No politics behind effort to save Parkview, organizers say

It’s being spearheaded in part by a candidate for school board trustee, but those involved in an effort to slow the closure of Parkview Secondary School insist the movement isn’t political.

It’s being spearheaded in part by a candidate for school board trustee, but those involved in an effort to slow the closure of Parkview Secondary School insist the movement isn’t political.

About 570 people have signed a petition to delay the closure of the 230-student vocational high school until a new solution can be found that keeps the programs and students in a school together. The school is scheduled to close in June.

Joanna St. Jacques started the petition. She’s the campaign manager for Larry Pattison, a candidate for Ward 3 trustee for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB).

But St. Jacques insists it’s not politics behind the petition. Pattison has been involved with Parkview well before his candidacy.

“We’ve been watching the Parkview thing unfold” for a while, she said.

We’re greatly concerned about the loss of the Parkview program. That’s a show stopper.- Steve Calverley

The petition asks that the HWDSB delay the school’s closure until the board can find a suitable location for another vocational school. The board plans to put the students in Delta or Mountain schools, then in a new inclusive north high school with a variety of students. The $32-million north high school is scheduled to open in 2016.

“Parkview students and families believe…that the inclusive model of schooling will not achieve the same standard of education that the children currently receive,” the petition reads.

Current Ward 3 trustee Tim Simmons is running for council in the same ward. The Sherman Hub neighbourhood group has invited him to speak at a Feb. 11 meeting at Parkview to answer questions about the transition of Parkview students to Delta and Mountain. Director John Malloy will attend too.

Members of the Sherman Hub attended the accommodation review meetings for Parkview, said Steve Calverley, chair of the Sherman Hub. They believed Parkview students would be moved to a “school within a school” — a separate area or wing of a larger high school.

Now the board plans to move them into a larger high school, minus the separate wing.

It hasn’t been successful for a large percentage of students.- John Malloy, director of education

“We’re pleased with a new secondary school in the neighbourhood,” he said. “But we’re greatly concerned about the loss of the Parkview program. That’s a show stopper.”

The board’s decisions aren’t new, Simmons said. The board voted in May 2012 to close Parkview. It voted in the fall to transfer its students to Delta or Mountain — also a vocational school — until the new school opens. Most of the students are choosing Delta.

'Things become politicized'

As for any potential politics in the issue, “things become more politicized” in election years, he said.

“I have to make sure that I stay focused on what’s important for the kids and what’s important for the families, and what’s important for the staff.”

Research shows that inclusive schools are better for students with special needs, who will have to deal with a diverse population when they graduate, Simmons said.

The board is dealing with each individual family on what they need, Malloy said. Parkview’s attendance and graduation rates are lower than the board wants, which shows that the vocational school model “it hasn’t been successful for a large percentage of students.”

Malloy said he’s not puzzled by the timing of the movement.

Students are 'the most vulnerable'

“Change is very challenging and I understand the parents’ concerns that they want their child safe and they want their children to be successful. There’s a fear that it’s not going to happen.”

The ideal, St. Jacques said, is to see the issue resurface at the board table. These students are “the most vulnerable,” she said. “They’re the ones who haven’t been able to speak for themselves.”

What was supposed to be a two-year transition for the students has been shortened to months. The board needs to demolish the Parkview and King George buildings by next year to build the new high school.

St. Jacques fears the board is rushing.

“We just need a small extension until we can figure something out for these kids,” she said. “If we slowed it all down just a hair, everything would be smooth sailing.”