At the last minute, the School Board has reneged on its promise to transition Parkview Principal Paul Beattie to Mountain Secondary, where Parkview students are attending while a new North high school is under construction.
By Ryan McGreal
Published August 29, 2014
Parkview Secondary School on Balsam Avenue (right across from the new Pan Am stadium) has been a special community in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) where high school students with learning disabilities enjoyed a safe, welcoming, inclusive and respectful culture.
Led by Principal Paul Beattie, the school boasted a number of innovative programs to support learning, including a partnership with Mohawk College to teach trade skills and pave a path to postsecondary education, a free breakfast and lunch program, and a sustained campaign to destigmatize the school and sustain a culture of respect and inclusion.
The HWDSB Trustees voted to close Parkview, demolish it with King George School behind it, and build a new consolidated high school on the combined site that will also take students currently attending Delta and Sir John A MacDonald schools.
The Board is also buying back the nearby Scott Park property, which it sold to a developer just a few years ago, to demolish the building and turn the site into a 165-spot parking lot.
The Parkview students will also end up in the new school, but in the meantime they have to attend one of the remaining schools while the new north school is built.
The Board maintains that students attending Parkview will do better in an integrated school that is big enough to offer a variety of targeted programs. However, many parents worry that the issues their children struggled with before they found Parkview - the bullying, anxiety and alienation that drove them to Parkview in the first place - will resume.
After a great deal of consternation over where the students attending Parkview would end up, the Board decided to allow Parkview students to attend Mountain Secondary, a vocational high school near Mohawk and Upper James (and is also slated for closure, along with Barton Secondary and Hill Park Secondary).
In addition, Principal Beattie was going to transition to Mountain Secondary to provide continuity for the Parkview students. But with just a few days to go until the new school year begins, that is no longer going to happen.
A concerned parent of a Parkview student wrote the following letter to Education Director John Milloy. It is reprinted (edited slightly) with the author's permission.
I am writing to you to remind you of a conversation we had in February 2014. You, [Superintendent] Peter Joshua and Mr. Beattie met myself and the two School Council Chairs at Parkview. At this meeting you assured us you were listening to the voices of the students and parents of Parkview students.
You told us you couldn't give us the building but it was within your power to give us Mr. Paul Beattie as the new Principal for Mountain School and would endeavor to move as many teachers as possible that would like to move to Mountain.
We believed you. We thought you truly understood the needs of our students. Our students need Paul Beattie as Principal of Mountain Secondary School.
Transitioning to a new school is a huge deal to our children. I guess that only someone who has watched our children suffer in the school system can truly understand what Parkview and the staff means to our kids. I mistakenly thought you were trying to understand.
Since your announcement in February to parents, students and staff at Parkview we have been under the impression that Mr. Beattie would be leading the students as Principal at Mountain.
On August 28th at 5:44 PM, the families of students of Mountain Secondary School heard from an automated voice message that Mr. Beattie would not be the Principal of Mountain. This is just is 5 days prior to the start of school. If you had no intention of having Mr. Beattie be the Principal at Mountain why didn't you tell us months ago so we could prepare our children?
My son suffers from severe anxiety and a developmental delay and needs time to process things. I could have been trying to help him adjust to the change over the summer and now the HWDSB has dropped a bomb on the lives of our children.
The HWDSB automated voicemail talks about helping our children make a smooth transition. Well so far it's been horrible so if this is the Board's idea of supporting our children we are all in trouble!
I and many parents from Parkview spent many days this past week dealing with the Board in regards to transportation to the new school. Another promise made by the Board at the North Transition Meetings at which I was a member, was that our children would receive the same quality of transportation as they received going to Parkview.
Imagine our surprise when we received notification from the Transportation Department that instead our children would be going on a big school bus with kids from other schools and having to walk to bus stops away from their homes. This may not be an issue for students without special needs but to our children this is a big problem.
I cannot comprehend how and why the HWDSB decided to go back on their word. I told my son in February that the Board listened to the students and that they have voice and it was an important life lesson for our special needs children to learn that they can make a difference in their own lives by advocating for themselves. I guess this in fact isn't true.
What a terrible life lesson for me to learn!
The students from Parkview all have special needs and Mr. Beattie knew every single child and knew how to help them be successful. He would have embraced the students that were already at Mountain and gotten to know each and every one of them as he knows our children.
This new Principal that has been assigned does not know anything about our children. Having a background in Special Education does not automatically mean he can relate to our kids.
I can tell you that thanks to the bombshell the HWDSB dropped tonight I have a child that is devastated. I don't know if I will be able to get him to go to school on Tuesday.
Instead of setting our children up to succeed, the HWDSB has set them up for a big fall. All over the Board website it says "Students achieving their full potential". You have the power to do this for our children by rectifying this situation by standing by your word and returning the leadership of Mountain Secondary School to Mr. Paul Beattie.
Please do the right thing!
I have absolutely no doubt the HWDSB has reasons for all of its actions and can point to various processes to justify every decision. The obvious problem - the problem that manifests to anyone who lifts their head out of the myopic thicket of policy - is that the outcomes of those decisions are harming vulnerable students and their families and communities.
The school accommodation review process is broken, but at a more basic level the governance and bureaucratic culture of the HWDSB is mired in a deep malaise of secrecy, defensiveness and top-down authoritarianism.
Instead of serving as agents of their communities to the Ministry of Education, the Board has fallen into the trap of doing the dirty work for the Ministry, foisting unpopular decisions on constituents who are losing their neighbourhood schools and resources.
The same organization that cooked the Education Centre evaluation process and torpedoed a joint task force so they could flee the downtown core to a suburban office park - the site of another shuttered school for students with special needs - has also been complicit in the neglect and closure of far too many schools in already-vulnerable neighbourhoods.
In the face of all this, a minor staffing decision about where to place a Principal barely seems worth mentioning - except that students experience their education in physical spaces and through interactions with people.
Teachers and principals are not fungible commodities that can be swapped in and out. They are individuals with unique qualities who develop personal relationships and can make an enormous difference in the lives of students - especially students with developmental delays, anxiety disorders and behavioural challenges, for whom even modest changes can have big impacts.
The small betrayals, in the case of Parkview, are merely a reflection of the larger ones. Trust erodes and engaged, passionate citizens discover that they can't make a difference after all, thus undermining the most fundamental goal of public education in a liberal democracy.
Monday, October 27, 2014 can't come fast enough.