Area High Schools face restructuring

SIX NATIONS – Declining high school enrollments at Hagersville Secondary, Cayuga Secondary, Dunnville Secondary and McKinnon Park Secondary, has created a problematic situation after the Province recommended that wings of all three schools be shut down and the programs they offered cancelled.

To fill those spaces the board is considering partnerships with Mohawk College, for instance, or other private training institutes to use some of the available space at these schools to produce added income streams.

This has created an especially problematic situation for Six Nations and New Credit high school students who represent a large and growing demographic amongst Native communities. While mainstream population is in decline, the number of Native teens coming into high school age is increasing rapidly.

Ontario’s Ministry of Education has given the Grand Erie School Board the cumbersome charge to gather recommendations from an adhoc committee to discuss plans to downsize, or as they refer to it, “right-size,” their facilities, programs and staff.

To gather information, ideas and suggestions on how to implement these changes, the Grand Erie Board has put together what they call ARC, Accommodation Review Committee.

McKinnon Park, the newest of the three, is the most popular due to its proximity to fast food outlets like MacDonald’s being close by. But even they have a juggling act to do over the summer, and are actually over crowded while the other schools are well under capacity.

Max King, a lifelong educator, now retired, is especially concerned with how these changes will affect New Credit and Six Nations students.

An arts and culture semester for Native students was discussed in the past to encourage kids to learn about their culture. It would include an arts class, a law class, lacrosse class, and a history class, all from an Onkwehon:we perspective. This idea never got off the ground.

It was suggested that this idea could be developed at just one school, and students leave their regular high school for one semester to take this course as a part of an overall high school experience that would be culturally relevant to them.

The proposed changes are not just about reassessing which schools to send students to; it also includes the cancelation of programs currently being offered to students.

“The province is now saying that the ideal size of the high school would be about 1,000 students,” says Max King. “The Province was building these super-schools which have 2,500 to 3,000 students in the Toronto and Ottawa area, but now they are saying that the optimum size of a secondary school is of 1,000 so you can still maintain a close relationship with parents and students.

“That impacts staff as well as programs,” says King, “This is why Mohawk and Ojibwa language classes have disappeared out of the schools.”

“Because of shrinking enrollments, there are fewer students so it’s a real problem for the school boards,” says King. “The Province says you have X-number of dollars to operate a school. In order to comply with that, you have to shrink spaces to save on heating, staffing and maintaining more space than needed.

It’s a mater of ‘right-sizing’ all the schools, according to the Grand Erie Board of Education.

At Cayuga High they are considering shutting down their entire tech-wing.

King points out that while these schools are being forced to resize, there is a new development being planned in Caledonia that would put 1,200 new homes up (Mackenzie Meadows). Those homes mean 1,200 families with children will need a high school education.

King predicts that in five or ten years, the battle will be a school for Caledonia residents on the other side of the river, and possibly closing Hagersville and Cayuga.

Bussing students from Six Nations and New Credit is also something that will have to be redesigned once the classes and programs and boundaries are readjusted.

Parents of current high school age children and those of younger children destined for high school, need to be aware of these pending changes and how they may affect their children.

The next meeting of the Accommodation Review Committee is April 30 at 6:30 pm at Cayuga Secondary School.

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