MERRICKVILLE — Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter should have the initials “R-O” well memorized by now.
The minister’s ear was bent again last Friday by local South Stormont-area lobbying to reverse a decision of the Upper Canada District School Board ending secondary level education at Rothwell-Osnabruck School in Ingleside.
Hunter personally attended the first in a series of planned provincial consultations on rural education. The roundtable tour was prompted by a public outcry after school boards, prompted by changes in provincial funding, went a rural-school closure spree.
“The Minister sat at our table for 25-30 minutes and 20 minutes of that was solely focused on discussing R-O,” said Jennifer MacIsaac, key member of the Save South Stormont Schools campaign, of the May 5 session in Merrickville. “I believe that our meeting with the Minister was of value. We had the opportunity to share our story and concerns regarding the closure of R-O and our unique situation.”
While the forum was focused on gathering public feedback to improve the ‘Pupil Accommodation Review’ process in future, MacIsaac found Hunter to be “genuinely interested in our case and understood that although we had many things to share in regards to how to improve for next time that our main concern was how our community is being affected now.”
The minister “asked us to continue to share our information with her office,” she added, also noting that South Stormont Mayor Jim Bancroft again advocated on behalf of R-O and South Stormont during the earlier afternoon session.
The mayor and Councillor Donna Primeau had previously met with Hunter last month in Toronto to make the case for continued secondary education at Rothwell-Osnabruck. If the UCDSB’s decision isn’t reversed, R-O’s Grade 7 through 12 grades are slated to be transported to Tagwi Secondary School in neighbouring North Stormont.
The sessions, overseen by a panel of three Liberal MPPs, resume with a May 12 stop in Picton.
An estimated 75 to 80 people took part in Merrickville.
“The meeting wasn’t just to fill out the workbooks,” MacIsaac also reported, describing that exercise as a “conversation starting point for groups.” She added, “Then we had the opportunity to speak on microphone and share our feedback with the entire group. I took the mic three or four times.”
In a statement released after the session, Hunter said she was “encouraged by the willingness to collaborate to find solutions to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, have access to high-quality, publicly-funded education.”
“Among the feedback I heard were concerns centred around the impact of local school closures on the towns where community members reside, as well as the need to enhance communication between all partners. There is no question that these decisions, such as when to close or consolidate a school, are among the most difficult for school boards to make, balancing fiscal responsibility and access to the best possible programming opportunities for students. That’s why it is so important that school boards, communities and municipalities work together when they are planning for their future so they can find creative and collaborative solutions that meet student needs. I was encouraged to see this prospect at tonight’s session.
“All of the feedback we received today, and during our engagements in other parts of the province, will help us shape the future of education in rural and remote Ontario and I would like to thank all participants for sharing their ideas, concerns and their passion at tonight’s engagement.”
Unable to attend one of Hunter’s consultative sessions? Give your feedback, get more information and take part in a survey at: ontario.ca/ruralschools.