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MPP Rinaldi discusses rural education strategy in Lakefield
May 12, 2017
BY TERRY GILLIS
On Friday May 5, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Northumberland-Quinte West MPP, and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Lou Rinaldi was at the Lakefield-Smith Community Centre to lead a public discussion on Ontario’s rural education strategy. Lakefield was one of four stops the Minister will be making throughout the month in order to hear from rural communities and submit their findings (in a report) to the Ministry of Education.
Minister Rinaldi was accompanied by approximately ten staff members from his office and that of the Ministry of Education.
At the start of the meeting, the Lakefield Herald was asked not to photograph the people around the tables during discussions. Staff brought MPP Rinaldi to a table for a photo and question and answer session.
Set up on the rink surface of the community centre were approximately 20 tables with 12 chairs. Four tables were occupied, with one being filled by government staff. Approximately twenty members of the community were in attendance, including Selwyn Township Mayor Mary Smith and Deputy Mayor Sherry Senis, and the General Manager of the Kawartha Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, Sherry Boyce-Found.
For each table, work/discussion booklets were provided to participants and one person was appointed discussion facilitator. Discussions were to centre around three topics:
- Supporting the sustainable use of school space in rural communities
- Decision making around school closures
- Supporting quality education in rural communities
After about an hour and a half of discussion, the MPP’s staff asked that each facilitator or table representative offer one big idea for discussion and consideration. Because of the small number in attendance, there was time for a few more comments/questions as well.
The very first comment made was in regard to the fact that communication between the Ministry of Education (at all levels) is an issue. The lack of awareness of the evening’s meeting was given as an example. The public had not been informed, at least informed in a timely manner, of the meeting. People heard about it only through word of mouth. The Public Discussion was not advertised or publicized.
The Lakefield Herald received a press release on May 2, and based on comments and attendance, other organizations received the information around the same time.
One “big idea” that emerged from one of the discussion groups was that our communities need more than good roads and infrastructure, they need good schools to support and grow rural communities. The discussion facilitator commented that all ministries need to get together to support rural communities.
Al White, an advocate for keeping the Lakefield District High School open during the Accommodation Review last year, said that it can be demonstrated, quite clearly that a quality education is provided in rural schools.
Other comments were also related to the ARC process. One attendee suggested that the Ministry of Agriculture should work with the Ministry of Education to provide appropriate rural programming in rural schools. It was also mentioned that the community impact of a school closure should be put back into the ARC process.
An Asphodel- Norwood representative attended the meeting to make their community’s concerns and opinions heard. Norwood High School may be involved in the ARC process sooner than later.
LDSS teacher, Mike Goble was very vocal about the funding formula that resulted in the closure of Lakefield’s high school and the pending demolition of the intermediate school. He stated that “the funding formula doesn’t work for smaller schools.”
According to the government, in Ontario, about 15 percent of all students are enrolled in rural public schools. In many rural communities, there has been a decline in the number of school-aged children. As a result, the Ministry of Education wants to hear the public’s thoughts on how they can serve rural students effectively and make the best use of public resources.
The feedback from the community will be reported to the Ministry some time this summer (2017).
For people who were unable to attend the Friday night meeting, they can read the discussion paper at https://www.ontario.ca/page/supporting-students-and-communities and send their feedback before June 9, 2017 by: email to firstname.lastname@example.org or take the survey online at https://www.ontario.ca/form/survey-ontarios-rural-education-strategy