round table meeting. Megan has crafted a summary document to get us started, and we are seeking volunteer support to help us accomplish several ideas:
– writing up North Bruce Peninsula education success stories to share in the Peninsula Press and regional media as well as on Facebook and social media;
– interviewing and featuring reflections from NBP graduates who have ventured into a range of fields both close to home and further afield; and,
– creating short video stories about the experiences and successes in NBP schools and communities.
We hope to feature stories around key success themes such as Environmental Education (Outers, ECO school, Environmental High Skills Major), Integrated Learning (project based learning, UNESCO school themes, cross panel approaches, community member involvement, Co-op courses), Healthy Students (cafeteria, commitment to physical education, mental well-being, inclusive school), Success for All (academic, personal, developmental, extracurricular opportunities) .. and so on.
If you would like to join our positive communications campaign, please drop us a note at our PACE e-mail: bp.pacecommittee@gmail.com

b) PACE members continue to make progress on our research proposal, building connections with the universities and other organizations tackling similar topics in their work advocating for rural schools and communities. More to come …

So, with the Ministry Guidelines still in final consultation, we do not have a firm date for when we might have official word about whether any of our schools will be identified for closure. Our understanding is that once the ministry guidelines are final (say late December), the Bluewater DSB will need/want to review their own local guidelines to ensure they are in compliance with the Ministry direction, before they announce specific schools to be closed. It may be as soon as late January or February.

In the meantime, we aren’t sitting still – and welcome additional energy and support to make progress on our initiatives. The holidays may be a fantastic time to tap into the success stories from recent grads who will be returning to the Bruce from wherever they are pursuing their chosen path… Please comment here, or send us a note to indicate your interest!

This PACE update was prepared by Jennifer Barratt Parker.

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A tale of innovation in rural education

This story from Alabama shares the experience of one rural school district which explored how digital learning solutions and blended learning could improve access and expand course offerings. It’s a great example of a district-wide approach – something for us to consider in Bluewater DSB.

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/12/how-rural-schools-paid-for-students-home-internet-to-transform-learning/

Posted by Jennifer Barratt Parker

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Rural education in the news

Several article have caught my eye over the last week. Here I include 4 for your consideration: a local view, an Ontario-wide provincial view, as well as 2 stories from out of province (Nova Scotia and the US). Our rural education challenges are widely shared, although our peninsula geography makes our reality fairly unique in terms of identifying reasonable options.

1. From the Owen Sound Sun Times, an update on the budget pressures facing the Bluewater District School Board.

I am always interested in seeing what is reported about the Bluewater DSB in the local news, and to read the statements coming from the Board’s spokespersons. There is no question that they are facing serious budget constraints, and all communities in Bluewater catchment must be as concerned as we are about what it may mean to their local schools. http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2014/11/12/funding-troubles-continue-for-bluewater

2. A reminder from People for Education about the scale of the budget challenges facing Ontario’s Ministry of Education, and their consultations on education funding:
http://www.peopleforeducation.ca/pfe-news/consultations-on-education-funding/

3. From the US, an article that describes some of the true challenges in delivering education in a small rural environment:
http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/11/the-challenge-of-being-a-rural-science-teacher/382309/

4. From Nova Scotia, an expert small school advocate raises flags about what is need to successfully achieve that province’s own “schools as community hubs” initiative:
http://thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/1250114-bennett-transform-emptying-schools-into-social-innovation-centres

This should give you lots to chew on! I look forward to seeing your comments. 🙂

This post was prepared by Jennifer Barratt Parker.

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Picking up the PACE…

It was a busy month of October as PACE members kept rural education topics top of mind throughout the recent municipal election campaign – and successfully so, as every single candidate for positions on the council for the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula highlighted local education as a top priority! Education issues were discussed at all three all-candidate meetings, and community awareness grew by leaps and bounds.

Thanks to all of the candidates for your expressions of concern and support – we are greatly encouraged by the broad support your discussions have generated. We extend congratulations to the successful council members-elect – we look forward to working with you! Special congratulations to Jane Thomson, the new Public School Board Trustee for North and South Bruce Peninsula – we know you understand the issues facing education in small rural communities and wish you good luck in your new role.

PACE supporters can be very proud not only of the efforts to raise community awareness about the effects of declining enrollment and financial pressures within the Bluewater District School Board, but also of the actions taken to raise our concerns with the Board of Trustees, and the progress being made to pursue partners and explore solutions. As noted in a previous post, the announcement to identify which Bluewater schools will be proposed for closure (and thus initiate the Accommodation Review Committee process) has been deferred by the Board, pending the release of new Ministry of Education guidelines for accommodation reviews throughout the province. We can’t take credit for this deferral, but it was a positive delay in our view.

Now, we must look ahead to the next steps for PACE, as we plan and pursue activities in support of rural education. Current efforts are aimed at identifying opportunities to advocate for education solutions that will benefit our community, and perhaps be a model for all rural communities in Ontario.

The next PACE meeting is on Wednesday November 26th, at 6:30 pm, at the Municipal Office at 56 Lindsay Road 5. We invite all those interested in joining a round table discussion of next steps for PACE, to attend. Please RSVP to bp.pacecommittee@gmail.com.

This PACE update was prepared by Jennifer Barratt Parker

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Breaking News re: timing of ARC announcements in BWDSB

PACE has just learned that the Bluewater District School Board administration is advising that, contrary to what had been expected, Accommodation Review announcements will NOT be made at this week’s meeting of the Board of Trustees on October 7th, 2014.

UPDATE: Oct 8th Sun Times article confirms the delay:

http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2014/10/08/bluewater-school-accommodation-reviews-on-hold

Our understanding is that the Ministry of Education is poised to release a revised provincial Accommodation Review Guideline, upon which each board’s local policy and procedures are based.

The Director and Business Superintendent for BWDSB are reporting to the Board of Trustees that: “At this time, the newly revised guidelines have not been received, but are expected in the near future. Once the new guidelines have been received, staff will conduct a thorough analysis and make recommendations to the Board of Trustees accordingly.”

As many in our community are aware, PACE has been actively inquiring about the ARC timeline and taking proactive measures to be prepared should any North Bruce Peninsula school be identified for closure. We even requested a delay while we advocate for – and initiate – bigger picture solutions for small schools such as ours. Our research proposal seeks to collaborate with other organizations pursuing policy solutions to support small and rural schools as community hubs. So, this is GOOD NEWS as it gives us more time. And it means that our schools are not under immediate threat for closure as every month of delay pushes any consultation process further into the future.

We are eager to see the provincial guideline revisions, and in the meantime will continue our efforts to research and advocate solutions to support Quality Education Close to Home!

We will keep up our work and will keep you informed. Thanks to everyone who is supporting our efforts.

This PACE update was prepared by Jennifer Barratt Parker

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