Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board – Final Report

School Consolidation Experience Study (SCES)

Consolidation Of Our Lady Of Assumption, Our Lady Of Grace, And Prince Of Peace

Joan M. Green, O.Ont.

Submitted to:
Education Research and Evaluation Strategy Branch
Education Finance Branch
Ontario Ministry of Education

December 2016

This report is available in PDF format (521 KB)

Contents

The School Consolidation Experience Study (SCES)
Part I: Introduction or “Why A SCES?”
Rationale for SCES
Methodology
Overview of SMCDSB’s PAR process related to the 2009 PAR of Our Lady of Grace, Prince of Peace and Our
Lady of Assumption
Overview of Consolidation Timeline and Profile of Each School
Our Lady of Assumption
Our Lady of Grace
Prince of Peace
Part II: Themes Emerging From Analysis of Stakeholder Perspectives
1. Communication
2. Transition Planning and Implementation of Decisions
3. Program Offerings, Co-Curricular Activities and Faith Based School Culture
Part III: Lessons Learned
1. Communication
Continue:
Initiate:
Eliminate:
2. Transition Planning and Implementation
Continue:
Initiate:
Eliminate:
3. Program Offerings, Co-Curricular Activities and Faith-Based School Culture
Continue:
Initiate:
Eliminate:
Part IV: Constructing the Way Forward
Areas for Future Consideration
Appendix A: 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

Contents


Part I: Introduction or “Why A SCES?”

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 and connection to communities in the broad interests of children’s growth and development.

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 almost always 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 Review (ARC) process itself, there has been comparatively little information documented about how people are impacted during and after the transition process until the release of these School Consolidation Experience Studies. Most importantly, prior to these case studies, there had been little focused 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.

Over the last two years three studies have been conducted in two Ontario District School Boards (DSBs), Durham District School Board and Algoma District School Board to explore promising practices based on the analysis of these experiences and ultimately share strategies to help other school boards increase positive outcomes. These three distinct case studies focused on school consolidation/reorganization experiences. Two were in Algoma DSB, the first of which focused on the merging of two schools, Bawating and Sir James Dunn, into Superior Heights Collegiate and Vocational School (Grades 7-12). The second case study in Algoma DSB involved the merging of elementary and secondary panels into a cross-panel school — the reorganization of the grade seven and eight programs from all the Central Algoma elementary schools through the relocation of these programs into Central Algoma Secondary School (CASS). The third case study was conducted in Durham DSB and involved merging two schools, Dr. F.J. Donevan Collegiate Institute and Eastdale Collegiate and Vocational Institute, into a refurbished school at the original site of Eastdale Collegiate and Vocational Institute.

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.

The focus of this SCES is to determine the impact of the consolidation of three Catholic elementary schools, Prince of Peace, Our Lady of Grace and Our Lady of Assumption, in the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, on students, staff and communities. Discussions were held with specific stakeholders including students, parents, trustees, community members, school administrators, teaching and support staff, school board administration, and thought leaders from the affected schools’ broader communities. The insights from this particular case study will provide a faith-based perspective of a Catholic elementary school consolidation in Ontario and will supplement the data currently available from the first three case studies by collecting information on a Catholic District School Board’s and stakeholders’ experiences with consolidation/reorganization of schools in order to identify successes and challenges and to help define promising practices in a faith-based school system.

The four completed case studies document the positive and negative experiences of transition to a reorganized school in order to draw lessons learned that can form the basis of awareness of what works best. The information collected through these case studies is now being used to enhance understanding of what contributes to the best possible transition of students, staff and community members to a new or consolidated environment. The central focus of these accommodation decisions and transformations must be to foster the best outcomes by ensuring equity, enhancing public confidence and addressing the well-being of students. It is anticipated that these four case studies, with their 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.

Rationale for SCES

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

To support this goal, the Ministry committed to gathering multiple perspectives on recent experiences of school consolidations/reorganizations across the province in order to describe the results of these experiences (both positive and negative). The intent of this project 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. As noted above, 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, consolidation and reorganization experiences through the eyes of those most affected will shed light on the most productive processes and strategies that district school boards can use prior to, during and after decisions have been made around school closure and consolidation.

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

  • Describe an Ontario Catholic elementary school consolidation from multiple perspectives.
  • Support Ministry of Education understanding of the impact of these initiatives over time.
  • Identify policy issues arising from school consolidations.
  • Provide information for school boards and school authorities on implementation of effective practices and lessons learned related to school consolidations and the resulting reshaping of school cultures to meet new community needs.

Contents


Methodology

The project, like the first three case studies, relied upon a traditional case study methodology to understand the school consolidation experience through systematic gathering of empirical data. The data collection methodology is grounded in a qualitative and ethnographic framework that 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/reorganization 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/reorganization experience.

The research team visited the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) for three days in June 2016 and for one day in September 2016. During the course of these two visits, the research team conducted approximately 10 key informant interviews and eight focus group interviews with various stakeholders.

The team also made site visits to the newly consolidated school as well as the closed facilities and conducted 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. All identifying participant information is suppressed or modified to protect confidentiality.

Interviewees included school board administrators, teaching and non-teaching staff (teachers, principals and vice-principals, business, planning, administrative and operational staff) current and former supervisory officers, current trustees, current and former parents, current and former students from all three of the involved schools to learn about their experience during and after the consolidation process. During the study, questions probed stakeholder observations regarding the SMCDSB accommodation review process, also known as the Pupil Accommodation Review Process, and the deliberations of the Pupil Accommodation Committee (PAC) leading up to the final decision approved by the SMCDSB. These data were sought in order to provide background information for the central purpose of the case 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-ended questions (see interview guide in Appendix A) in order to ensure validity and consistency of data collected through the fieldwork. Interviewees were also given the opportunity to elaborate on their key areas of concern or perspectives that they brought to the discussion. In addition, the research team had the opportunity to visit closed school sites, the Board central offices as well as the newly consolidated Our Lady of Grace where a number of interviews with staff and students also took place. Senior staff also provided several sources of written documentation of the process and the decisions made by the Board.

The aim of these discussions was to gain insight on the views of this broad spectrum of stakeholders who were involved in the consolidation of three Catholic Elementary Schools, Our Lady of Grace, Prince of Peace and Our Lady of Assumption. Discussions focused on capturing the experience after the consolidation decision was made and processes to relocate students and staff in an existing and renovated facility were underway.

The interviews, discussions, visits and document analysis generated data in several theme areas:

  • Communication
  • Transition planning and implementation
  • Program and co-curricular enhancements
  • Student engagement and community building
  • Student/staff relationships and the building of a new school culture in a faith-based system
  • Parental engagement in the transition and inception of a new consolidated school community

These theme areas were subsequently analyzed and considered from the perspective of different stakeholders.

In each of the conversations with stakeholders, individuals shared lessons learned as Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Assumption and Prince of Peace students and staff moved to the newly consolidated replacement school, Our Lady of Grace. As individuals and groups reflected on their experience, they were asked to comment on what processes 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. 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 on students, staff, families and communities and to highlight the strategies which make these transitions work best for the students and communities whom schools serve. Hence, the ‘Lessons Learned’ section of this case study may be the most instructive for those engaged in similar consolidation processes.

The research team analyzed the data for common themes. The analysis in this case study is based on the multiple data sources noted above and ‘the lessons learned’ will be articulated in the following areas:

  • Communication
  • Transition Planning and Implementation
  • Program Offerings, Co-Curricular Options and School Culture in a Catholic School Context

A commentary on the role of the Catholic Faith as one of the “unifiers” among the three former school communities which had quite different traditions and patterns of community engagement is woven throughout the ‘lessons learned’ section of the case study.

Contents


Overview of SMCDSB’s PAR process related to the 2009 PAR of Our Lady of Grace, Prince of Peace and Our Lady of Assumption

This pupil accommodation review was initiated in June of 2009. Based on the Ministry’s 2009 PAR Guidelines, the Board had policy LE-14 in place related to reviews for school closure.

The Staff Report to the Board identified the group of schools to be included and in which challenges were faced with respect to declining enrolments, school condition issues and where the consideration of consolidation would be in the best overall interest of student success.

This PAR was approved to include St. Mary’s Collingwood, St. Noel Chabanel, Wasaga Beach, Our Lady of Assumption, New Lowell, Our Lady of Grace, Angus and Prince of Peace, Base Borden.

Following the approval to initiate the PAR process, families at all affected schools were notified. Also, a Board Superintendent was appointed as Chair of the Pupil Accommodation Committee (PAC). The PAC was established in September 2009 based on membership outlined in the policy and included representation from all five school communities.

The initial notice of the first PAC Public Meeting was shared in September 2009. Starting the process in September allowed the main portion of the discussion to occur within the 2009/2010 school year, with the final accommodation decision being considered by the Board in June 2010.

The PAC met eight times throughout the fall and winter of 2009. The discussions at the Committee level were guided by the requirements of the Ministry Guidelines and Board policy with respect to the information to be considered and the presentation requirements at each of the public meetings.

The committee was responsible for completing a customized School Valuation Framework Report (SVF), as outlined by the Ministry of Education guidelines for each of the elementary schools under review. Throughout the pupil accommodation review process, the PAC reviewed a variety of information, including boundary maps, reports showing current and future enrolment and the financial impacts of each of the scenarios presented. The Facility Condition Reports were presented and copies of these reports were available for review. The PAC studied and analyzed the data within these reports with respect to the Georgian West Essa Borden Area group of schools, emphasizing the value to the student. The PAC had the opportunity to visit each school (except St. Mary’s in Collingwood) to enhance their understanding of each of the school communities. Four public meetings were held in four different schools to present information and gather input from the community. This community feedback was taken into consideration when the committee formed the draft recommendations.

PAC members were advised that their mandate was to be strong advocates for their school communities while considering the long term impacts for Catholic education for all students in the Georgian West Essa Borden area. Committee members were very respectful of each other’s communities. It was agreed that the PAC would operate on a consensus decision-making model. If consensus could not be reached on a final recommendation, the committee agreed to identify the options recommended and the level of support for each. PAC members had to think about and describe their school communities as they currently existed (SVF) and in terms of what needed to occur to continue offering high quality Catholic education to students in the pupil accommodation review area. Timelines were established and meeting lengths were clearly identified.

Every effort was made to adhere to this structure in order to respect the time commitment of PAC members. The PAC recognized that any recommendations provided, were contingent on adequate funding and that final decisions would be made by the Board in the spirit of the Board’s mission to grow community with truth and compassion. The School Valuation Framework for each school community was completed by the individual school team and then presented to the larger committee for review. This process allowed for efficient use of time as well as active engagement by the PAC. Two of the five schools involved in the review did not believe they were directly affected since their school buildings were in good repair, and they were not in close proximity to the other schools. The public meetings had a strong influence on the committee’s recommendations. Major considerations of the PAC included recognizing that:

  • all students need to have adequate facilities in their communities
  • the need to be fiscally responsible
  • careful consideration of bussing for the review area students
  • the unique situation of the families who reside at DND Base Borden

The distinctiveness of the communities made finding a solution difficult. There was a wish to have everyone get what they wanted. The historical importance of Our Lady of Assumption was recognized. There was recognition that the communities would need to be connected and a process to maintain and merge the communities in a dignified way would be essential. The PAC also discussed a possible name change of the school to assist with community connection and inclusion. The importance of communication regarding the impact of these decisions on the schools was highlighted.

The committee level discussions were challenging as school communities felt put in the position of trying to defend their own school as they considered alternatives to accommodation for the group of schools.

The PAC discussions were also complicated by the fact that, although there was a consideration of replacement school facilities, the necessary capital funding was not yet secured through the Ministry (this happened after the Board decision).

In their report to the Director, the PAC presented recommendations for the consolidation of Prince of Peace, Our Lady of the Assumption with Our Lady of Grace. However, these recommendations were made with the expectation of a replacement school being built to accommodate the students of all three schools in an enhanced facility with the capacity for much greater program quality and co-curricular experiences.

Contents



““Once people from all three schools knew there was a capital allocation for a new school, the discussion was easier.” Parent

It was also noted that the requirement for 4 public meetings seemed too many. Of course, the recently released new options for the duration of the process provide alternatives to the full process.

After the PAC’s work was complete, there was a reflection by Committee members and staff on what might have made the process easier and more effective. This kind of responsible consideration speaks to the commitment of the participants to a challenging and often emotionally charged task.

The ‘lessons learned’ were captured by the PAC in the following points:

  • The input from public meetings had a powerful effect on shaping decisions of the PAC. It would be beneficial to have a strong message go out to the communities at the very beginning of the process that clearly states all are invited to come to every public meeting. These messages could be publicized in the media and at the schools in the form of a letter from the principal, so that everyone knows how important it is to have good attendance at these meetings.
  • The amount of information presented at the beginning of the process may appear to be overwhelming. Simplified versions would be helpful.
  • The PAC committee may want to discuss the order and location of each of the public meetings as the order may impact attendance. Start times for PAC meetings could be modified as well to suit community needs.
  • A variety of consensus tools would assist the process. These tools should come with well-defined parameters.
  • While PAC members were very respectful towards each other, this was a very emotional process. If the process had been shorter perhaps it would have been easier.
  • Although some PAC members left dissatisfied, the committee had respectful discussions and did try to work towards consensus. If there had been a consensus recommendation, the PAC would have felt more satisfied.

According to the SMCDSB, the accommodation review process focused on two key areas:

    1) Addressing safety considerations and the significant costs of the buildings in need of major repair or capital improvements.
    2) Stemming the rate of declining student enrolment in all three elementary schools

It was proposed that the consolidation of Our Lady of Assumption (OLA), Our Lady of Grace (OLG) and Prince of Peace (PoP) elementary schools into a single new facility would result in a more efficient use of facilities and resources, as well as ensure the viability of a full complement of academic and co-curricular programs for the student populations of all three schools.

Contents


Overview of Consolidation Timeline and Profile of Each School

SMCDSB received the capital allocation to rebuild Our Lady of Grace in July of 2011. The Board received formal approval to proceed for the project in July of 2012. Following that, the school closures took effect, beginning with the official closure of Prince of Peace in June 2012. The students of Our Lady of Grace consolidated with the students of Prince of Peace in September 2012. The combined school was located at the former Prince of Peace building on Base Borden, but the school was called Our Lady of Grace. In June of 2013, Our Lady of the Assumption closed and the three schools were consolidated at the Prince of Peace site in September of 2013 due to construction delays on the new building in Angus, on the site of the original Our Lady of Grace. The students were moved to the new facility at the original Our Lady of Grace site in Angus in February 2014.

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Our Lady of Assumption

Our Lady of Assumption (OLA) was a small rural Catholic elementary school (JK-8) located in New Lowell. The original school was built in 1962 by an affluent farming community. OLA is a single story facility that sits on approximately two acres of land. There are 5 portables on the property; however only 3 were being used at the time the school was in operation. Although the property received regular maintenance, the facility was in very poor shape and lacked municipal services. In 2009, OLA had the capacity to hold 77 students; this number decreased to approximately 65 at the time of the school closure. The majority of OLA students (98%) were bussed to the school. Due to student transportation needs and the lack of a school gymnasium, few co-curricular options were available to students. The school was closed in June 2013, and in September 2013 the staff and students of OLA were moved onto the military base with PoP and OLG staff and students. As noted above, in February of 2014, students and staff of all three schools moved to the new facility, Our Lady of Grace, and formed a single school community.

OLA was a passionate, close knit school community that enjoyed very strong community ties and high levels of parent and community engagement. The facility is now closed and there are plans underway to put the site up for sale.

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Our Lady of Grace

Located in Angus, the original Our Lady of Grace elementary school (JK-8) was built in 1961. In 2009, the facility had the capacity to hold 255 elementary students; however, the projection was that student enrolment would continue to decline over subsequent years. There were 6 portables on site with only 2 being utilized. Of the 80% of OLG students bussed to the facility, the majority of students came from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Community and parent engagement were low due to the high needs of the community. Of the three elementary schools identified for consolidation, (OLA, PoP and OLG) the OLG facility was in need of the most repairs. After it was decided that the costs to repair the facility would be prohibitive, and funding from the Ministry was secured in July 2012, the Board elected to demolish OLG and build a new facility in its place on the original site. OLG staff and students moved to Prince of Peace on the military base in September 2012 to await the completion of the new facility.

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Prince of Peace

Prince of Peace elementary school is located on Borden Military base, next door to its French elementary school counterpart. The property belongs to the Canadian Department of National Defence and was originally built in 1996. In 1999, the facility underwent additional renovations and repairs. Over the years, the facility has been maintained and is in good condition. PoP has the capacity to hold 220 elementary students; however, the school experienced gradual decline in enrolment and in 2009-10, enrolment declined to 114, just 52% of capacity, down from 136 the prior year. Family life on the military base is unique and complex because parents are often away serving in dangerous circumstances, leaving one parent alone to cope with parenting. Although the community is highly transient, military families have a distinct culture. School and school life, in particular, plays a particularly stabilizing and supportive role for many of these families.

When Prince of Peace officially closed in June 2012, staff and students from OLG joined the PoP school community in September of 2012 on the military base. In September 2013, staff and students from OLA moved to the military base to join the other two schools in anticipation of the completion of the construction of the new Our Lady of Grace. Today, the PoP facility is vacant and its future use has yet to be decided by the Canadian Department of Defence.

To ensure the best overall outcomes for all during the consolidation process, the Board reviewed and consulted with other Boards’ approaches to this process. They were looking for best practices and expressed confidence that the approach chosen would allow for full consultation and effective transition.

Contents


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:

  1. communication,
  2. transition planning and implementation, and
  3. program offering, co-curricular activities and faith-based school culture.

Contents


1. Communication

“Making a business case for the consolidation was the right thing to do, but then you have to trust the people on the ground to make this happen in the best way possible putting kids and their learning first.” (Senior Board Staff)

The first area explored during the interviews involved the communication efforts made to ensure all parties had timely and accurate information about the PAC process and the ultimate implementation of the Board’s decisions regarding the program and accommodation needs of the students of OLA, OLG and PoP elementary schools in SMCDSB. At the opening of the discussion, each participant in this study was asked about when and how they learned about the PAR and the work of the PAC. They were also asked how they were kept informed as the process unfolded ultimately bringing the students and staff of these three elementary schools together into a new facility and an enhanced learning environment at the newly constructed Our Lady of Grace elementary school. Each school community was represented on the PAC which was chaired by a superintendent rather than a community member from any of the involved communities. Trustees were observers rather than formal members of the Committee.

The administration team consisted of one Principal identified for the new school who served admirably as the leader of all three schools during the consolidation process. Also, an experienced and skilled Vice-Principal was assigned to OLA while it prepared to join the other two schools at Prince of Peace as the three school communities waited for the completion of the new building that was planned to accommodate the three schools combined. All respondents in this case study commented on the vital and effective role this Administrative Team played in assuring that communication with all three communities was clear and consistent and that parent, staff, student and community questions about process and timelines were answered in a timely and respectful way. This Administrative Team served as liaison to the Board for the schools’ communities and aided in keeping consistent and reliable communications channels open.

The PAC 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 PAC 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. Throughout the process, these staff also provided operational answers to questions regarding building design and features of the new school. One senior staff person chaired a “User Group” which was created to engage staff and parents in thinking about what they wanted to see as the features of their new school.

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 led by the consolidated school’s Principal to bring together Our Lady of Assumption, Prince of Peace and Our Lady of Grace under one school ethos and identity. These approaches (cf. key components adapted from National Education Association (USA) Priority Schools Campaign) help school districts work with 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 among the consolidating staffs and school communities.
  • Set, communicate and support high expectations and achievement for all students in a new optimal learning environment.

Many participants whom we interviewed voiced the opinion that there was a strong commitment to provide clear information about the PAR process from the announcement of the PAC to the decision of the Board to amalgamate these three schools through to the transition processes used to bring the three communities together. These communication efforts, while consistent, were not always perfect and this case study will reflect the suggestions made by the people whom we interviewed to improve the communication in future consolidations.

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2. Transition Planning and Implementation of Decisions

As in the case in most school consolidations, there was speculation in the communities about potential winners and losers in the consolidation. It was clear that there was a need for strong transition efforts to support all three communities. 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 consolidate the three schools 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 who undertook the change.

The Director of Education captured this intent in his presentation to the Board in his Barrie North Pupil Accommodation Review Report where he observed that, while SMCDSB had, until relatively recently, been a growing Board, it now faced changing demographic and declining enrolment realities. In this particular consolidation, the programming challenges in old facilities with inadequate spaces and poor physical conditions that were prohibitive to repair at Our Lady of Assumption and Our Lady of Grace were believed to be serious impediments to student achievement and overall well-being. Prince of Peace was not owned by the school board and future repairs would fall on the shoulders of the Board even though it didn’t own the site. 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 to provide a high quality “faith-filled Catholic learning experience”.

By all accounts from the interviewees, the transition efforts led, in particular, by the Principal paved the way for the eventual strong consensus on the decision to build a new school that would provide a vibrant learning environment for the students of all three schools. The transition efforts focussed on seeking input from all three schools/communities on the design of the new building, ensuring the careful preservation of legacy symbols and artifacts from all three schools and creating ownership in staff, students and parents during the establishment of new traditions and symbols for the new school’s culture.

“We spent time as a new community reinventing ourselves.  This was done by allowing students and parents the chance to suggest new names for the new school, determine our new school colours and determine a new mascot for our school. As well, our parent council has continued to have active participation and equal representation from all three school communities; however, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish among the schools." (Principal)

There was a great deal of pride evident in the commentary of parents, staff, and students about the legacy items from the three original schools which were incorporated into the new building as a perpetual testimony to the significance of the cultures of the three schools.

“We spent time strategically planning and thinking about what cultural/spiritual/physical pieces we could bring to our new school. When you walk into the front doors of our current building, you can easily identify where each school is represented. There is a cross with the three school names on it.  We have key artifacts placed to mark a school culture and where each school community can feel a part of this new building.” (Principal)

The efforts to capture and remember the unique characteristics of each school included the following:

  • The central prominence of the Trinity Cross (has the names of the three schools engraved on it)
  • The Altar in the chapel is from Prince of Peace
  • The large statue of the Blessed Mary in the front foyer is from Our Lady of Assumption
  • The smaller statue of the Blessed Mary in the chapel is from Our Lady of Grace
  • The pews for the chapel came from Prince of Peace
  • The Grade 8 awards were a combination recognition of the success of the students of the three schools, including specific awards for graduates from each school
  • Technology that was brought from all three school
  • The bronze dedication plaque from Our Lady of Assumption
  • There are time Capsules from Our Lady of Grace and Prince of Peace.
  • The original School Registers from Our Lady of Grace and Prince of Peace (from the 1960's) have been preserved

Everyone interviewed from the Director of Education to teaching and administrative staff to students and parents from all three schools, commented on the central importance of the assignment of one Principal to all three school populations during the transition period and the wisdom of assigning a dedicated Vice Principal to OLA as that community prepared to close its doors and move to a new school. The effective partnership of the Principal and the Vice-Principal, (the Principal working out of Prince of Peace with the combined school communities of OLG and PoP and the Vice-Principal assigned to OLA) made a huge difference in helping the affected families, in the Director’s words, “come to realize that it was not the building that they were attached to but to the Catholic educational community within the school walls.”

The Board provided a single administrative team for all three schools during the transition and consolidation. The leadership of the Principal and VP eased concerns over the period when the new school was being built. The Principal attended meetings of three school councils, the communications to all three communities were co-ordinated by the Principal and Vice-Principal, social events for students (track events, dances and play days) were organized ahead of the consolidation and special education students were introduced to the new school ahead of their moving. Once the new consolidated school opened, the Principal led a concerted effort bring the staffs together across legacy school cultural divides. He worked very diligently to establish a new and common school culture focussed on student wellbeing and academic achievement with a particular emphasis on the benefits of technology as a support for learning.

Each school brought a particular set of concerns to the consolidation experience. The OLA community was a very tight knit rural school serving about 50-60 students in a small community setting. There was a fear that these students who were in a somewhat protected environment with high student achievement would be somehow lost in the new setting and would find the transition very difficult to a larger, more urban school.

The students at Prince of Peace were already living with a fair amount of instability as they were the children of military families where one parent was usually involved away from home in active duty, sometimes in dangerous deployments. The school had 50% transiency rate and the community feared that the consolidation would threaten the emotional and social supports the school on the base provided to students and their parents. There was also a perspective expressed that closing this school signalled a lack of support for the Military in Canada that needed to be addressed and refuted. The fear of loss and instability was already deeply embedded in the fabric and psychology of this community even though it was less than ten minutes away physically from the site of the newly consolidated school.

Our Lady of Grace was the most economically challenged community but there was less resistance there because the newly built school was on the site of the old OLG. There were of course, some concerns about the increased size of the school population and the merging of “military and country” communities with the OLG more urban population.

There was a very strong effort by the Board and the Principal to listen to people’s concerns and to answer their questions as honestly and quickly as possible. A number of strategies were used by the Board to bring staff, students and community members together at PoP, in advance of the transition to the new OLG. There was significant parental opposition at the beginning especially from the OLA community which feared losing its identity despite the fact that the OLA students were in a building that was in need of repair. The Board and the Principal reached out to the most resistant parents and brought them into the planning process and ultimately won their support.

“We identified the parents with influence in the community, sought their engagement and now they are the biggest advocates for the new school.” (Superintendent)

This transition effort and its focus is best captured in the words of the Principal himself:

"If I had to identify what made the amalgamation successful, I would have to say that one of the key factors was that, from the onset, we spent time determining what we wanted our 'new community' to strive for and look like. In a way, we established a 'working' mission/vision plan as we morphed into our new community.” (Principal)

The trustees struck a committee to recommend a name for the new building and consolidated school. This committee included membership from all three schools and solicited input from the communities. The Chair of the Board and the local trustee were on the committee. Unfortunately, a dispute arose around the naming of the new school. Several staff and community members interviewed indicated that other names had been suggested which they believed would have better represented all three schools, such as “Our Lady of Trinity” or “Our Lady of Peace”. They believed that the naming decision was overly influenced by the Chair of the Board and the Parish priest. The Superintendent reported to the Board that the committee unanimously recommended that the rebuilt school be named Our Lady of Grace. The Board accepted the Committee’s recommendation. It was observed by Senior Administration that, although the Naming Committee did come forward with one recommendation, some communication back to the whole system, and therefore, interested stakeholders who had made naming recommendations, on the Committee’s decision making process, would have been advisable and would have contributed to a spirit a transparency.

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3. Program Offerings, Co-Curricular Activities and Faith Based School Culture

As noted earlier in this case study, the three schools that came together through this consolidation all had something to gain from amalgamating into one new facility. The new OLG offered far better learning spaces and greater opportunities for a broader curriculum experience and more co-curricular experiences because of a larger student cohort and more teaching staff to lead teams, clubs, drama and sports activities. Social/learning experiences such as field trips that were not possible to arrange for groups of 8 students became possible in the new OLG when the number of participating students grew to 50. The increased diversity of the student population in the new OLG created a more dynamic learning environment where discussion was broader and shared experiences helpful for all students.

OLA certainly had a united and supportive school community where the students generally excelled academically and achieved high EQAO scores. That said, the small facility was prohibitive to repair with a leaky roof, a poor septic system, no municipal services and five portables, only three of which were in use and that were not good learning environments. There was no indoor space for physical activity or extended learning experiences. There was a large outdoor play space which was equipped with playground equipment which the parents had fundraised to provide. As noted earlier, in 2009, OLA had the capacity to hold 77 students; this number decreased to approximately 65 at the time of the school closure. The majority of OLA students (98%) were bussed to the school.

The original Our Lady of Grace elementary school (JK-8) was built in 1961. In 2009, the facility had the capacity to hold 255 elementary students; however, as mentioned earlier in this case study, enrolment was continuously in decline at the time of this consolidation and the school suffered from low parental engagement. Over three quarters of the students were bussed to the school which was deemed prohibitive to repair and was widely recognized as an inadequate learning environment.

Prince of Peace elementary school property belongs to the Canadian Department of Defence and was originally built in 1996. In 1999, the facility underwent additional renovations and repairs. Over the years, the facility has been maintained and was in good condition. PoP has the capacity to hold 220 elementary students; however, during the school year 2009-2010, the school, with its transient student population due to the military composition of the school community, saw student enrolment decline from 136 to 114 with signs of continual decline and an ongoing responsibility of the Board to maintain a property which it didn’t own.

All three schools for quite different reasons faced serious limitations to the breadth and quality of the program that could be offered in the available facilities and much reduced co-curricular activities due to small numbers of students and therefore, staff in each school. The new facility offered much better learning environments and removed the necessity for triple grades and other restrictions on program flexibility.

It was very clear from all interviewed for this study that the program offerings at the new OLG are far broader and richer than what was available at any of the legacy schools whose offerings, both curricular and co-curricular, 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, aptitude and the numbers of staff available for supervision and mentoring increased. Some very specific inequities were addressed through the consolidation such as the provision of access to the internet for OLA’s students for the first time.

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 adults (both parents and staff) were in general at the beginning of the process. Thanks to the steadfast efforts of the administrative team during the transition year and in the first years of the new OLG and the efforts of influential and leading parents from all three school councils, teaching and support staff and the broader school communities began to see the possibilities for the new school.

“In fact, all families except one who had left the system at the time of the announcement of the consolidation returned once the new school was up and running.”  (Principal)

The vision for the school has evolved over time and the community’s engagement with the new OLG has gained significant momentum since the consolidation. The school program has been enhanced through effective and school wide use of technology, co-curricular activities have greatly expanded and parents are actively involved as partners in the school.


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Part III: Lessons Learned

“At first, the thought of having to amalgamate three schools and build a new school to accommodate everyone was overwhelming and a very intimidating prospect.  Possibly meeting with upset parents, working with differing staffs and building a sense of community with all the students in three distinct communities just seemed like a very onerous task. But, once it got started, it became one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. Yes, it was a lot of work. It took a lot of planning and organizing. It took a lot of time. But we are now reaping the benefits. We are a unified, cohesive community grounded in our faith, loving the new space we are in!" (Principal, OLG)

The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences and perceptions of the wide range of stakeholders directly involved in the consolidation of these three schools and the creation of a new facility that was designed to provide an excellent learning environment. 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 case 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.

Those interviewed for this case study, including the Board’s senior officials, expressed their perspectives about the lessons learned from this school consolidation experience. Their views are articulated and organized under the themes of Communication, Transition Planning and Implementation and Program Offerings, Co-curricular Activities and Faith-Based School Culture including the influence the faith-based nature of this school system had on the decision-making processes, the transition strategies and the program and learning experience options the consolidation provided.

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1. Communication

“A key factor was that we took the time to hear the concerns of each individual school community and tried to support those concerns as we merged.” (Principal)

Continue:

“The Principal was instrumental in engaging people and was clear and straightforward.” (Administrative staff member)

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

Open/Transparent Communication

  • Communicating the rationale for the decision and other factors influencing the decision, including how reducing capital/facility costs would maximize funding for program and enhanced learning environments.
  • Openness to community engagement through sharing of information and identifying Board staff to respond to questions and requests for information as well as admitting when mistakes are made.
  • Articulation of the aspirations/values of a Catholic school system as a unifier of different school communities in the spirit of cohesion and investing in positive academic and character outcomes and a focus on what is being created for the wellbeing of students.

Clear/Regular/Consistent Information

  • Consistent messaging on the websites of all three schools as the consolidation unfolded focussing on positive messages and positioning the consolidation as a narrative of success.
  • Consistent information to the parents and communities of all three schools through carefully constructed messages in newsletters overseen by the Principal.
  • Regular updating of the Board website with relevant and timely information.

Inclusion/Voice

  • Inclusion of a range of participants on the PAC to ensure various perspectives are heard and all communities were represented.
  • Establishment of cross-functional staff teams with regular debriefing across roles throughout the process. The membership of the team needs to be organized, passionate and motivated to communicate openly and regularly before and during the transition. (In this case, the Administrative Steering Committee regularly debriefed across roles throughout the process to ensure that all tasks were being addressed effectively).
  • Pre-meetings with key people, particularly administrators, in advance of the PAC meetings to ensure staff didn’t feel caught between the Board and the community.
  • Meetings with all three School Councils by the Principal during the time prior to and during the construction of the new site.
  • Robust inclusive discussion after the decision was made to ask communities key questions: ‘What do you want for your children?” “What do you need?”
  • Planning discussions with staff and parents of all three schools prior to being under the same banner.
  • Effective dialogue between Board staff and union/federation leaders to address concerns and outline expectations of staff as a result of the consolidation.

Generally, there was a view that strong efforts were made to communicate with the affected schools during the PAC process and that the Principal and Vice Principal assigned to the three schools and located at PoP and OLA respectively, made valiant efforts to keep all three communities informed during the transition process and as the newly consolidated school began its new life. Staff across all roles commented on the big difference the Principal made by communicating regularly and seeking and genuinely valuing input from all stakeholders. Most people interviewed commented on the vital importance of recognizing the differing needs of all three legacy schools while promoting a positive narrative about the value to students that the consolidation would offer. It was also noted that the co-ordinated efforts of centrally assigned Board staff to support the school based efforts during the several transitions and the final consolidation were very helpful.

Several respondents in this case study observed that the faith-based celebrations and messages helped bridge the divides that existed at the outset among the three schools. Many commented on the cohesion created among the stakeholders of the three joining schools by the focus on the mission and vision of the Board ‘to create inclusive Catholic learning communities dedicated to excellence and to the development of the God-given abilities of each person by nurturing faith, illuminating minds, inspiring hearts, and empowering hands.’

In terms of avoiding divisions and conflict from the beginning of the process, there was a feeling expressed by both staff and parents that the PAC process itself pitted schools against each other at the outset and that a clear staff recommendation clarifying what was believed to be the best and recommended path might have prevented school communities engaging in futile arguments to save their existing schools.

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Initiate:

“It is important to respect the fact that whatever you think is the best plan could and should change to meet community needs; we have to be open-minded, flexible and responsive.” (Superintendent)

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:

Clear/Consistent Communication

  • Follow-up with messaging and reports on the monitoring of commitments made during the process after the decision is made in order to keep the PAC members and community members informed about plans and progress regarding the transition.
  • Include more focussed efforts led by Board officials to inform administrative and custodial staff in the affected schools about the proposed direction to ease anxiety about job security and placement as soon as possible (This did not seem to be an issue with the teachers’ federations in this case).
  • Ensure advance notice to Principals on all messages that go to the PAC from the Board’s Planning and Facility staff (such as proposals regarding inclusion of schools in the closure consideration).

Staff Support

  • Provide greater support and resources for the Principal to design and implement different forms of consultation/communication with parents such as inviting parents to provide input into programs and policies in the new school as a method for on-going parental engagement (e.g., outside of and beyond the PAC).
  • Assign central support for the Principal in delivering messages to the affected communities about the transition, particularly when there are unexpected delays in the process.

Inclusion

  • To build community at the beginning of the process, more directly involve key interested parents to be informed voices who can serve as emissaries of the positive messages of the consolidation’s benefits as a community building strategy.
  • Consider starting the PAR process with a staff recommendation when there is an obvious foregone conclusion in order to reduce community anxiety and shorten the time of the overall process.
  • Post consolidation, extend Board initiated invitations to address any concerns, to answer emerging questions and explain changes in programming and processes that affect student/parent experiences.

Generally speaking, it was acknowledged by those who were interviewed for this case study that they remembered strong and consistent efforts to communicate with students, staff and community regarding the PAC and the subsequent merging of the three schools. That said, there are some areas where communication could have been enhanced to facilitate sustained connection between the communities and the new school. In addition, there was a clear sense among the school staff interviewed for this case 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 was underway, staff felt “more in the loop” because of the efforts of the single Principal for all three schools.

It is clear that the Principal would have benefitted from more direct assistance from central Board staff in communicating with all three school staffs and communities. While he did an outstanding job in this case, he was concerned at every stage of the process that the appropriate messages were being consistently delivered. More extensive external advice from central Board staff on optimal communication approaches, both in terms of content and format, would have been welcomed.

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Eliminate:

“We need to get the length of the duration of the process right in each case. Circumstances in different school communities will determine which option we use.” (Board Facilities Staff)

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

  • Protracting the discussions when the best and chosen course of action is already clear, especially when a new facility is the outcome. (recognizing that no amount of consultation will ensure that everyone is happy)
  • The impression that there are options when there really aren’t; in the words of one parent, “Don’t string us along.” (taking advantage of the new PARG shortened timelines option may be helpful with this problem)
  • Don’t ask for advice like the naming of the new school if those who offered advice are not going to be kept in the loop about the Board’s decision. Some people who offered advice felt the Naming Committee ignored their suggestions and their rationale for a new name for the school.

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. It is now possible to conduct a shortened PAC process when the outcome is a new facility and there was general consensus that, in this consolidation, this would have been in the best interests of the students and the affected communities.

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2. Transition Planning and Implementation

“The Principal and Vice Principal made it feel like the new OLG was our collective home and sought every opportunity for input about everything from shelving in classrooms to scheduling of programs.” (Teacher)

Continue:

“Teachers were brought together in staff meetings and parties in June before OLA went to PoP and our VP reinforced unity in the staff by talking about the same expectations and supports for all staff.” (Teacher)

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

Inclusion/Voice

  • The establishment of a ‘Design User Group’ led by a central staff member to seek the input of representatives of all three school communities on what the new school’s features should include.
  • Robust inclusive discussion at all three School Councils and with staff and students in all three schools after the decision was made in order to address individual school community concerns and make collaborative planning possible.
  • Involving students and the community in the transition planning including addressing the issues raised by the opponents of the consolidation and thought leaders in each community to engage them as advocates for the new school.
  • The Principal’s consistent and dedicated efforts (which were reported widely by staff who were interviewed for this case study) to seek input from staff, to express gratitude to all who assisted with the transition effort and to change plans based on good advice (such as relocating special education students on the first floor).
  • Staff engagement/dedication to ensuring resources were properly packed and prepared for use in the new facility (although there were concerns about the physical and emotional energy this required of staff in a very short period of time while they were still carrying out their other duties).
  • Events designed to bring students together such as track events, barbeques, dances, play days and an open house for parents and activities which encouraged students to capture and share their memories of their original school in drawings and in stories.

Central Support and Oversight

  • The co-ordination of a strong Administrative Steering Committee with cross functional membership which oversaw the necessary processes and ensured clarity of roles and responsibilities.
  • Clear presence of a strong and proficient capital team (“green shirts”) who smoothed the operational details of relocation.

Leadership

  • Careful selection of the Principal/VP for the new school to ensure the right leadership skills are in place to guide the combining schools through the transition and into the creation of the new school culture once the students from all consolidating schools are in the new facility. (In this case, placing a VP at OLA to work with the Principal who was located at PoP ensured continuity of messaging to staff and communities and more cohesion once all three schools came together, first at PoP and then at the new OLG).
  • Assistance to the Principal of a central Board staff member who co-ordinated all purchasing and technical/operational ordering for the new facility and met with the Principal regularly to ensure the necessary purchasing was done.

Student/Staff Support

  • Academic, social and emotional support for students pre, during and post closure and during the transition year when, as in this case, all three student bodies were accommodated in a temporary facility as the new school was being built.
  • Putting students together ahead of the transition while the new school is being completed so students from all consolidating schools have a common ownership of the new facility.
  • Transition site visits to the new facility for students with exceptionalities in advance of the opening of the new school including providing students with a pictorial representation of the new school to ease the transition.
  • Using PA days where possible to bring staffs together and organizing social events such as bubble soccer to integrate teaching and support staffs from the three schools.
  • The ‘first 20 days program’ in the new school where there is a unique school expectation focus for each day to establish school norms and rituals based on skills, faith and expectations.

Seeking Input and Addressing Concerns

  • The Principal visiting all three School Councils during the year the new school was being built to eliminate the fear of the unknown, provide consistent information to each school community and get input to help shape the vision for the new faith-based school culture.
  • Board representatives being visible in all three schools during the early stages of the transition to answer questions and pave the way for the Principal’s work with all three communities.
  • Surveys sent out to parents and teachers asking what worked well at their original school and what should be taken from each school and included in the culture and processes of the new school.
  • Addressing parental anxieties about student adjustment to the new school directly and putting in place opportunities for worries to be reduced by connecting the students socially in advance of the move to the new school. (In this case, all the students being together in a temporary setting helped with the integration in the new school).
  • Taking local context into consideration and tweaking the processes to meet each community’s needs.
  • Explaining travel time differences (which were very small in this case) and enforcing a consistent policy for all communities.

Honouring School Legacies/Traditions

  • Recognizing the centrality of the values, traditions and rituals of the Catholic community as a unifier; for example, the Holy Trinity became a symbol for the unification of three schools and the main hall in the new school was called Trinity Hall.
  • Create new rituals and common symbols for the new school collaboratively such as the drawing competition in which 150 students participated to create a new school mascot and logo. Students and staff from the three schools voted and the OLG Griffins logo was chosen and given to a professional designer and put on toques which the students wore in the beginning days of the new school.
  • Honouring the legacy of the original three schools by embedding artifacts and school memorabilia in the new school in prominent places such as the Chapel and the Library and creating an annual award for students from the original schools until the last transitioning cohort of students graduated.
  • Coming together and the liturgical achieved sense of collaboration and new beginnings. (e.g., tri-school ribbon cutting with a different coloured ribbon for each school symbolized the coming together of three distinct cultures into one new school community honoured the past and looked forward to the future).
  • Bringing students, staff and community members together before the consolidation and particularly during the transition period was essential to the process (e.g., the creation of social events for students in advance of the move to Pop, especially for sheltered students from OLA, made a positive difference).
  • Delay in construction of the new facility and the decision to move the OLA students to join the student bodies of OLG and PoP before moving to the new school allowed students to come together in advance of the move occurred.
  • The focus on faith-based values in all three schools and the emphasis on honouring the legacies of all three schools in the new OLG was very important. The rituals associated with the opening of the new school were also recognized by respondents as very positive.
  • The supports provided by central Board Staff during the transition and particularly around the opening of the new school were seen as vital to the effective implementation of the consolidation.
  • It was suggested by staff and the Principal/VP team that more focussed time for the staffs of all three schools to work together in advance of the final move to the new school (perhaps through a one day retreat) would have been very helpful in establishing a collaborative environment in the new school as staff in each of the legacy schools had differing teaching and operational practices. More collective program and assessment pre-planning would have been beneficial in establishing shared and reflective practice among the teaching staff and common processes and procedures among the support and administrative staff to address the needs of a new school and a larger student body.

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Initiate:

"If I had to identify some of the struggles we had, I would suggest that timing is everything. It would be very helpful that the actual amalgamation take place at a natural break in a school year, whether it be at the beginning of the school year or perhaps after the Christmas break. With that, it would be very helpful if administration was given time outside of their admin duties, to be able to coordinate the school closures and work with new school construction.  If possible it would also be helpful if staff were given a day or two to be able to pack and unpack in order to support the transition itself.  It would be great if the staff was given a 'retreat-type' day in which to bond and engage in team building exercises."(Principal)

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

“A dissenting opinion gives you an opportunity to reflect and that is not a bad thing. We need to be sure we check after the consolidation that we have addressed concerns.” (Principal)

Capacity Building/Skill Development

  • Offer training in facilitation skills for those leading the PAC and the community and staff meetings prior to the consolidation.

Staff Support

  • Provide release time for the Principal to plan both for the operational and programming components of the new school and oversee the closing/moving of the legacy schools.
  • Many staff suggested ‘job-alike’ meetings for support and teaching staff well ahead of the consolidation to share strategies and to address the differences among school processes and cultures.
  • Create an inventory of resources from each school so there is a thoughtful approach to resources that is understood by staff, parents and students. Provide guidelines to staff to direct resource transitions, i.e., what to dispose of and what to keep.

System Implementation Supports

  • Assign a point person from the central Board staff to serve as the liaison with the Principal on all issues of concern regarding communications, updates regarding construction, transition planning and program needs; some suggested the role of the school Superintendent in bringing the program face to the transition effort should be enhanced.
  • Create a transition checklist based on other consolidation experiences to assist the Principal in ensuring that all bases are covered and all important decisions are made in a timely and productive way.
  • Establish a follow-up monitoring committee which includes members of the PAC and representation from each of the originating schools to loop back to the hopes and plans discussed prior to the consolidation in a new facility and ensure that everything possible is done to keep promises made regarding the new school.
  • Initiate a documenting process to chronicle what worked well and what didn’t, both centrally and in the schools, during the consolidation process to inform future Board consolidations and to validate the contributions and perspective of all stakeholders.
  • Arrange collective PA days for staff from all three schools prior to the consolidation and collaborative professional planning in advance of consolidation to pave the way for a successful professional learning community in the new school. (The Principal did request a half day retreat for staff from all three schools which unfortunately, was not provided at the time. It did occur later in the second year of the consolidation of the school).
  • Organize more social and professional connections among staff across all three schools early to help address tension and integration issues.
  • Build in more opportunities for students from all three schools to socialize prior to being formally brought together. Had there not been delays in construction necessitating the OLA students’ move to PoP, the OLA students would have had limited exposure to the student bodies of the other two schools.
  • Where possible and recognizing Boards are not in control of contractor schedules, plan for transition times for staff and programs and provide time for settling in, moving in, getting classes and offices organized.
  • Better long term planning for enrolment increases as the new OLG is already short of space.
  • Better monitoring of maintenance in the new school as staff report that already there are some maintenance issues that need central attention.

Inclusion/Voice

  • Engage more community members and parents in the design features of the new school such as the safe drop off zone.
  • Show support and teaching staff visuals of new school’s instructional settings and design early in the process and use staff expertise in the design of the school facilities. For example, staff were concerned that adult toilets were installed in kindergarten settings and inappropriately sized and positioned washroom equipment was installed in special education classrooms.

Honouring School Legacies/Traditions

  • Set up display cases of the work of students from each of the consolidating schools in a central place, (in this case, Trinity Hall) of the new school at the beginning of the consolidation to celebrate the identities of the three schools coming together.

School Program/Operational Supports

  • Have all special education staff (teachers and assistants) present for the walk through by students with exceptionalities and arrange for meetings among special education staff prior to the consolidation to discuss learning plans for individual students.
  • Administrative office staff who were interviewed commented that they were challenged to handle the new bus schedules and amalgamation of records and suggested that some allocation of centralized or transitional staff would have alleviated this pressure and the resulting initial confusion for parents and communities.
  • Build time and support for set-up and planning for special education assistants who work closely with students in need of specialized resources and programming to avoid the problems and difficulty of setting up learning environments and resources for students with special needs during the move with the students in attendance.
  • Provide some assistance to school staff and the administration with packing and logistics; in this case, a great deal of the physical packing and preparing was done to tight timelines by staff and their families and ultimately, orchestrated by the Principal.
  • Where possible, arrange for some grace time and access to closed facilities to conclude packing, documenting and transport of resources and materials to avoid extreme time pressures to move everything very quickly.
  • Provide time and support for staff relocating resources, unpacking, etc. to new school, in particular, relieving teachers and support staff of regular duties for a few days prior to and following the move, (staff at OLA and OLG had to go through the process twice).
  • Consider a community sale to discard materials that are considered surplus to the new school to ensure there is no perception of waste or loss of useful resources the communities may have helped fund raise to acquire.

Creating Tools and Processes for Update and Information

  • It was suggested that an electronic bulletin board outside the new OLG would have helped establish the new school in the community and brought the three schools together in terms of communicating with parents regarding events and activities.
  • When consulting about the naming of the new school, create a deliberate and transparent process through which a Naming Committee seeks advice and suggestions, makes a recommendation to the Board about the name and communicates the Board’s decision to all who were involved in making suggestions. This will avoid a perception that the consultation was flawed and the decision made prior to the consultation. In this case, some staff who were interviewed indicated that they believed that their suggestions to select a name that was more representative of all three schools such as ‘The Trinity” and as suggested by some PAC members, Blessed Trinity or Our Lady of Peace, were not seriously considered.
  • Be transparent as early as possible about plans for the use of closed buildings and residual playground equipment for which, in the case of OLA, parents fundraised. In this case, it was not viable to move the equipment so a picture of students and parents using the equipment was placed on the cover of ‘memory book” for OLA students.
  • Given the focus on seniority in support staff assignments, initiate more dialogue with the affected unions to collaboratively create opportunities for staff to express their preferences regarding job placement after the consolidation.

It was widely acknowledged that very strong efforts were made by the administrative team to involve community members and staff from all three schools in the transition efforts and this was very helpful in diffusing dissension and fostering an inclusive atmosphere.

In the words of one teacher, “The Principal identified the ‘movers and shakers” in the school communities and tapped them on the shoulder to build personal connections, gain involvement and buy-in for the new school plans.” (Teacher)

There was a frequently expressed view by staff that perhaps a formalized integration effort with some resources for release time for cooperative planning for staff and facilitation support could help the merged staff make the transition more effectively. There was a broadly held opinion that the staff of the three schools and the Principal in particular, needed more physical and organizational help in the packing, inventory and unpacking of resources and equipment.

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 as well affording an opportunity for staff and community members to raise any concerns they had with the design and maintenance of the new facility.

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Eliminate:

“Teachers gave of their time and didn’t balk; they gave willingly of their time to assist the transition process and ensure that what needed to get done got done. But, it was very challenging to get all the packing and purging done in the time available” (Principal)

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

  • Establishing committees that don’t have a real impact on decisions such as the Naming Committee in some people’s minds; this perception could be remedied by greater feedback on decisions to participants in the consultation.
  • Leaving the bulk of the transition planning to the Principal without a support person or release time.
  • Having staff pack and offer programming to students simultaneously.
  • Tight timelines for vacating legacy school buildings: instead, institute extended access to allow better monitoring of the transition of resources.
  • Short term planning for facility; capacity planning needs to anticipate future changes as portables are now required on the site of the new OLG.
  • Transition in the middle of a school year: wherever possible, time the transition for a natural break in school programming and avoid moving students more than once where possible.
  • All respondents recognized the challenges of a consolidation involving three schools and a staged move which resulted in several transitions. That said, the need for more assistance for the Principal and less pressure regarding timelines for the actual vacating of the closing schools was raised by many. Of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty, but some respondents, particularly among the teaching staff and some parents, felt the design of the school did not sufficiently forecast the actual demands for space that the new student body generated.

3. Program Offerings, Co-Curricular Activities and Faith-Based School Culture

Continue:

“Even though some parents miss the 1:1 attention some students got in the much smaller original three schools, particularly at OLA, parents have come to see the education at the new OLG as fully rounded, promoting social, academic success in a faith building environment.” (Superintendent)

“Positive faith-based culture and excellent education is not about location: it is about the people who work together.”  (Board Senior Official)

“I felt excited and not nervous and it helped that some of my friends from my old school were in my new class.” (Student)

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

Benefits of Consolidation

  • Consistently communicating the advantages of the new facility’s gym and drama space particularly for the students of OLA who had none of these advantages in their original school.
  • Being clear from the beginning of the PAC that the reason for the closures and the consolidation in a new facility was to make the best use of resources to improve program and teaching and learning.

“We looked at class lists to be sure that no student from any of the three schools would be in a class alone without other students from their original school.” (Teacher)

  • Monthly celebrations/assemblies in the new school to recognize staff and student commitment to the culture of the new OLG.
  • Commitment to fair representation of all three original schools on school and community committees and in program planning to ensure that everyone had a voice in how the new school culture would be shaped.

“The Principal was great at including people from all three schools: I remember him calling me within the first few weeks because he heard I wanted to be involved and he asked me to help with a library event.” (Parent)

  • After the first year, the Principal leading the use of language that reflected “one community” and ramped up communications to reinforce one identity and the ‘going forward together’ message.

“With our new toques with the Griffins logo and our ribbon cutting in Trinity Hall, we began to feel like one school.” (Student)

  • The use of a reminder app which promoted school events such as movie night, field trips, video blogs and school newsletters and encouraged shared experiences among staff students and community members.
  • Significant work with the staff to ensure consistent processes, services and approaches to meet the needs of special education students and address inequities that existed as a result of differences in the three schools.
  • Focus on continuity of instruction and assessment across grades/divisions to address the different strengths and challenges of each community and the differing instructional approaches in each of the legacy schools.
  • Focus on collaboration of staff to meet the needs of students experiencing difficulties through early intervention and focussed team effort.
  • Principal’s emphasis on supporting each staff member’s learning, Professional Development plans to support best professional practice and well-being.

“There was resistance in some families on the base due to the concern their students’ needs wouldn’t be understood in a ‘city school’ because civilians were ‘a totally different species’; however, having the kids together at PoP ahead of the final move and having teachers shift to the new school with the kids, reduced those fears. (Parent)

Many of those interviewed for this study applauded the efforts to involve staff from all three schools as well as students in program planning and culture building for the new school. Some parents with whom interviews were conducted also referred to the positive information they received about the school program and co-curricular activities. In particular, the parents of students with exceptionalities felt that their children’s learning needs were carefully and consistently addressed in the new school setting. The efforts of both teaching and support staff to monitor the students’ learning and well-being in the new school was widely acknowledged.

As one teacher put it: “The success of the Special Education Program at the new OLG resulted in students transferring to the school for other schools and other jurisdictions.”

A parent expressed satisfaction with the approach taken to meet student needs in this way: “I was worried about my son who has special education needs; I wasn’t worried about my daughter who adapts well to change. I felt better when my son has a special walk through the new school and I saw the security provisions for him.” (Parent)

Efforts to have staff from the three legacy schools working together to design the program offerings and instructional approaches during their time together at Prince of Peace and particularly in the new setting, were recognized as important and needing even more focus.

Many also mentioned that the sharing of expressions of faith through celebrations and rituals was a unifier for staff, students and communities.

It was clear that many of the steps to success in this transition and consolidation depended on flexibility of mind and a willingness to hear all sides of an issue and sometimes change course unexpectedly to meet emerging circumstances in the best interests of the students in the long run. The Director of Education commented on the need for adaptability in this compelling observation:

“The decision to re-visit the commitment not to move OLA students before the new school was opened was critically important; thinking about what was best for all students in light of new circumstances and not sticking blindly to initial plans allowed for a much better transition for all the students to the new OLG.” (Director)

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Initiate:

“We had what we had at OLA and everything seemed fine. But we were wowed by the resources available at the new OLG and the technological advantages. With so much at your finger tips, you experience teaching in a new way. The new gym was amazing.” (Teacher)

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:

“I would have appreciated a day away from school with my new colleagues before we moved together to talk through teaching approaches and philosophies.” (Teacher)

  • Provide for more opportunities for staff from the three schools to work together on program planning and professional development during the transitional year ahead of the actual consolidation to create a cohesive staff.
  • Provide time for a retreat for all staff to get together from the consolidating schools in advance of working together in a new setting.
  • Introduce deliberate ways to showcase the talents and skills of staff in advance of the consolidation to reduce parental anxiety.
  • Engage support staff to participate more directly in school culture building activities during the transition year and in the first year of the consolidation.
  • Provide program consultant support for teachers as they plan for the new school environment.
  • Recognize the challenges of maintaining the program integrity for students with special needs while packing and moving.
  • Provide temporary support for the Principal in house for operational details so he/she can focus on program, student integration, staff cohesion and parental engagement.

As mentioned above, opportunities for collaborative planning were highly valued by staff and more release time to engage in professional sharing and planning ahead of the move to the new school would have been seen to be highly beneficial. As well, the support for the Administrative Team closing several schools and opening another needs more emphasis to allow the Principal, in particular, to focus on big picture planning and leadership of group interactions rather than being consumed with operational details that temporary assistance could address.

More opportunities for parents to meet with staff who would be new to their children in the new school would also be instrumental in reducing parental anxiety about their children’s well-being and achievement in a larger school setting in a new location.

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Eliminate:

“The Principal did a great job orchestrating the move but both he and the staff needed more help during the actual packing up and inventorying of the three schools.” (Teacher)

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:

There were very few suggestions about what should be eliminated in the process regarding program, co-curricular activities and faith-based school culture building. Most of the comments related to temporary circumstances that affected programming during the actual transition.

  • Eliminate the necessity for special education teachers in particular, to pack and prepare resources for moving at the same time as conducting regular classes as it is very difficult to focus on students’ needs while preparing for the move.
  • Remove some of the Principal’s operational and transitional responsibilities by provision of more tactical assistance during the transition to the new school so that he/she can focus on program planning and leading the building of a new culture.
  • Where possible, avoid timing the move in the middle of an academic year to avoid program and co-curricular disruption.

Where possible, avoid more than one move for students.

“The Principal and Vice Principal gave up their personal lives to support the smooth transition to the new school. A trustee nominated the Principal for the Principal of the Year award!” (Trustee)

Most respondents who were interviewed in this case study were realistic about what was practical and financially feasible in such a consolidation process. That said, there were a few expenditures in terms of limited carefully used release time and support for the Principal which some felt could be introduced to good effect. Of course, it was apparent that the timing in the school year of the move was less than ideal but people understood that there were factors beyond the Board’s control that influenced the actual timing of the final consolidation into the new OLG.

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Part IV: Constructing the Way Forward

‘Because parents were encouraged to voice their concerns and anxieties through the PAC process and during the transition year and answers to questions and objections were provided, most people eventually came onside and saw the advantages of the new school.” (Parent)

Areas for Future Consideration

In February, 2014 the three original school communities, OLA, PoP and OLG came together in the new facility built on the site of the old OLG. By the accounts of most of those interviewed, and the enthusiasm of the parents who are the members of the new School Council, even those who opposed the consolidation when it was first announced have come on board and are seriously committed to continuing the building of the new school culture and excited about the enhanced learning experiences the new school is offering students.

Teachers, students and community members all expressed confidence that the new OLG was serving students very well and that the concerns articulated during the transition process were largely addressed.

Participants in the interview/discussions for this case study were asked what the ministry could do to assist schools and school boards during consolidation processes and the following were some of the suggestions made:

  • Provide a checklist for Principals to address all the operational tasks that need to be covered in the preparation and execution of the closing of a school and the opening of a new one.
  • Share an outline of successful communication strategies to be employed prior to, during and after a consolidation to ensure community members, staff and students have the information they need to participate productively in the process.
  • Compile and share a list of suggestions on how to honour the legacies of closing schools in the new facility.
  • Distribute a sample parent guideline that demystifies the closing and consolidating processes and the impact on students and their programs and co-curricular activities.
  • Provide a sample of an inventory process to ensure the successful transfer and purging of resources and equipment during closing and opening experiences.

As the commentary under the Continue, Initiate and Eliminate categories in the foregoing sections of this case study suggest, there were certainly lessons learned from consolidation of OLA, PoP and OLG that could be helpful to other schools engaged in a similar transformation and amalgamation of very different school communities. Many of the strategies employed to successfully complete 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 lessen anxiety and concern and enhance the positive aspects of the experience for all concerned.

Some of the observations made by those interviewed in this case 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 and the creation of a new school community. These suggestions, in many ways, reflect the perspectives offered by the earlier case studies conducted in Durham DSB and in Algoma DSB that are referenced at the beginning of this case study. This similarity is only natural as some of the components of the closing, transition and consolidation experience are common to all situations where consolidations of different school communities occur. That said, some of the following recommendations arise from the advice and observations gleaned from this particular situation in SMCDSB.

Student, staff, parent, trustee and Board officials’ voices contributed to the conclusions/recommendations that are listed below:

  • Choose the leadership team for the new school carefully with an eye to the skill sets that will be needed both as schools close and as a new school community emerges from the consolidation.
  • Provide sufficient support for the Principal of the new school either in the form of temporary assistant staff or by relieving the Principal of his/her current duties for a period of time to ensure that the appropriate communication, planning and implementation of transitional tasks and initiatives can take place.
  • Create opportunities to celebrate successes, rituals and traditions of the original schools during the early days of the transition planning, in the opening welcoming of the different communities to the new school and throughout the first year of the new school’s operation. In this case, the bussing (in lieu of walking because of the weather) of all the students and staff together to the opening of the new school for a moving opening celebration and the formal cutting of a tri-ribbon made up of the three schools’ colours were repeatedly cited as an excellent launching of the solidarity of the new school.
  • Establish some permanent recognition of the closing schools’ history and achievements such as exhibits, awards or time capsules permanently installed in the new school.
  • Identify constructive ways to engage parents and community members who are thought influencers, and may have initially resisted the consolidation, in sharing information and leading planning activities within the communities whose schools will consolidate.
  • Establish a group/committee of representatives from the staff and communities of the closing schools that works ahead of the consolidation in the new facility. In this case, this would have been helpful during the transition year when the students were temporarily housed at Prince of Peace and during the first year of consolidation to ensure that a vibrant, faith based climate and culture acted as a unifier in the new school.
  • Facilitate the active engagement of representatives of the school councils of the closing schools in the research, design and implementation of the plans for the new school’s construction, program, co-curricular options and community connections and partners.
  • Seek staff input into the design features of the new school’s instructional settings and bring the respective staffs of the consolidating schools together in advance of the consolidation to engage in collective planning of instructional and assessment practices across the divisions of the new school to:
    • break down divisions among staff;
    • identify new or emerging student needs resulting from the consolidation, especially for students with exceptionalities
    • set the stage for a genuinely effective professional learning community in the new school
  • Design events and activities that bring staff and students to the new facility before the actual opening of the new school.
  • Where possible, avoid students having to move twice as the students of two of three schools did in this case.
  • Assign a liaison person at the Board’s central office who can be the first point of contact for the Principal to expeditiously address any problems or concerns and to facilitate the smooth execution of the transition plans.
  • Create a consistent monitoring and feedback process that ensures that all participants in planning and decision-making activities are advised of progress towards established goals or any change in plans along the way. This would be based on ample opportunities for all stakeholders to be provided with timely and accurate information from the formation of the PAC through the first few years of the operation of the new school. For example, in this case study, those who were consulted about the naming of the new school would have benefitted from information on how the decision was reached.
  • Use a school climate/culture survey after one year to discover how the consolidation has been received by staff, students and community members and to assist with any adjustments that may need to be made.
  • Identify, where possible, ways in which the closed facilities will be used or disposed of so there is clarity for all about the facilities in which they had been invested. Also, ensure that any resources or equipment purchased through the fundraising efforts of parents in the consolidating schools is transparently put to use and accounted for during the transition process.

Throughout this case study, individuals and groups from all three of the school communities, student bodies 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. The researchers met with some participants twice in order to ensure their full perspective was captured.

As mentioned earlier in this case study, it was generally agreed that efforts were made to provide relevant and emerging information to the students, staff and communities affected by this consolidation throughout the PAC process, during the transition and during the first year of the transition. It was widely acknowledged that Principal and Vice Principal working with the three schools during the transition year and in the early post consolidation days made a huge effort to communicate consistently and clearly with an open invitation to the community to become engaged in the life and culture of this new Catholic school.

There was a strong feeling that the specifics of the transition, particularly, the physical preparation for the move and the co-ordinating of some of the operational components of the consolidation would have been greatly facilitated by additional central assistance, or by small amounts of release time to ease the pressure of meeting student and staff needs while complying with necessarily tight timelines for the transition.

These recommendations above captured under the headings “Constructing the Way Forward” as well as the ‘Lessons Learned’ that have been described in the body of this case study are intended to assist other school districts and schools as they plan and implement school consolidations. It is hoped that an outcome of this case study will be that district school boards engaged in this kind of process can take away useful information about how to go about building a new Catholic school to become a welcoming home for consolidated school communities.

The researchers for this case study were aided substantially by the frank and insightful conversations of many stakeholders who participated with a spirit of transparency and co-operation. We are particularly grateful to retired Principal Paul Campbell who skillfully organized our meetings and graciously answered our many questions.

In the end, many people made this case study meaningful and helped us bring lived experience to the concept Irwin and Seasons were addressing in the following excerpt from their study on school consolidations:

“…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)

In the case of the new OLG Catholic elementary school in Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, it is clear that many players successfully interacted to bring the mission of SMCDSB to a new and dynamic school community. The best of three originating school communities contributed to the promise of an enhanced and rich learning environment for the students of the new OLG.

The new Our Lady of Grace elementary school celebrates and actualizes the Board’s mission to be an inclusive Catholic learning community, dedicated to excellence.

It is apparent when one visits the new school, now in its fourth year of operation, that the school lives the mission “to give witness to the teachings of Jesus Christ, on the journey in faith and learning, to develop the God-given abilities of each person."

In the passionate words of the Principal of the new OLG in his contribution to this case study:

“This has been a lot of work, but I feel like we have really become something special. Planning for an official opening and school blessing, and celebrating as a combined/united community, was the culmination of the hard work and reward for our efforts. Generally speaking, our staff is cohesive, our students are happy and our parents are engaged. What else could we ask for?" (Principal)

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Appendix A: School Consolidation Experience Study Interview Guide

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

Board Accommodation Review Policy/Process of the ARC

  1. When was it drafted?
  2. Who was involved in the drafting of the policy?
  3. How did Ministry guidelines (PARG) 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?
  8. Is the newly released “Guide to Pupil Accommodation Reviews” useful to you as you meet with communities?
  9. Communication: What was the communication plan to inform the public and specific stakeholders about the process and timelines of the ARC?
  10. 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 and afterward?
  11. 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?
  12. What specific recommendations did the ARC provide that proved to be particularly helpful in the development or implementation of the consolidation/reorganization plans?

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. [Note: Reinforce the primacy of the non-financial factors as the priority and focus of the study]… In terms of financial viability, what types of benefits and costs were considered as part of the decision-making process? (e.g. Benefits may include increased revenues or avoidance of decreased revenues and/or decreased costs or avoidance of increased costs)  How detailed and specific was this analysis? Was a forecast prepared estimating the overall cost impact of the decision to consolidate/reorganize?
  3. With regard to the overall financial impact of the consolidation/reorganization, were the forecasted benefits and costs assessed against the actual impact of the consolidation/re-organization? What were the most significant drivers of cost-savings? What additional/unexpected costs arose?
  1. 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, with whom was it shared, if at all?
  2. 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?
  3. How were members of the ARC chosen? How was the opportunity to participate as an ARC member made public?

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, Indigenous, 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, social experience, 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?1
    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. What were the lessons learned that could be applied to future ARCs and implementation of Board accommodation decisions?
  2. Stop – Continue – Start Exercise
    1. What would you recommend not be done in the future?
    2. What do you think would be essential to continue doing in the future?
    3. 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. What do you remember most about this time?
  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. What do you feel could have been done differently, if anything? Why? How?
  13. Stop – Continue – Start Exercise
    1. What would you recommend not be done in the future?
    2. What do you think would be essential to continue doing in the future?
    3. 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. What do you remember most about this time? How you did 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?
  13. Stop – Continue – Start Exercise
    1. What would you recommend not be done in the future?
    2. What do you think would be essential to continue doing in the future?
    3. 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?
  9. Stop – Continue – Start Exercise
    1. What would you recommend not be done in the future?
    2. What do you think would be essential to continue doing in the future?
    3. What would you suggest should be included in the process that was not part of this experience?

1 This question was omitted from the interviews as none of the schools involved in this SCES had child care facilities or early years’ programs.

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