Jenny Guth’s son Levi is only in junior kindergarten this year, but she’s already thinking about where he’ll go to high school.
Guth (pictured above), along with several other parents in the area, are planning events and activities this fall to ramp up pressure on the Ontario Government to fund a new public high school for Stittsville.
“There were many parents who said that when they moved to Stittsville many years ago, they were told that a school was on the horizon, yet many of their children were never even going to see it by the time they reached high school age,” said Guth.
Parents have been pushing for a new public high school in this community for at least a dozen years. Currently, public high school students are bused to South Carleton High School in Richmond, Ontario. Catholic high school students attend Sacred Heart on Abbott Street, or Holy Trinity on Katimavik Road in Kanata.
Last year, there were approximately 500 Stittsville students at South Carleton, representing about 40% of the school’s population. The school is 12 kilometres away (measured from Stittsville and Main Street to the school), with buses costing around $1.2-million per year.
The OCDSB identified the need for a high school in Stittsville as early as 2006, but funding has never been approved by the Ontario Ministry of Education.
Many parents resort to switching their kids to the Catholic system, so that they can attend a high school closer to home. Catholic board trustee John Curry recently estimated that 10-15% of students at Sacred Heart were former public system students. Based on current enrolment numbers, that could mean up to 250 former public students are attending Sacred Heart.
A new school, if approved, would likely be built somewhere in the new Fernbank subdivision, on land that’s already been reserved for a school.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SO FAR
- Each year, the Ministry of Education asks all school boards to submit a list of “capital priority” projects for funding. These can include new schools or renovations of existing schools.
- In September 2013, a group of parents made a presentation to OCDSB trustees in an effort to move the Stittsville high school higher up on the board’s capital priority list. This presentation was followed by a letter-writing campaign to Ontario MPPs.
- Trustees ended up ranking a Stittsville high school as the #4 capital priority for the board. In March 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Education approved funding to build or renovate seven schools in Ottawa, but that list did not include a high school for Stittsville.
- The high school is now #2 on the board’s priority list. In August, the Ministry of Education asked school boards to submit requests for funding on projects that support overall reductions in school space — in other words, projects that adapt or close existing schools, rather than building new ones. So a new high school in Stittsville would not meet the criteria.
- The opportunity for the school board to submit requests for new schools is expected to come later this year or early in 2015.
- If a public school board is approved in early 2015, it would take at minimum two years to get it built, so the earliest it could accept students would likely be in September 2017. (But that’s a best case scenario.)
- In the meantime, the OCDSB is working to create a more “transparent and objective process for identifying and prioritizing capital needs”, according to Lynn Scott, the trustee for our area.
- Trustees will be discussing this new process at a meeting on September 16, and the public is invited to comment on the proposed policy. You can read the document here.
- We asked each of the four candidates for public school trustee in this area about the issue. Sue Grant, Andrea Ingham and Lynn Scott all strongly supported funding the public high school. The fourth candidate, Todd Johnson, did not respond before our deadline.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- If you want to get involved in helping to get a public high school built in Stittsville, there’s a Facebook group set up to share information: https://www.facebook.com/publichsnow
- The group is planning a town hall meeting later this fall to bring parents up to speed on the process and come up with ideas for another round of lobbying.
- “Join the Facebook page, get on our email list. Write to the Minister of Education, our MPP, our councilor, our trustee, our mayor, and tell them your own personal story as to why we need a public high school in Stittsville,” said Guth. “Do not give up and do not back down – we are so close!”
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the Stittsville public high school issue – or any other school issues that are affecting you. Please add them to the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org