It’s disappointing to read that Oshawa Central Collegiate is facing possible closure and that the students there may be bussed five kilometres to Eastdale (“Saving the hearts of our communities,” Jan 7, 2016). I grew up in Oshawa and took some courses at Central. I now live in Toronto and can report that similar debates to the closure of Central are happening in municipalities across Ontario.
Closing schools in low-income communities is a trend in municipalities across Ontario. The closures create one more barrier for these students – they end up getting bussed to larger schools outside of their communities. The trend is the exact opposite of what’s best for students. Research shows that students, particularly students from low-income communities, do best when they attend small local schools.
One of the drivers that causes schools to close in low-income communities is the Ministry of Education’s “School Information Finder” website. The site publishes, among other data, the percentage of students from lower income households. This information stigmatizes schools in low-income communities, often resulting in parents sending their kids elsewhere, reducing enrolment, and making the school a target for closure. Then the cycle continues – schools in low-income communities are closed, and the students are bussed to larger schools elsewhere.
It’s a vicious cycle, but there is hope for change. Last summer, the provincial government released a report that calls for schools to be seen as vital community hubs where a variety of services can be offered. One of the most startling findings in the report was that there is no government database where government agencies and ministries can see what publicly owned space is available in an area. There may be federal, provincial or municipal agencies looking for space in the Central Collegiate area right now, but the only way other government agencies would know would be through your newspaper article.
The 425 students at Central make it just big enough to offer a viable program. If parts of the school could be closed and leased out to public and private agencies, it could become a bustling community hub. Seizing the opportunity will require cooperation among different levels of government who have to show up with options and some money to develop a viable plan.
Your article mentions that city councillors and the MPP are already on board. It would be a wonderful model for the rest of the province if Oshawa comes together to develop an innovative community hub out of the opportunity that Central offers.
Toronto District School Board trustee – Ward 2
Adjunct Professor at York University