Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Presentation to the Ottawa-Carelton District School Board - November 25, 2009

Good evening and thank you for providing the opportunity to speak to you this evening on the matter of the possible closure of Rideau High School. I have been a resident of Overbrook since 1998. I have been an active volunteer in my community, serving on the board of the Overbrook-Forbes Community Resource Centre since 2001. Currently I am the chairperson of the Steering Committee of the No Community Left Behind Project. This is an initiative of the City of Ottawa that strives to develop a collaborative approach to community building. It was first implemented in the Banff-Ledbury community, and its success is well documented. The area of Overbrook West McArthur was subsequently identified through extensive research as one of four neighbourhoods most in need of this new approach.

It is my intention this evening to shine a light on a serious problem, and then redirect that light toward solutions.

Lets review some facts. The statistics are sobering. Rideau High School has by far the highest school age population within its area with almost 8,000 students, yet the lowest number of students in attendance. Conversely, Colonel By, with the lowest school age population of only 1,800 students, is above capacity with over 1,000 students, attracting them from far and wide. Most disturbingly, the median household income of Rideau families, at about $45,000, is less than half the roughly $103,000 median income of Colonel By families. The bottom line is that the richest area has the most attractive school.

It is the saddest thing that the most economically disadvantaged area has, in the eyes of many of its residents, the least attractive school. They are choosing to go elsewhere. If residents consistently choose schools outside their area, I believe the board should be asking “Why?”, and implementing measures to stop the hollowing out of a school. Instead, you are contemplating its closure.

I am particularly concerned that you would take such a decision in advance of your expected review of your very liberal school transfer policy, which I believe is overdue. Given that Rideau has by far the highest number of students in its catchment area, does it make sense to close this school in advance of this important review? I think not.

For a community identified as being most in need of capacity building the closure of its school must not happen. It would be beyond cruel. It is not unreasonable for residents of every community to expect a school board to provide attractive local schools, especially when the population base is there to sustain it. It is inspiring that the 1,800 school age children in the Colonel By catchment area have an attractive school. I was impressed by their presentations. They can be justifiably proud. It begs the question though: “Why can't the almost 8,000 students and their families in the Rideau area have something that is equally attractive to them?” Secondly, and, most importantly, “What do we need to do to make this happen?”

Let’s now refocus this light on solutions. As noted above, the City of Ottawa has identified this community as in need of capacity building. It is targeting resources and developing strong partnerships in this effort. Participants include the Boys & Girls Club, Ottawa Police Service, Ottawa Housing, and many others. They have recognized a problem and are working together to foster a healthy community. To lose our school, which is part of our heartbeat, at this critical juncture, would be devastating. We need the school board to be a part of this collaborative process. As chair of the Steering Committee that is leading this effort to rejuvenate our community I personally will do what it takes to connect you with the decision makers involved in this process.

Find out how you can be a part of creating not only an attractive school for almost 8,000 students and their families in the Rideau area but learn how you can participate in the partnership that is working toward a healthy and vibrant Ottawa where truly, No Community Is Left Behind. Together, we can make it happen. Thank you.

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