Algoma District School Board Superior Heights Collegiate And Vocational School – Final Report

Algoma District School Board: Superior Heights Collegiate And Vocational School – Final Report

School Consolidation Experience Study (SCES)

Joan M. Green, O.Ont.

Submitted to:

Education Research and Evaluation Strategy Branch
Education Finance Branch
Ontario Ministry of Education

May 2015

This report is available in PDF format (361 KB)

Contents

The School Consolidation Experience Study (SCES)
Part I: Introduction or “Why A SCES?”
Rationale for SCES
Methodology
Description of the ADSB Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) Process
Rationale for the Establishment of the Sir James Dunn and Bawating ARCs
Profile of each school involved in this consolidation
Sir James Dunn
Bawating

Part II: Themes Emerging From Analysis of Stakeholder Perspectives
a. Communication
b. Transition Planning and Implementation of Decisions
c. Program Offerings and School Culture

Part III: Lessons Learned
The ARC Process
1. Communication
Continue:
Initiate:
Eliminate:
2. Transition Planning and Implementation of Decisions
Continue:
Initiate:
Eliminate:
3. Program Offerings and School Culture
Continue:
Initiate:
Eliminate:

Part IV: Constructing the Way Forward
Areas for Future Consideration

Appendix: School Consolidation Experience Study Interview Guide



The School Consolidation Experience Study (SCES)

“Schools educate our children; they are also an important part of the community’s fabric—in essence, they are a public good (Kearns et al, 2009). Schools are key to building a community’s social capital. Similarly, a healthy stable community enhances students’ academic performance and by extension, the viability of schools (Bierbaum et al, 2011). As Witten et al (2003: 206) note, “schools are more than buildings where a curriculum is delivered.” School buildings and equipment support community activities; these are important meeting places for communities, major contributors to social cohesion, health and well-being and a sense of place (Kearns et al., 2009; Engelund & Lausten, 2006, Witten et al., 2001).” (Irwin and Seasons, 2012: 51)

Part I: Introduction or “Why A SCES?”

“While operational decisions may differ from school to school the mission and vision around student achievement has to take the lead in all conversations about facilities.” (Superintendent)

Elected school boards in Ontario are responsible for providing schools and facilities for their students and operating and maintaining these schools as effectively and efficiently as possible to foster student achievement and well-being.

The consolidation of existing schools is not a new phenomenon. As the student population in Ontario has changed over time, schools have opened, closed and/or consolidated to address issues such as declining enrolment in some communities and accommodation growth pressures in others. Needless to say, decisions that necessitate change and challenge long established traditions can elicit passionate response and sometimes create charged and intense public dialogue.

While the Ministry of Education (“the Ministry”) has received feedback over the years about the pros and cons of the Accommodation Review1 (ARC) process itself, there is comparatively little information documented about how people are impacted during and after the transition process. Most importantly, there has been little focussed investigation at the provincial level into how individuals and varying stakeholder groups in a district school board are affected by the creation of a new school community through a merger of existing schools. An examination of the perspectives of participants in the process in terms of the preliminary consultations, the consolidation experience itself and the post-implementation outcomes for students’ academic achievement and well-being is an essential lens through which to consider the efficacy of right-sizing a district school board in the best interests of the learners whom it serves. 

“Decisions are made through the lens of student learning so there has to be strong collaboration between those making capital and finance decisions and program planning and leadership.” (Superintendent)

The focus of this study is to document the positive and negative experiences of transition to a new, or reorganized, school in order to draw lessons learned that can form the basis of awareness of what works best. The information collected through this study will be used to enhance understanding of what contributes to a school district making the best possible use of the facilities and resources at their disposal. The non-negotiable focus of these accommodation decisions and transformations must be to foster excellent student achievement, ensure equity, enhance public confidence and address the well-being of students. It is anticipated that this study, with its exploration of what has worked well and what approaches need to be reconsidered, will inform decision-making and implementation processes in individual school districts and will support future policy development provincially.

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Rationale for SCES

As a part of the long-term planning for making more efficient uses of school space, the Ministry of Education has committed to documenting the impact of school consolidation as part of its ongoing quest for improved practice and positive outcomes. For the purposes of this study, school consolidation is defined as the closure of one or more school(s) and the subsequent amalgamation into one single school, either on an existing site, or, in an entirely newly constructed facility.

To support this goal, the Ministry committed to gathering multiple perspectives on recent experiences of school consolidations across the province in order to describe the results of these experiences (both positive and negative). 

The intent of this project is for the Ministry to supplement the data currently available by collecting information on district school boards’ and stakeholders’ experiences with consolidation of schools in order to identify successes and challenges and to help define promising practice.

The overall objective of this SCES is to document the experiences and perspectives of people involved in the transition to a new school community in an existing, new or renovated facility. While the ARC process itself has generated robust discussion both in individual district school boards and provincially, there has been comparatively little information documented about how the wide range of stakeholders are impacted during and after the transition process. It is hoped that telling the stories of specific school closure and consolidation experiences through the eyes of those most affected will shed light on the most productive processes and strategies that district school boards can employ prior to, during and after decisions have been made around school closure and consolidation.

The focus of this SCES is to determine the impact on specific stakeholders of the closures of two secondary schools and the subsequent consolidation of these schools into a newly constructed facility in the Algoma District School Board (“ADSB”). Discussions were held with specific stakeholders including students, parents, community members, school administrators, teaching and support staff, school board administration, and thought leaders from the affected schools’ broader communities.  The selection of this particular case study will provide a semi-urban and perspective on a secondary school consolidation experience in northern Ontario.

To summarize, the outcomes of this case study and its findings will:

  • Provide a description of an Ontario example of school consolidation from multiple perspectives
  • Support Ministry of Education evaluation of the outcomes and impact of these initiatives over time
  • Identify policy issues arising from school consolidation
  • Inform school boards on implementation of effective practices related to school consolidation initiatives.

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Methodology

“We should have a Canada-wide bake sale to build another school like this one.” (Current Grade 7 Student at Superior Heights)

The project was approached using a traditional case study methodology that involved attempting to understand the school consolidation experience through systematic gathering of empirical data. The data collection methodology is grounded in a qualitative and ethnographic framework which includes individual interviews and focus group interviews with key stakeholders, documentation (e.g. school, board and community documents), observations and site visits.

Emphasis was on ensuring that the research evidence reflected the wide range of stakeholders and that the reporting of their experience was synthesized in perspectives in an authentic manner that was inclusive of diverse stakeholders’ views. This exploratory case study approach aimed at understanding what happened within a case by looking beyond descriptive features and studying the surrounding context along with the interactions of significant players.

The personal interaction with students, staff and stakeholders was invaluable in determining the real dynamics that underscored the consolidation impacts. While reviewing documents and analysing data were also helpful, there is no doubt that the discussions conducted with affected parties and the site visits revealed the true nature of the consolidation experience. 

Between December 2014 and January 2015 a research team visited the Algoma District School Board and conducted approximately forty interviews with various stakeholders. The aim of these discussions was to ascertain the views of this broad spectrum of stakeholders who were involved in the consolidation of Sir James Dunn Collegiate and Vocational School (henceforth “Sir James Dunn”) and Bawating Collegiate and Vocational School (henceforth “Bawating”) in 2011/2012. Discussions with various individuals and groups were focused on capturing the experience of these stakeholders once the consolidation decision was made and processes to relocate students and staffs in a newly constructed facility, Superior Heights Collegiate and Vocational School (henceforth “Superior Heights”) were underway. 

Interviewees included school board administrators, teaching and non-teaching staff (teachers, guidance counsellors, principals and vice-principals) from the two consolidated schools (Sir James Dunn and Bawating), current and former supervisory officers, current trustees, current and former parents, current and former students from both schools as well as community and municipal representatives to learn about their experience during and after the school closure and consolidation process. During the study, questions probed stakeholder observations regarding the Board's accommodation review process leading up to the final decision approved by the Board. These data were sought in order to provide background information for the central purpose of the study which was to explore the impact of approaches to school consolidation as well as student and staff transition in order to identify best practices.

All stakeholders were asked a series of open questions (see interview guide in the Appendix) in order to assure validity and consistency of data generated through the fieldwork. Interviewees were also given the opportunity to elaborate on key areas of concern to them. In addition, the research team had the opportunity to visit the newly constructed Superior Heights, where a number of interviews with staff and students also took place.

The study generated data in several areas. The following three key themes emerged from the data analysis and will be considered from different stakeholder perspectives:

  • Communication
  • Transition Planning and Implementation of Decisions
  • Program Offerings and School Culture

In each of the conversations with stakeholders around their experience, individuals were asked to comment on the “lessons learned” through their consolidation experience. Their observations about what they would reinforce, what they would initiate and what they would discontinue if they were to be involved in the school closure and consolidation experience again were documented. This report is informed by the insights and observations of many people (students, school staff, Board officials, trustees, parents and community members) who were generous with their time and their reflections on their personal involvement as Sir James Dunn and Bawating consolidated into the newly constructed Superior Heights. The ‘Lessons Learned’ will be articulated following the same thematic areas as stated above, starting with Communication, then Transition Planning and Implementation, and finally Program Offerings and School Culture.

The goal of the research was to capture peoples’ perspectives and stories, in order to better understand the impact that school closings and consolidations have had for students, staff, families and communities. The advantage of a case study approach of this nature is that it enables the painting of a detailed and in-depth picture of a variety of people’s viewpoints and experiences.

During the interviews, extensive notes were taken by the research team which were then analysed for common themes. The research team made site visits to the newly consolidated school as well as conducting meetings with senior officials at the school board offices. For additional context, several sources of documentation intended for internal and external distribution were also examined. The analysis in this report is based on these multiple data sources. All identifying participant information is suppressed or modified to protect confidentiality.

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Description of the ADSB Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) Process

“The ARC was easy, the hard part was after in dealing with peoples’ emotions and managing the building construction.” (Superintendent)

The ADSB annually engages in a review and updating of its accommodation review and capital planning documents and takes stakeholder and community views into account in terms of determining priorities and engaging with stakeholders around school consolidation, construction or closure in different areas of the Board. 

The ADSB’s recent capital planning dates back to 2003 when the Board undertook an assessment of all 63 schools and other facilities with the resulting profiles prepared and posted to the ADSB website.  This was in compliance with the Ministry’s moratorium on school closures announced in December 2003.  Since 2003, the ADSB has successfully completed six school consolidations.

“Long-range capital planning in our board is a priority. The plan provides us with a roadmap to follow as we work to right size our infrastructure after over a decade of decline in enrolment.” (Superintendent)

The composition of each of the ARCs are composed of the chair of the school council(s) of the school(s) under review, a community member appointed by each of the school council(s) of the school(s) under review, a municipal representative or council member from each of the municipalities in which the school(s) under review are located, the principal of each of the school(s) under review, a staff member of each of the school(s) under review, a senior student from each of the school(s) under review (in the case of a secondary school), the superintendent of education or a senior board member.

The ADSB ARCs operate on a consensus basis and take into account a great deal of data on the facilities, the demographics and program implications. Further, Board senior administrative staff, including facilities staff, attend the ARC meetings to provide information and contribute to the communities’ understanding of the requirements for an excellent learning and teaching environment and the contributions to optimal programming that a school closure, consolidation and/or new school could provide.

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Rationale for the Establishment of the Sir James Dunn and Bawating ARCs

“When the board brings a capital request to the Ministry, it is in order to bring something substantive and innovative to the community.” (Superintendent)

“The ARC was just a hoop to jump through, it was a “done deal” because there was a new school at the end of the day.” (Teacher)

On June 19, 2007, local Sault Ste Marie MPP, David Orazietti, announced that the ADSB was being provided conditional financing of $34.4 million for one secondary school to replace Bawating and Sir James Dunn.  The Board had not built a new school since 1973.

On September 11, 2007, the ADSB approved placing both the Bawating and Sir James Dunn facilities on “Under Review Status”. The use of the accommodation review process was then initiated in order to deal with the declining physical state of the Bawating and Sir James Dunn facilities as both of these schools had been identified by the ADSB through the application of the Ministry’s Renewal Capital Asset Planning Process (RECAPP) as being prohibitive to repair (PTR).

In early 2008, the final recommendations from the ARCs for Bawating and Sir James Dunn were communicated to the Board. These recommendations supported the consolidation of these two schools into one grade 7 to 12 secondary school in a new facility to be constructed on the Bawating site. The recommendation also supported the grade 7 to 12 voluntary model and supported the continuation of existing programs at both schools in the new facility.

The city’s voluntary grade 7 and 8 program was successfully transitioned from Bawating to Superior Heights and saw a significant increase in enrolment.  In Sault Ste Marie, the 7/8 program at the secondary level is voluntary, or a choice, as most of the feeder elementary schools offer a JK to 8 program.  In other areas of the Board it is a mandatory arrangement as is the case in Central Algoma where the 7/8 program is housed in the regional secondary school.

The ARC reports suggested that the new secondary school should have its own unique identity separate from either Bawating or Sir James Dunn in terms of school name, mascot and school colours.

The Bawating location was recommended as the new building site because it was centrally located within Sault Ste Marie, was well positioned to partner with community agencies, resources for future student programs. As well, the planned future construction of two major subdivisions within close proximity to this site projected that the demographics of the area would continue to grow over subsequent years.

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Profile of each school involved in this consolidation

Sir James Dunn

Sir James Dunn, built in 1956, had the capacity to hold 1125 students. As of September 2007, it was at 66.5% of capacity, or 748 students. The school offered a vast array of academic and co-curricular programs to students, including French Immersion, Advanced Placement and Outdoor Education.  The enrolment of the school had declined progressively over the previous five years and this trend was expected to continue over the following five years.  The valuation of the Sir James Dunn facilities in the same year determined that they were prohibitive to repair and that a new facility was required.

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Bawating

Built in 1960, Bawating served the educational needs of students living in Central Sault Ste Marie. The school offered a wide spectrum of academic and co-curricular programs to students. In 2007, the enrolment of the school was 716 students, or 57% capacity. It is interesting to note that over the five years previous, enrolment at the school had increased. However, it was projected that over the following five years the enrolment would decline. The valuation of the Bawating facilities in the same year determined the building prohibitive to repair and a new facility was required.

The closure and consolidation of Sir James Dunn and Bawating into a new school was considered part of the wider revitalization efforts of Sault Ste Marie.  The new school brought hopes of enhanced program and pathway offerings for students, including modern science and technology labs, a bistro, a cosmetology lab, a fitness area, programming for High Skills Majors, and a dance studio. The new facility would be a showpiece building that the whole community could be proud of.

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Part II: Themes Emerging From Analysis of Stakeholder Perspectives

From the analysis of the data generated through this case study, the research team identified a number of factors that defined the experience that stakeholders had prior to, during and after the consolidation process. These factors are classified according to three primary areas: a) communication, b) transition planning and implementation, and c) program offering and school culture.

a.    Communication

“The communication channels were open and the information flowed during the process. You could approach any Superintendent or Principal and get accurate information.” (Teacher)

The first area explored during the interviews involved the communication efforts made to ensure all parties had timely and accurate information about the ARC process and the ultimate implementation of the Board’s decisions regarding the program needs of the students at Bawating and Sir James Dunn. At the opening of the discussion, each participant in this study was asked about when and how they learned about the ARCs and how they were kept informed as the process unfolded ultimately bringing the students and staff of Bawating and Sir James Dunn together into a new facility and a greatly enhanced learning environment at Superior Heights. Each school constituted its own ARC to ensure appropriate representation from each community. However, the ARCs worked in consert and the communication with each group was co-ordinated and facilitated by Board officials. The ARCs received the same information and support and engaged in the same process to consider all aspects of the decision to consolidate Sir James Dunn and Bawating into a new facility.

Each ARC committee membership included the Chair of the School Council, a community member from each school, a representative from the local municipality, the principal, a staff member, a student from each school and a Superintendent. This wide representation aided the sharing of information within the school community about the process and the plans for transition from the two schools to the newly constructed facility.  The ARC was chaired by a community representative and a trustee participated only as an observer in order to maintain independent decision-making as a member of the Board of Trustees when the ARC report was received by the Board.

Generally, participants in the ARC process commented on the availability of Board staff to address questions and present information. Information about the ARC process and its objectives was broadly distributed and a Board communication officer got the messages out through the Board’s website, emails in response to inquiries, community newsletters and the school councils’ information sessions. Of course, local media also covered the ARCs and the Board’s process for the consolidation and construction of a new facility. The school administration teams of both schools were well-informed and able to assist in providing relevant and timely information to the communities and focussed support for staff and students during the transition. The administration teams served as liaison to the Board for the schools’ communities and aided in keeping the consistent and reliable communications channels open.

The ARCs operated on a consensus basis and examined a great deal of data on the buildings, the demographics and program implications. School board administrative staff, including facilities staff, attended the ARC meetings to provide information and contribute to the communities’ understanding of the requirements for an excellent learning and teaching environment and the contributions to optimal programming that a new school could provide.

“There were very strong communication efforts made including the Board website.” (Parent)

There is a large body of research describing the best practices for ensuring genuine and sustained community engagement in public schools. Many of the key features of these recommended practices were demonstrated in this consolidation and in the strategies that were employed to bring Bawating and Sir James Dunn into the new Superior Heights. These approaches (cf. key components adapted from National Education Association (USA) Priority Schools Campaign) helped parents, students, staff and community members to:

  • Listen to the schools’ communities to establish consensus around aspirations and vision for the new school
  • Agree on core values for the new school
  • Use data and evidence about the existing programs and learning environments to set priorities for the new school
  • Provide relevant, on-site learning opportunities to support collaboration, team building and enhanced relationships between the two school staffs and school communities
  • Set, communicate and support high expectations and achievement for all students in optimal learning environments

An indication of the positive views of those who participated in public dialogue throughout this consolidation regarding the Board’s investment in communicating the value of the community, student/staff and parent input is captured in the following quote from the School Council Chair of the Sir James Dunn ARC:

“I am proud of the commitment and contributions of each of the ARC members throughout this entire process these past several months. The issues we debated were considered with complete neutrality and professionalism in an effort to provide our students with the very best learning environment possible.

Our ARC is equally proud and impressed with the interest shown by the public members who attended each of our four Public Meetings. The intelligent questions, ideas and concerns that they brought forward suggest that not only were they desirous of seeing the process through to an expeditious and satisfactory conclusion, they also wanted to make sure that as many avenues as possible were explored and considered along the way…

The members of our committee are appreciative of the opportunity to have participated in such a momentous event in our board's and community's history.”

The sense of excitement and enthusiasm for the new school reflected in this letter from the Chair of the Sir James Dunn ARC was quite widespread perhaps due, in no small part, to the fact that Superior Heights was the first new school in the area since 1973.

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b.    Transition Planning and Implementation of Decisions

“Personnel were assigned to assure effective communication and provisionary information for stakeholders during the consolidation process.” (Trustee)

Of course, as in the case in most school consolidations, there was speculation in the communities and, naturally, accompanying anxieties about the process of consolidation before the ARCs were established. Because the funding for a new school was publically known before the ARCs began, the ultimate merging of Sir James Dunn and Bawating into one facility seemed inevitable and even desirable from the outset. That said, there was still an acute need to have staff, students, parents and community members involved in the planning for the new facility. 

All stakeholders commented on the significance of strong transition planning and the implementation of those action plans as vital to the success of the consolidation effort.

Once the decision to close Bawating and Sir James Dunn and consolidate the two communities together into a newly designed state of the art facility was made, a number of carefully considered transition strategies were put in place with a focus to keep anxiety around change as minimal as possible for students, parents and staff undertook the change. The programming challenges in old facilities with inadequate spaces and poor physical conditions that were prohibitive to repair were believed to be serious impediments to student achievement and overall well-being. The decision to seek funding to build a new school that could serve all students’ learning needs much more effectively was made through the lens of the Board’s mission of “reaching for the future”. The decision was also in keeping with the Board’s values of being dedicated to providing a public education system that is open, accessible and welcoming to all learners. This was the perspective that was presented to members of the community, students, parents and staff who helped plan and participate in transition activities and discussions as the two closing schools joined together at Superior Heights.

By all accounts from the interviewees, there was strong consensus on the decision to build a new school that would provide pathways for all students (workplace, college- and university- bound), innovative programming and stimulating, collaborative learning environments that featured cutting edge equipment and facilities for 21st Century programming. The transition efforts focussed on helping all stakeholders make substantial and meaningful contributions to the planning and designing of the new school providing ownership during the establishment of new traditions and symbols for the new school’s culture.

“As part of our design process, we scheduled a period of time to take our planning team to visit several schools that had been built in the past five years across the province.” (Superintendent)

After the Board made its final decision, two research bus tours were organized to other jurisdictions to gather information and insights from school communities in Ontario that had been through the experience of consolidation, new construction and establishing a new school culture. These trips were done as economically as possible with one group focussed on designs for the physical plant (energy efficiencies, ergonomics, mechanical and electrical systems, safety and supervision designs, cleaning efficiencies) of the new school and another group focussed on program features that could enhance the academic experience of students in the new Superior Heights. The intention was to involve representatives of the stakeholder groups including staff and School Council members in as much of the initial planning and visioning as possible to ensure community, student and staff expectations would be met in the newly designed and built school. This initiative was widely applauded as an excellent engagement process and further cemented the positive communications that marked this consolidation and new school creation process.

In order to answer questions, allay any concerns and prepare for the consolidation in a new building, senior officials of the Board and school administrative teams held meetings with parents from Bawating, Sir James Dunn and the feeder schools. A promotional video that captured highlights from the research trips was made to share with parents, students and staff from both school communities as well as for incoming Superior Heights students and their families from the elementary feeder schools.

“Bringing schools different stakeholders together to do a visionary exercise for the new school was very important.” (Superintendent)

Grade level assemblies were held to share planning information and to answer students’ questions as well as bring the School Council and the Student Council groups came together during the transitional year when the Bawating students attended Sir James Dunn while the new school was being constructed.

“Community engagement in selecting new colors, mascots and naming the school encouraged the establishment of the new school’s identity.” (Student)

Students, staff and community representatives from both schools were brought together through a School Naming/Identity Committee, composed of trustees, senior board administration, parents, students and staff. The mandate of the committee, while working through co-ordinated discussions and visioning exercises, was to determine if a new name for the new school was desirable. Once it was determined that a new name would be beneficial the committee sought suggestions and then conducted a voting process to determine the new name, decide on school colours, and a school logo that would that would reflect the new culture of Superior Heights.  Both Sir James Dunn and Bawating also put together a legacy committee to oversee legacy initiatives and to determine what artifacts from each of the two schools would be carried over to Superior Heights.  These two committees worked together to make a time capsule of legacy memorabilia from the two schools that was placed under the stairway of the new school.

There were some concerns expressed by some who were interviewed regarding the decision to place the Bawating students in Sir James Dunn for a year as the new school was being built. Some people expressed the view that this was unfair to the Bawating students who then had to make two transitions. Some believed that this interval created a sense of that Bawating students were “joining” Sir James Dunn students rather than creating the sense of the two student bodies coming together on an equal footing in the new school.  This decision to put the Bawating students into Sir James Dunn for a year was not the Board’s original intention but was necessitated for safety reasons as well as construction implications around the location of the old building and the construction/demolition schedule. The initial plan had been for the Bawating students to remain in their old school while the new school was being constructed on another part of the site. Unfortunately, this was not possible as the contractor advised that the risk of injury to students on a construction site was too high, resulting in the Bawating students and staff having to make the move to Sir James Dunn for one year in advance of the completion of Superior Heights.

Some staff and students who were interviewed for this study expressed the view that the new facility was not entirely ready when it opened in the full and suggested that in their view it would have been better to wait for the second semester to open the school when all the finishing touches were in place. In the long run however, this seemed to be a short-term concern as issues were overcome within a few months.

“The board officials and the OSSTF worked well together on the staffing of the new school.” (Trustee)

Generally speaking, interviewees including former and current students expressed the view that students made the transition more smoothly than the staff and there still remains a lingering divide between some members of the two staffs. Efforts were made during the transition to establish special staffing provisions in consultation with OSSTF to accommodate staff interests and meet the departmental needs for leadership in the new school. Team building activities between the two staffs were initiated but were not entirely successful with some staff from Bawating feeling initially like they were not as influential as the Sir James Dunn staff in the planning and leadership of the new school. Students who were interviewed for this study alluded to symbols of the lack of integration of the staff such as some staff insisting on wearing clothing with the logos and names of the legacy schools even though students were discouraged from doing so. It was notable that almost everyone interviewed for this study commented on the fact that the students led the way in terms of bringing the two school communities together in the new setting.

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c.    Program Offerings and School Culture

“We needed to get over our separate histories.  This was a process that took place over time.” (Student)

Every effort was made to preserve the peer groups and social networks of students as they moved into the new school. Moving the students and staff into Dunn the year before the new school opened was not considered ideal by many as it necessitated two moves for those staff and students and created an uneven playing field for the Bawating students in the new school. That said, some argued that it gave the students a ‘trial run’ at coming together that they generally managed well.

There is no doubt that there was a widespread agreement that the program offerings at Superior Heights were markedly improved from what was available in the less than adequate facilities and the declining  student numbers at Bawating and Sir James Dunn. This enhancement of opportunity and experience was particularly welcomed by the students and parents of the feeder schools who were aware that Superior Heights was able to offer far deeper and broader programming that would lead to wider choice and better options for post-secondary decisions. The Sir James Dunn ARC Report captured the spirit of both communities:

“Due to the enhanced learning opportunities for students and access to support services and extracurricular activities that would be provided by a new school building with current/modern facilities and an increased range of program opportunities that is possible with a larger student population, the SJD ARC is in favour of the closure of Sir James Dunn C. & V.S. and the proposed consolidation of Sir James Dunn C. & V.S. with Bawating C. &V.S. into a new facility.”

The programs housed at both legacy schools such as French Immersion, Advanced Placement and ADSB Outdoor Education from Sir James Dunn and technical offerings from Bawating were continued and enhanced in Superior Heights. The improvement in program choices was particularly marked for Bawating students who had experienced significant reduction in course choices as enrolment declined.

The preservation of programs from the legacy schools was accompanied by the development of new programs at the new school and the adaptation of existing programs to ensure that the new secondary school at Superior Heights.

“There was resistance to letting go of legacies of the two schools in the community so students led the charge to bring people together. In the end, students changed their parents’ views about the consolidation.” (Trustee)

Co-curriucular opportunities were seen by all interviewed to have increased and improved substantially at Superior Heights when compared to the experiences of the students in the two legacy schools in recent years prior to the consolidation. The observation was offered several times that the arts, athletics and technology-based experiences, groups, teams and clubs available at Superior Heights far outstripped the choices available at either of the legacy schools in this consolidation. The School Councils also collaborated in impressive ways to foster a powerful sense of school spirit and make the new school a place that welcomed and supported all students. It has been argued by many who were interviewed for this study that the young people did a better job at the process of consolidation and envisioning a new school ethos than the adults around them who demonstrated, at least initially, more resistance to change and new peer groups and teams. Happily the divide and tensions that appeared to be evident to all at the beginning of the consolidation seem to have dissipated over the last two years and there appears to be more cohesion of effort and spirit than there was in the initial months of the consolidation.

“There was tension and animosity between the teachers from the two schools at the beginning.” (Student)

Many efforts were made to ensure a smooth staffing process and in many ways, these efforts produced good effect. The Board and the OSSTF worked co-operatively to accommodate most of the staff from the legacy schools in Superior Heights. A dual headship model was introduced in the first year of the consolidation and this allowed two heads of departments (one from each school) to work together in the first year of the new school’s operation. While this was a helpful strategy from a transition planning point of view, it is undeniable that there was significant tension and distance between the two staffs despite attempts to bring them together for social and professional visits prior to the consolidation for the transitional year at Sir James Dunn and ultimately, at Superior Heights. Some territorial behaviour was noted in members of both staffs, with Bawating staff seeing themselves in the ‘underdog’ position at first.

The forging of the new school culture takes time and focussed collaboration. One group of staff interviewees described process of change in the four-year period since the opening of the new school in 2012 as follows:

“Year One was the uncomfortable placement of Bawating school community at Sir Dunn for one year awaiting the opening of Superior Heights. Year Two was the ‘wet paint/finish the construction year’. Year Three was the work to rule year where all formal activity in the development of a collegial teamwork in the new school was stalled.  The current school year is the first solid year of moving forward and really establishing the culture and the future of Superior Heights.”

“Many of the staff had been in the same school and the same department for well over a decade. There was a feeling of anxiety around the changes brought on by the consolidation of two staffs into one building.  At times, it was challenging to navigate.” (Superintendent)

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Part III: Lessons Learned

“Getting everyone on board with the school closure and ARC process was easier to work through because there was the promise of a new school at the end of the process.” (Superintendent)

The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences and perceptions of the wide range of stakeholders directly involved in the consolidation of Bawating and Sir James Dunn and the creation of a new facility that was designed to provide an excellent learning environment for generations to come in place of the two closed schools. The intent was to glean from a wide range of observations and insights the impact such a consolidation and new build had on students and communities. It is hoped that, as with all human experience, we learn as we go. The rich commentary provided by interviewees for this study provides a window on a complex and often emotionally charged process and the subsequent changes and new directions it creates for students, staff and communities. Having had the benefit of individuals’ understandings and perspectives on this consolidation and building of a new school, it is possible to draw some conclusions from their experience and advice. The “ lessons learned” that are captured here reflect the thinking and considered experience of the students , staff, administrators, parents, community members and trustees  who were interviewed for this study. The advice has been synthesized according to the themes investigated in the study and is the result of the combined commentary by the range of interviewees on any given topic. The recommendations are organized under the headings of practices that should continue, strategies that could be initiated and approaches that were not seen to be helpful and should be eliminated.

Before continuing on to the lessons learned, it is important to provide the context of the ARC process itself. While the focus of this study is principally about the experience of stakeholders during transition and consolidation, the patterns of communication and community expectations set up through the ARC establish the tone for the planning and implementation of the consolidation process.

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The ARC Process

Although an evaluation of the ARC process itself was not the focus of this study, participants did offer insight that is worth articulating. The purpose of this study is to focus primarily on the impacts experienced by students, staff and community members once the decision to consolidate the two schools and build a new school on the sight of one was made and implemented. It is important to note that these ARCs were less challenging and complex than ARCs which do not offer a community a new, modern facility as a result of the proposed consolidation.

“Trustees working as observers and facilitators of discussion rather than voting members on the ARC was a good idea.” (Trustee)

 

That said, the interviewees, including the Board’s senior officials, expressed their perspectives about factors they saw as significant in terms of conducting a successful ARC process. They are as follows:

  • Clear and open communications regarding the process through a number of outreach strategies
  • Effective facilitation of the ARC, clear role definition and careful documentation of the discussion and decisions of the group
  • Timely and informed response to questions re facilities or program
  • Encouraging as much attendance as possible at the public meetings to have issues and questions raised and discussed
  • Clarity about the role of the trustees as observers rather than participants in the ARC process

The lessons learned from this school consolidation experience study are articulated and organized according to the themes of Communication, Transition Planning and Implementation of Decisions and Program Offerings and School Culture.

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1.   Communication

“There were very strong communication efforts made, including the board website.” (Parent)

Continue:

The highlights of the advice received about what should be continued in the communication efforts during the consolidation experience are as follows:

  • Careful selection of ARC committee members to ensure various perspectives are heard
  • Openness to community engagement through sharing of information and identifying key people to respond to questions and requests for information
  • Excellent communication with community to keep people informed
  • Student leadership workshops where students could get to know each other and discuss expectations for the new setting
  • Co-meetings with parents and students from both schools to raise questions and express hopes and worries for the new school
  • School councils working together to eliminate the fear of the unknown by sharing information
  • Robust inclusive discussion after the decision was made
  • Joint planning meetings of staff and parents even prior to being under the same banner
  • Strong administrative team which is organized, passionate and motivated to communicate openly and regularly before and during the transition

Prior to the commencement of the Bawating and Sir James Dunn ARCS, the local MPP announced to the public that the Board was being provided with conditional financing of $34.4 million for one secondary school to replace Bawating and Sir James Dunn.

Because all this information was understood prior to the commencement of the ARCs and there was the promise of a new, greatly enhanced school facility to replace the two prohibitive to repair buildings, the members of the two ARCs came to the table with information that contributed positively to their deliberations from the outset.

The ARC benefitted from a wide range of perspectives and all interviewed reported that information was readily available and inquiries were responded to promptly and effectively. There was a general consensus that communications that were established among the staff, student and parent groups of the two schools both before the opening of the new facility (Superior Heights) and during the transition processes were beneficial. People also commented on their memory of various efforts to keep the channels of communication and engagement open as transition and consolidation decisions were being made.

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Initiate:

The highlights of the advice received from this consolidation about what should be initiated in the communication efforts during the consolidation experience are as follows:

  • Follow-up with messaging after the ARC concludes to keep the ARC members and community members informed about plans and progress regarding the transition
  • Organize follow-up meeting after the transition to address any concerns, to answer emerging questions and explain changes in programming and student experience
  • Consider different forms of consultation with parents such as inviting parents for input into programs and policies in the new school as a method for on-going parental engagement (e.g. outside of and beyond ARC)
  • Provide, at the beginning of the process, an update and some form of involvement for community groups which work in the affected schools or whose work is affected by the schools.
  • Focus efforts led by Board officials to inform staff in the affected schools about the proposed direction to ease anxiety about job security and placement as soon as possible

Generally speaking, it was acknowledged by those who were interviewed for this study that they remembered strong and consistent efforts to communicate with students, staff and community regarding the ARC and the subsequent merging of the two schools. That said, there are some areas where communication could be enhanced to facilitate sustained connection between the community and the new school.  Interviewees who suggested this included community partners, parents and municipal staff who had responsibility for city planning. Some members of the ARC commented that they would have liked to have been part of some kind of ongoing discussion as the consolidation in Superior Heights took place.

In addition, there was a clear sense among the school staff interviewed for this study that early in the process they didn’t feel they were on the front end of the communication chain.  When approached by members of the community early in the process with questions some felt unprepared to respond. Once the transition process was underway, staff felt “more in the loop”.

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Eliminate:

The highlights of the advice received about what should be eliminated in the communication efforts during the consolidation experience are as follows:

  • Cease asking peoples’ advice from the elementary schools regarding secondary school inclusion of Grade 7 and 8 students if the decision to do so is already made
  • Protract the discussions when the best and chosen course of action is already clear, especially when a new facility is the outcome (And recognizing that no amount of consultation will ensure that everyone is happy)
  • Discontinue expecting the community members on the ARC to fill in the “valuation” sheets: instead, have some starting points for discussion provided to the Committee with the expectation that the ARC members’ discussions would lead to an expansion or modification of the material entered

At the time that this consolidation occurred, the Board was operating under a set of provincial guidelines for school accommodation decisions that are quite different than the new PARG now in place and its requirements. The task of filling in the “valuation” sheets in an ARC meeting particularly where there was little information available to determine the impact of the consolidation for example, on the local economy has been seen as very challenging in many jurisdictions involved in school accommodation decisions. That requirement is no longer in place and so this issue raised by these ARC members has been addressed by the new provincial guidelines. Also, it is now possible to conduct a shortened ARC process when the outcome is a new facility and there is general consensus that this is in the best interests of the students and the affected communities.

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2.  Transition Planning and Implementation of Decisions

“After the first year and once the parents saw that the board was there for all the kids more trust was established.” (Teacher)

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Continue:

The highlights of the advice received about what should be continued in the transition efforts during the consolidation experience are as follows:

  • Joint meetings with parents and students from both schools leading up to the consolidation
  • School councils working together to eliminate the fear of the unknown and help shape the vision for the new school
  • Robust inclusive discussion after the decision was made
  • Efforts to bring student councils together prior to amalgamation through activities like student leadership workshops, student barbeques, orientation days and scavenger hunts that aim to include everyone and bring the student groups from the two schools together.
  • Joint meetings of staff even prior to being under the same banner
  • Support for students pre, during and post closure
  • Putting students together ahead of the transition (one year before move to new facility)
  • School naming process
  • Involving students and the community in the transition planning
  • Staffing transition plans in collaboration with OSSTF including double headships for the transitional year
  • Combining of clubs and teams
  • Creating new rituals and symbols for the school collaboratively between the students of the two sending schools
  • Transparent and cost efficient research trips to explore best practices in designing and building a new school to show people what is possible and expand perspectives of some teachers and parents about potential school environments and features
  • Providing graduation diplomas from the legacy school for the first graduating class at Superior Heights

Those interviewed for this study spoke very positively about the efforts made to create opportunities for the students of the two consolidating schools to work together socially on ideas for the new school and to explore common interests and expectations prior to the merging of the two student bodies. There was particular appreciation for the focus on student leadership that afforded genuine learning experiences for the students and engaged them in the creation of the culture of the new school although there was commentary that these initiatives needed greater co-ordination to involve more students.  There was also strong and universal support for the research trips that involved staff and community members in examining possibilities for the new school and considering cutting edge approaches implemented successfully by other jurisdictions. This devoted time made a very significant contribution to the development of an esprit d’accord and ownership of the plans in the community and among staff prior to the building of the new facility. Also, the efforts made to provide clarity and collaborate with OSSTF on the staffing model for the new school and the provision of double headships for the first year helped ease the challenges of transfer and placement of staff.

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Initiate:

“More attention was paid to the consolidation of students in the new setting than the integration of staff.” (Students)

The highlights of the advice received about what should be initiated in the transition efforts during the consolidation experience are as follows:

  • Establish a follow-up monitoring committee which includes members of the ARC to loop back to the hopes and plans discussed prior to the consolidation in a new facility
  • Arrange joint PA days for staff prior to the consolidation and joint professional planning to create a professional learning community in the new school
  • Organize social and professional connections between the two staffs early to help address tension and integration issues
  • Show visuals of new school’s instructional settings and design early in the process and use staff expertise in the design of the school facilities and the type and allocation of instructional technology
  • Where possible and recognizing Boards are not in control of contractor schedules, plan for transition times for staff and programs (provide time for settling in, moving in, getting classes and offices organized)
  • Provide support for staff relocating resources, unpacking, etc. to new school (some teachers had to do this twice)
  • Relocate, if possible, students/staff in neutral facility/location the year before move to new facility to avoid a sense of one staff being predominant
  • Survey, in a formal manner, students from both schools about their traditions to address the fear that some had about losing their school’s legacy in order to develop a new school culture
  • Focus importance on school culture/identity committee to help school find balance between mixing the old traditions with the newly established school rituals and symbols
  • Initiate more formalized engagement for student councils (Individual students made efforts but these seemed isolated to some. It was suggested by some interviewees that it would be beneficial to Board and school staff facilitation for students to plan and lead student gatherings such as pep rallies to build support for the new school rather than focus on legacy rituals)

Some interviewees suggested that a formal monitoring ‘follow-up’ committee could be established to review the relationships and climate of the new school during the first year. There was a frequently expressed view by staff that perhaps a formalized integration effort could help the merged staff transition more effectively.

There were a variety of suggestions made about the timing of the actual relocation. It was suggested that the placement of both school communities at Sir James Dunn while the new school was being built was not helpful in establishing an equal footing among staff in the new school. This had not been the original intention of the Board as it had been hoped that the Bawating school community could remain in the old building while the construction took place. However, this proved to be a safety hazard as the construction of the new building was taking place in too close proximity to the old school to allow this to be transitional arrangement. The lesson learned here is that, where possible, don’t merge the two school communities twice if it is possible to leave the legacy schools in their old facilities while the new school is being constructed.

Finally, while it was recognized that there were efforts to bring students together, some interviewees for this study suggested that more focussed work on the creation of the new culture through the active engagement of more students would be helpful.

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Eliminate:

“Going to Dunn a year early and before the completion of the new school caused territorial stress.” (Teacher)

“The first month, things were a bit chaotic because the school wasn’t ready.” (Student)

The highlights of the advice received about what should e eliminated in the transition efforts during the consolidation experience are as follows:

  • Putting both schools in one of the closing schools for a year
  • Sending staff and students into a building that is not fully ready and the technology is not yet ready for instructional purposes

As addressed above, the placement of the two school communities together in one of the closing schools while the new school was being constructed was not generally seen as a positive experience. In this case, that was not avoidable but where it can be arranged otherwise that may ease the ultimate merger and allow it to start off with a balanced sense of ownership between the staffs of the two sending schools.

Also, more lead time, if possible, before instruction begins for the staff to move into the new facility and prepare their instructional spaces in a building where construction was completed would have made the transition easier in the short term.

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3.   Program Offerings and School Culture

Both Bawating and Sir James Dunn were determined to be prohibitive to repair and the need for improved facilities to accommodate the area’s students and to provide an up-to-date and appropriate learning environment was apparent to both communities.

It was very clear from all interviewed for this study that the program offerings at Superior Heights are far broader and richer than what was available at either of the legacy schools whose programs had been gradually curtailed or diminished due to declining enrolment prior to the consolidation. Also, extracurricular opportunities were greatly enhanced in the new school setting when coaching and equipment resources were merged and the student population was bigger and more diverse in terms of student interest and aptitude.

The broad consensus among those whose perspectives were sought for this case study was that the students were more at ease with the physical and cultural changes required to make the adjustment to a consolidated school than the staff in general were as the joining of the two schools became a reality at Superior Heights. The vision for the school has evolved over time and the community’s engagement with Superior Heights has gained significant momentum in the last two years.

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Continue:

“The parents’ night hosted at Sir James Dunn, and having students as part of the school identity committee to determine new name, new school colors and mascot was a good idea.” (Superintendent)

The highlights of the advice received about what should be continued in the program, co-curricular and school culture implementation during the consolidation experience are as follows:

  • Including community members and staff in exploring program innovation and options in other jurisdictions through the research trips
  • Support for the principals’ roles in reaching out to parents to assure them about the quality of the program in the new school and in creating enthusiasm in the staff and positive anticipation in the students, especially those coming from feeder schools
  • Support for students’ academic planning and program choices before, during and after the transition to the new school
  • Email outreach to parents to invite them to come to special meetings to talk about the plant and the program options
  • Focus on the athletic program as a catalyst for bringing the staff and students together in the new school
  • Matching staff according to roles in the two schools before the consolidation

Many of those interviewed for this study applauded the efforts to involve parents and students in program planning for the new school and were particularly happy with the research field trips that allowed for real exploration of successful program possibilities. There was also general consensus that there was effective and consistent support for students from both the elementary sending schools and from the two merging schools regarding course selection and program planning.

Efforts to have staff from the two legacy schools working together to design the program offerings and instructional approaches were seen as helpful and could have been further expanded.

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Initiate:

“To create neutral territory, it was necessary to create new cheers and a new identity.” (Student)

The highlights of the advice received about what should be initiated in the program, co-curricular and school culture implementation efforts during the consolidation experience are as follows:

  • Provide for more opportunities for staff from the two schools to work together on program planning and professional development during the transitional year to create a cohesive staff
  • Genuine and sustained representation of both schools’ traditions in the new setting to ensure that both communities’ legacies are honoured
  • Develop even more leadership opportunities for students in developing the culture and programs of the new school

“Teachers continued with old affiliations and attitudes during the consolidation whereas students were more flexible and adaptable.” (Students)

Many of the staff interviewed for this study and some of the students commented on a divide that seemed pervasive between some members of both staffs that combined to forge the new staff at Superior Heights. It was suggested that a more formalized approach to building the professional learning community from the two staffs during the transitional year, perhaps with expert, external facilitation at the outset, might have made the transition to a new and effective school climate more effective.

While there were initiatives put in place to honour the traditions of both consolidating schools, it was suggested that a more sustained effort in this regard embraced by the school administration and publically communicated to parent and community groups would be a good idea. More focus on public promotion and communication of the new vision and mission of Superior Heights was also suggested by some students and parents.

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Eliminate:

“Naming the principal of the new school earlier would have provided more leadership and clarity around the consolidation.” (Superintendent)

The highlights of the advice received about what should be eliminated in the program, co-curricular and school culture implementation efforts during the consolidation experience are as follows:

  • Teachers’ continuing with legacy affiliations and tension/division between the staffs of the legacy schools
  • Extensive change in the administrative staff prior to and during the transition period (Sir James Dunn had 4 principals and several vice-principals in 5 years)

As suggested above, for the three years following the move into the new facility and even today as people in the school reflected on the experience, there is a pervasive feeling that there are still lingering attachments to the old legacy schools among the staff that need to be addressed. Changes in administration have also been a factor in the challenges faced by the staffs in coming together in one school community at Superior Heights. However, at the time the interviews were conducted for this study, progress towards building more staff cohesion was apparent. It is instructive to note that this process of change and merging is in its fourth year and is still evolving.

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Part IV: Constructing the Way Forward

“Architects will design the facility, but our imaginations, ingenuity and combined efforts will bring it to life. Let our new facility become the benchmark by which future high schools in Ontario are created.” (Chair of Sir James Dunn ARC)

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Areas for Future Consideration

Four years after the construction and opening of Superior Heights, the new school has become a beacon in the community and has fulfilled the hope expressed above by the Chair of the Sir James Dunn. The former Bawating and Sir James Dunn school communities have largely come together and are proud participants in the life of the new school.

“The community use in the newly constructed school greatly increased as accommodating groups was part of the design of the new school.” (Teacher)

From the outset of the consideration of this consolidation, the communities involved were motivated to accept the consolidation because the funding had been identified to build the first new school in the district in over thirty years. The promise that a state of the art facility offered went a long way in easing some of the sense of loss that most school closings bring. There is no doubt that the consolidation of these two schools and the accommodation of the two student bodies in a newly built facility has resulted in a much better learning context for the students of both schools. Able and conscientious people including trustees, parents, students, system and school staff and community members contributed their insights and aspirations for the new school. They considered a wide range of viable options to create the best possible design for the Superior Heights. The excitement and anticipation felt by all stakeholders was fueled by exploratory trips to understand options, successful planning and effective school designs in other jurisdictions that had built new schools recently.

As the commentary under the Continue, Initiate and Eliminate categories in the foregoing sections of this report suggest, there were certainly lessons learned from consolidation of Bawating and Sir James Dunn into Superior Heights. Many of the strategies employed to achieve this consolidation and new build are worthy of emulation by other jurisdictions; some suggestions emerged from stakeholders reflections on the experience that could point to different or additional initiatives or strategies that could be implemented in similar contexts to improve the transitional experience.

Some of the observations made by those interviewed in this study addressed strategies that were seen as having been central to the approach taken to this successful consolidation and others shed light on areas where things could be initiated or discontinued to improve satisfaction with the process and its outcomes.  All in all, they represent the insights offered by those who led the process and those stakeholders who participated in the discussions and decisions that resulted in the construction of a new school including board staff and policy makers with whom discussions were held during this study:

  • Create ample opportunities for all stakeholders to be provided with timely and accurate information from the formation of the ARCs through the first few years of the operation of the new facility.
  • Establish a School Identity Committee representative of the two closing schools and inclusive of feeder school participants that works ahead of the transition to the new facility and during the first year of consolidation to ensure that a cohesive and vibrant climate and culture is created in the new school, including renaming where appropriate.
  • The temporary appointment of two department heads for the first year of the new school’s operations can be a helpful strategy to initiate collaboration between departments from the consolidating schools.
  • Facilitate the active engagement of representatives of both closing school communities in the research, design and implementation of the plans for the new school’s construction, program, co-curricular options and community connections and partners. The research trips to other jurisdictions that had built new schools was a very effective tool to bring people from both communities together and ensure ownership and support for the new school.
  • Seek staff input into the choice and location of technological tools for instruction as well as the design features of the new school’s instructional settings.
  • Ensure sufficient time to allow for transition activities for staff and students to the new facility before the instructional year begins.
  • Where possible avoid students having to move twice as the Bawating students had to in this staged consolidation.
  • Provide ample opportunity for shared planning, staff collaboration and facilitated professional learning for the staffs from the two closing schools to:
    • break down divisions among staff;
    • identify new or emerging student needs resulting from the consolidation;
    • set the stage for a genuinely effective professional learning community.
  • Address divisions among the two staffs early in the process to set the trajectory for the establishment of a genuinely collaborative team in the new school.
  • If possible, ensure the construction and final work on the new school is completed before the students and staff move in. (It is recognized that it usually takes a year in the new school to work out the kinks with mechanical and electrical systems and to share these needed adjustments with contractor.)
  • Create ways to celebrate and honour the most significant traditions of the closing schools in the days just prior to closing and through some more permanent recognition of the closing schools history and achievements such as exhibits, awards or time capsules permanently installed in the new school.
  • Empower an ongoing group of staff, students and parents to monitor the implementation of transition plans throughout the consolidation process and in the first year of the operation of the newly constructed school to provide advice on desirable ‘course adjustments’ as needed (climate survey, external consultant).
  • Identify, where possible, ways in which the closed facility, if it remains the School District’s property, can be used in cost recovery ways to provide a venue for community, municipal activities and/or programs if safe to do so. (In this case, the old school needed to be closed and will be sold and demolished. Community use was moved to another school.)

Throughout this study, individuals and groups from both of the secondary school communities and staffs as well as senior board staff, trustees and community members were generous with their time and their reflections on their experience in this school consolidation.

There was very wide agreement that this consolidation into a newly built facility has greatly enhanced the secondary school experience of students from feeder schools and from the two closed schools. All interviewed for this study expressed the view that Superior Heights has much richer programming, enhanced extra-curricular opportunities and certainly better facilities for the students of the two schools. It was also generally agreed that efforts were made to provide relevant and emerging information to the students, staff and communities affected by the consolidation throughout the ARC process and during the transition. There were also some reflections on how the timelines, staffing processes, administrative leadership and transition strategies could be changed to make the consolidation experience less stressful and ensure the early success of the new school.

These suggestions or ‘lessons learned’ have been described in the body of this report and are captured in a summary way in the thirteen points listed under the heading ‘Constructing the Way Forward’. It is hoped that an outcome of this study will be that district school boards engaged in this kind of process will be informed by the exploration of this particular experience and the insights it elicited about how to go about the building of a new school to house two consolidated school communities.

In the end the task in ‘right-sizing’ school districts involves undertaking optimal strategies to pave the way for successful change and continuous improvement in the learning environments we create for our children and the partnerships schools forge with their communities. The insights of all interviewed for this study allowed for the advice this case study offers and the generous contributions of all participants in this study are very much appreciated.

“We call for an inclusive interactive and meaningful public participation process that enhances mutual learning and mutual respect between the school board and community stakeholders.” (Irwin and Seasons, 2012: 62)

“…we acknowledge that every school cannot be operated in perpetuity and that schools have to be closed—this is our reality.  However, a reasonable responsive inclusive and fair decision-making system could make very difficult and conflict-ridden experiences less fraught for school boards.  It would at least help all stakeholders better understand the decision-making process (i.e. what can and can’t be done), minimize confusion and ill feeling, and come to terms with the school closure… that’s a worthwhile goal.” (Irwin and Seasons, 2012: 63)

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Appendix: School Consolidation Experience Study Interview Guide

School Board Perspective (Questions for administrators, teaching and non-teaching personnel)

Board Accommodation Review Policy

  1. When was it drafted?
  2. Who was involved in the drafting of the policy?
  3. How did Ministry guidelines inform the development of the Board's Accommodation Review Policy?
  4. Did the Board consult with other school boards regarding their policies or processes when drafting your policy or initiating an ARC process?
  5. How and at what point were trustees involved in the development of the Board's ARP?
  6. Has the Board's accommodation review policy been revised/modified as a result of experience or input?
  7. How was the Board's ARP shared with staff, parents and other stakeholders?

Decision-Making Process Regarding Establishment of ARC

  1. What are the key factors that led to the decision to establish an Accommodation Review Committee? Enrolment? Program limitations? Financial viability? Facility conditions? Equity of access and opportunity for students and communities? (What were the lens through which the decision to establish an ARC was made?)
  2. Was an analysis of potential impacts of the possible closure or consolidation of the school(s) undertaken prior to the establishment of the ARC? If so, at what point and how was this analysis shared with stakeholders (trustees, parents, students, staff and community members)
  3. To what extent is an analysis of the accommodation needs of the Board included in the long range planning and budget considerations of the trustees? In other words, are potential school closures/consolidations within the school board part of an overall multiyear strategic plan for increased school efficiencies and improved management of schools?
  4. How were members of the ARC chosen? How was the opportunity to participate as an ARC member made public?

Process of the ARC

  1. Communication: What was the communication plan to inform the public and specific stakeholders about the process and timelines of the ARC?
  2. Composition of the ARC & Roles of members:
    1. How are the procedural rules of the ARC communicated to ARC members, stakeholders and the general public?
    2. Who Chaired the ARC?
    3. What was the role of Trustees on the ARC?
    4. What was the role of Principals and Vice-Principals on the ARC (were they voting members?)
    5. How was the role of staff (teaching and non-teaching) on the ARC defined?
    6. Were there specific school board personnel assigned to liaise and support students, teachers or parents, community members and other stakeholders who had concerns or questions regarding the ARC?
  3. ARC Options: How are alternative solutions or proposals to address student accommodation issues developed and discussed during the ARC process?
  4. Decision-making: What was the process for achieving consensus within the ARC?
  5. Feedback During ARC Process:
    1. Were there mechanisms in place for addressing stakeholder questions, concerns and suggestions during the ARC process?
    2. How were these mechanisms made public?
    3. How were ongoing questions from ARC members dealt with during the process of the ARC?
  6. Key question:  Did the ARC develop a transition plan to accompany its recommendations to address how students would move to new accommodations or arrangements? If not, did the Board do so and make it public at the time of the Board decision?

Assessment of the Impact of the Accommodation Decision:

  1. In terms of the ARC's recommendations and the Board's ultimate decision, does the school Board document the positive and negative outcomes of the decision from the perspective of students, staff, parents and other stakeholders in order to inform future ARCs?

Key questions: Impact on specific populations and/or groups of students (for example, Special Education, Aboriginal, At Risk students)

  1. How did the consolidation / joint use impact course offerings / programming in relation to student needs? Did your experience differ from what you thought?
  2. How did the consolidation or joint use impact students’ in-school extracurricular activities? Did your experience differ from what you thought?
  3. How did the consolidation or joint use impact students’ community-based extracurricular activities? Did your experience differ from what you thought?
  4. How did the consolidation or joint use impact student travel times? Did your experience differ from what you thought?
  5. How did the consolidation or joint use impact student well-being (physical health, mental health, school safety)? Did your experience differ from what you thought?
  6. How did the consolidation or joint use impact childcare and early years programs (convenience, options available)? Did your experience differ from what you thought?2
  7. How did the consolidation or joint use impact support-student and teacher-student relationships? Did your experience differ from what you thought?
  8. How did the consolidation or joint use impact parent, guardian and caregiver engagement / involvement in their children’s learning? Did your experience differ from what you thought?
  1. Has an action plan been developed to minimize/mitigate any negative outcomes and maximize successful strategies for future accommodation decisions?
  2. What were the lessons learned that could be applied to future ARCs and implementation of Board accommodation decisions?
    1. Stop – Continue – Start Exercise
    i What would you recommend not be done in the future?
    ii. What do you think would be essential to continue doing in the future?
    iii. What would you suggest should be included in the process that was not part of this experience?

Student Perspective (Questions for students)

  1. How and at what point was the school consolidation communicated to you?
  2. Who communicated the information on the consolidation to you?
  3. How did you prepare/how were you asked or expected to prepare for the school consolidation?
  4. Do you feel that you were well prepared for the school consolidation?
  5. Did the consolidation impact the courses and programs offered to you? (more or fewer, different courses or programs) How?
  6. Did the consolidation impact your travel time to and from school and your means of transportation to/from school? How?
  7. Did the consolidation impact the extra-curricular activities offered at your school? How?
  8. Did the consolidation impact your participation in extra-curricular activities outside of your school? How?
  9. Did the consolidation impact your relationships with your teachers and other school or board staff? How?
  10. Did the consolidation impact your relationships with your friends and peers?  How?
  11. Would you describe your overall experience of the school consolidation as positive or negative? Why?
  12. Did the school consolidation impact your future plans (postsecondary) plans in any way?
  13. What do you feel could have been done differently, if anything? Why? How?
    1. Stop – Continue – Start Exercise
    i. What would you recommend not be done in the future?
    ii. What do you think would be essential to continue doing in the future?
    iii. What would you suggest should be included in the process that was not part of this experience?

Parent Perspective (Questions for parents)

  1. How and at what point was the school consolidation communicated to you? 
  2. Who communicated information on the consolidation to you?
  3. How did you prepare/how were you asked or expected to prepare for the school consolidation?
  4. Do you feel that you were well prepared for the school consolidation?
  5. Did the consolidation impact the academic courses and programs offered to your children? (more or fewer, different courses or programs) How?
  6. Did the consolidation impact your child’s transportation to/from school? (means of transportation/travel time) How?
  7. Did the consolidation impact the extra-curricular activities offered at your child’s school and your child’s participation in extra-curricular activities? (nature of activities, variety and number of activities) How?
  8. Did the consolidation impact your child’s participation in extra-curricular activities outside of the school? How?
  9. Did the consolidation impact your relationships with your child’s teachers and other school or board staff? How?
  10. Did the consolidation impact your involvement and/or engagement in your child’s school? How?
  11. Would you describe your overall experience of the school consolidation as positive or negative? Why?
  12. What do you feel could have been done differently, if anything? Why? How?
    1. Stop – Continue – Start Exercise
    i. What would you recommend not be done in the future?
    ii. What do you think would be essential to continue doing in the future?
    iii. What would you suggest should be included in the process that was not part of this experience?

Community Stakeholder Perspective (Questions for community stakeholders)

  1. How and at what point was the school consolidation communicated to you? 
  2. Who communicated information on the consolidation to you?
  3. Were there any expectations of you as a community stakeholder in the school consolidation process?
  4. Do you feel that you were well prepared for the school consolidation?
  5. Did the school consolidation impact your relationship with the school administration and/or school community (staff, students, parents)? How?
  6. Did the school consolidation impact your participation, access and/or engagement in the school and/or school programs?
  7. Would you describe your overall experience of the school consolidation as positive or negative? Why?
  8. What do you feel could have been done differently, if anything? Why? How?
    1. Stop – Continue – Start Exercise
    i. What would you recommend not be done in the future?
    ii. What do you think would be essential to continue doing in the future?
    iii. What would you suggest should be included in the process that was not part of this experience?

[1] The Ministry has reviewed the Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines (PARG) through a separate process. The revised Guidelines were released in Spring 2015.

[2] This question was omitted from the interviews as none of the schools involved in this SCES had childcare facilities or early years programs.