Nursery co-op worried that it will be seen as just collateral damage if Pearson high school is closed.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

May 16th, 2017

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Any plans to close Lester B. Pearson high school are complicated. A small school with enrollment at 30% below the expected utilization level happens to be the home of the Pearson Cooperative Nursery school, an operation that has been around for more than 40 years and operated very successfully.

In her delegation last week Fiona Wielhouwer was pretty blunt: “ We are here tonight to ask some important questions that have yet to be answered.”

pearson-nursery-playgropund-full

Secure secluded playground for the nursery students – with a nice patch of forest yards away.

The nursery is funded by the city to some degree and by the fees it charges patents. The building it is in – is owned by the school Board but a lot of the capital costs were paid for by the city and the city provides ongoing financial support.

“Our first concern: said Wielhouwer is  the agreement between the City of Burlington and the school board. The community space where the nursery school is located, as well as the third gym (a double gym is typical for a school Pearson’s size), was built cooperatively with capital investments from both the city of Burlington and the Halton School Board. The community had input into the use of the space and the Integrated Community School partnership initiated Pearson Cooperative Nursery school.

“The nursery has had a long standing partnership with the City of Burlington, not the HDSB, for our space. The city paid for part of the community room and the expanded size of the gym, for which the city has an operating agreement with the school board that hasn’t expired – how can that be agreement be broken for the strategic purposes of the school board? Why should the city and taxpayers allow this to happen?

Wielhouwer addressed the issue of rent paid for the space and said “We are not ‘getting away’ with not paying rent. The agreement for the community space that our nursery school occupies gives the city, not the school board, authority to establish the use, policy, regulations and scheduling of the community space.

Despite what some may have been lead to believe, it is not for the Board to charge us rent or a user fee. The city has acknowledged this. The spirit of this agreement was to have a community space that was used by and benefitted the community, which it has for 40 years.

Wielhouwer questions the availability of funding for a potential new space, the timing, and whether the nursery would actually fit the criteria for funding. “This is a major question” she adds. Any funding for a new preschool space would be provided to meet only the minimum requirements from the Ministry…a new classroom would shrink to half our current size and our playground would be diminished by over 50% We also estimate the cost of just the move to be over $22 000.

She adds that: “In addition, over the past 10 years, the nursery has spent $71,000 on capital improvements to the space. Would we be reimbursed for this spending that we would be forced to leave behind?. The financial implications of a move could cripple our non-profit organization.

“This concern has been brushed aside by board staff stating that there would be funding available. Relocation is not a simple solution, and as a small organization run by a board of volunteer parents, we cannot count on an undefined source of funding, nor can we afford moving and remuneration costs. If our worst fears should come to pass…and we are forced out of Pearson and are unable to afford relocation that would result in five people becoming unemployed because of a strategic, unnecessary decision by the board.”

pearson-nusery-sign

Forty years of history might go down the drain of the high school the nursery is attached to is closed.

“This is not just about us” said Wielhouwer. “The nursery school students and families are not the only beneficiaries from our organization.” Alijcia Gibson, the co-op teacher at Pearson said “Having access that is readily available for students to be able to see the development of children during their fundamental years is something that is not only unique for students at Pearson but instrumental in making the connections between the curriculum and the real world….this practical component has helped the students enjoy and experience success in the classroom.”

There is a key phrase that Wielhouwer uses that points up the problem she is having with the school Board and that is – “a true community school”.

This school board does not appear to have much, if any interest, in community schools. The guiding philosophy at this point seems to be large high schools with enrollment of 1000 + students – 1200 appearing to be the optimum number. The rationale for this approach is that larger high schools allow for a much more inviting academic menu.

Concerns about fiscal prudence don’t seem paramount – the money will be found is what Fiona Wielhouwer seems to be hearing.

pearson-nursery-outdoor-art-work

An interesting teaching tool – does it portray the lack of any direction for the future of the nursery.

Community is just not something that shows up on the radar screens the bureaucrats use to guide where they are going. School spirit seems to be the point at which the school Board superintendents view what community is all about.

The parents fully understand the importance of school spirit but they, unlike the superintendents, see school spirit as something that is a part of the community.

There is no clear sense as to what the trustees actually hold in the way of a philosophy. It has been very difficult to figure out just what the individual trustees think – they don’t answer questions.

Few of them, in Burlington, have said very much about what for them is the philosophy that drives their thinking.

The Gazette asked each of the trustees to rank community, fiscal prudence and academic services – they were directed not to do so while the PAR was taking place. With the PAR completed one trustee came back with “we don’t want the public to know what we think because they will then delegate and focus on what our philosophy”. So much for an understanding of what the democratic process is all about.

Wielhouwer summed up her delegation telling the trustees that “a nursery school within Pearson is ideal for a true community school. The central location with its big bright windows, looking out on the meticulously maintained playground and forest beyond is a rare find in a city where many young children’s programs are housed in basements or overlooking parking lots and busy streets.”

“Our children need nature and the outdoors, which is a key part of the program at Pearson. Our youngest learners need to be respected with a space that is designed for them (like our nursery school with its tiny toilets and low counters), not gathered like an afterthought in an unused room in a building designed for other purposes.

“Should the nursery school children be collateral damage from this closure? Shouldn’t their needs be considered the same as the high school students?

LBP Rachelle Papin 2

Ward 4 school Board Trustee Rachelle Papin – didn’t ask any questions and wasn’t certain she had actually received the report from Wielhouwer.

“Choosing to close Lester B Pearson High School would have lasting and irreversible consequences that will impact many families. It will force a financially sound, thriving, non-profit nursery school with deep roots in the community to close its doors after 40 years. A decision to close Pearson would impact students aged 2.5 to 18. Pearson High school needs to remain open so our staff, families and high school students can continue to work together for another 40 years allowing children to grow, play and learn.

The School Board delegation process allowed five minutes for each presentation with another five minutes for questions from the trustees.

Fiona Wielhouwer was not asked one single question.

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2 comments to Nursery co-op worried that it will be seen as just collateral damage if Pearson high school is closed.

  • Steve Atkinson

    This delegation was excellent, and raised so many (unanswered) questions. Im not sure that HDSB staff even considered this problem, nor is it addressed in the Directors report nor were any of these questions answered. It just goes to show how hasty and poorly thought out this process is, and this is but one extremely important issue among many!

    The PAR outlines do not even require a school closing. Boundary reviews should take place BEFORE the PAR is even started, its’ in the outline from the Ministry!

    Back to the drawing board HDSB trustees. No discussion of school closures until all the homework has been done!

    • LBP Alumni

      Totally agree Steve! Trustees have been shown, through the PARC, delegations and even directly by community members, that there’s enough questions surrounding closures to warrant a complete halt to the process.

      Trustee Papin seems like a deer caught in the headlights, from what I’ve observed anyway; I think she’s in over her head. It’s clear she just wants to get the whole thing over with to make her life easier. Her response to one delegate’s suggestion to put the process on hold was a good indication of this.