My name is Natasha Cordick, and I am teacher at O.S.C.V.I. Last October, my initial reaction to the Accommodation Review was to support a 9 – 12 model. However, after thorough research, I'm here to speak against the current recommendation, and thus, support reconfiguring O.S.C.V.I. and WHSS into 7 – 12 schools, with French Immersion at O.S.C.V.I.

Research indicates that the optimum size for an elementary school is approximately 300 students, and approximately 600 - 800 students for a secondary school. Based on projected enrolment, the current recommendation would put well over 1200 students at WHSS (or over 1400 when using current enrolment) and between 800 – over 1000 elementary students at OSCVI (depending on how the grade 7/8 students are organized). This configuration results in movement away from the community school concept, and favours the development of mega-schools, a decision that may lead parents to seek out educational opportunities elsewhere.

Studies indicate that optimum sized schools are associated with more individualized attention, greateracademic achievement, a safer and more positive school climate, better working conditions, and increased participation in extra-curricular activities. Not only do students who attend such schools have better academic achievement, they score significantly higher on standardized tests particularly in math, reading, and writing. Conversely, large schools have lower academic achievement, and significantly higher drop out rates.

You're probably thinking "don't larger schools offer better programming?" Well, the research says not really. While more populous schools may offer more classes, they are typically more sections of the same classes that are already offered in smaller schools. While this does make timetabling easier, it doesn't actually provide more programming. In our case, combining the high school students at O.S.C.V.I. would result in the loss of auto shop and manufacturing, while combining the students at West Hill would result in the loss of specialized performance arts, tech, and greenhouse programs, and the loss of the most up to date high school facilities in Owen Sound. Therefore, the consolidation of all 9 – 12 students, at either site, would result in a loss of programming, including the loss valuable co-op opportunities, on the opposing side of town, for those students without a means of transportation.

With regards to extra-curricular activities, even though larger schools may offer more options, there are more people competing for available spots, thus fewer students have the opportunity to get involved. Small to medium sized schools have higher participation rates and a greater opportunity to participate in many different types of activities. Greater participation is linked to positive outcomes including increased self-esteem, higher achievement, fewer behaviour issues, improved attendance, increased sense of belonging and connectedness, and greater involvement in community activities as an adult.

Additionally, smaller schools engage a broader cross section of the student population, thus reducing racial and social isolation. This is particularly important for minorities, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, those with disabilities, and students with mental health issues. In smaller schools, these "fringe" students are more likely to be active participants in extra-curricular activities and to be involved in the school community as a whole. This greater involvement translates to a more inclusive and supportive community culture...one where there are fewer incidences of negative social behaviour and where "fringe" students don't fall through the cracks. On the other hand, schools with populations greater than 1000 have higher drop-out and expulsion rates, greater student alienation, and more behaviour issues including truancy, physical altercations, vandalism, theft, alcohol/drug/tobacco use, trafficking, profanity, verbal abuse of staff, and teacher absenteeism.

Compared to larger schools, students in optimum sized schools feel safer and report being more attached to their school. In such schools, students of all types are able to connect with one another and with caring adults that they know personally. Additionally, teachers report feeling more committed and connected to their work, report greater job satisfaction, and have a greater sense of responsibility for ongoing student learning. Thus, smaller schools facilitate greater relationship connectedness among all stakeholders, which similarly occurs in smaller communities like Owen Sound.

Many additional benefits could be incurred if we adopt the 7 – 12 model, including access to specialized resources for grade 7/8 students such as science labs and tech facilities; enhanced collaboration between elementary and secondary teachers; greater access to extra-curricular activities and the maintenance of the current BAA structure; reach ahead opportunities for gifted students; enhanced programming especially in the arts; leadership opportunities; and social development and autonomy.

The 7 – 12 model, which is common in many Ontario school boards, and worldwide, allows students to experience a gradual, supervised transition, which allows them to become familiar with teachers, staff, and the school environment before entering grade 9. Familiarity with the school culture results in fewer disciplinary issues, and strengthens the overall school community by fostering acceptance, cooperation, and positive relationships among students.

Adopting the 7 – 12 model would also maintain a public high school on the East Side of Owen Sound, prevent overcrowding, eliminate the need for a 5 period school day, maintain access to specialized resources intended for high school students, and allow both O.S.C.V.I. and WHSS to maintain their unique identities and preserve their heritage.

Furthermore, the 7 – 12 model, which could easily be implemented by September 2016, requires minimal restructuring. There would be no need to retrofit O.S.C.V.I. to make it suitable for K – 8 students; no need to build additions or add portables to accommodate students in over-populated schools; and, no need to close Sydenham, a well functioning community school that received an addition of state-of-the-art kindergarten and music rooms in 2010. Additionally, the 7 – 12 model would eliminate moving costs associated with combining two high schools, eliminate costs associated with maintaining an empty O.S.C.V.I. while it undergoes costly renovations; and, may eliminate the need to redraw boundaries (particularly if 9 – 12 FI was moved to O.S.C.V.I.).

When considering finances, it often appears that larger schools are more cost-effective on a per-student basis, however, this is an illusion. Funding formulas tend to conceal significant costs associated with larger schools, such as: increased drop-out rates, violence, and transportation costs; decreased achievement, and teacher satisfaction; and increased teacher absenteeism and turnover. All of these factors contribute to significant community costs that go far beyond the operation of a building. Therefore, all things considered, smaller schools are actually more cost efficient.

Education should not be treated like a business. Students are not a commodity, they are people with social, emotional, and educational needs. To focus solely on one need without the others, is to disregard the overall well-being of our students. While the 9 – 12 model may offer more sections of a particular subject, and perhaps even a marginal increase in programming, "an exhaustive course [calendar] is not a fundamental determinant of excellent education." To ensure excellent education for our students, we need to provide them with the best opportunities to grow academically, socially, and emotionally. We must educate the whole student, and that goes far beyond the sheer number of classes that a school can offer. We need to consider whether a marginal increase in programming is worth the loss of extra-curricular opportunities, individualized education and increased academic success; the alienation of students; higher drop-out rates, significant increases in busing, and increases in social and behaviour issues.

While change is necessary, I believe that the current recommendation is hasty and severe. The implications will be far reaching, not only for education in this school board, but for Owen Sound and Grey-Bruce as a whole. On the other hand, the 7 – 12 option is less aggressive, provides a solution to the problem of under-utilized space, could easily be implemented by September, and, perhaps most importantly, this option permits long term planning by ensuring flexibility. It allows schools to adapt to future population changes, alter grade configurations if necessary, and permits out of boundary students to access specialized programming in the Owen Sound area.

Trustees, regardless of what model you choose, please consider the following before making your decision:
What is the best option for the Owen Sound community, and Grey-Bruce as a whole?
What is the best option financially?
What option provides the necessary flexibility should there be changes in future populations?
What is the best option for the academic, social, and emotional needs of our students, both at the elementary and secondary level?
What option provides the greatest opportunity for involvement in extracurricular activities?
What option displaces the fewest number of students, and causes the least amount of transitional anxiety?
Does your decision put the needs and well-being of our students first?