Keep Vaughan Road Academy
Community to ask TDSB to stop plans to close Vaughan Road Academy
Public will weigh in on series of school reorganizations and possible closures causing anxiety for kids and parents
Photo: Sue Sneyd and her two boys Malcolm, 8, left, and Oscar, 10, are among those eager to keep Vaughan Road Academy open. Sneyd’s boys hope to attend the school, which is slated to close for good next June.
Vaughan Road Academy is more than a school to Sue Sneyd.
Her children, Oscar 10, and Malcolm, 8, went to the daycare on the premises of the Toronto high school, and still attend after-school care there.
They learned to swim in the pool, and they can see the playing field out their front windows.
Their great-grandfather taught and coached football at Vaughan Road. It’s where the boys figured they’d be teenaged students one day.
But in the last six months the family has been adjusting to a new reality — news that the 90-year-old school may close for good next June, which a Toronto District School Board staff report recommended this fall as a result of low enrolment.
“I’m a parent whose kids apparently won’t be going to Vaughan Road Academy,” says Sneyd. “I’m sad about it.”
She’s also part of an active neighbourhood group arguing that if the school does close, the board must keep the property and find partners to create a “vibrant community space” that could provide such services as health care, child care, fitness and teen programs which are desperately needed in the area.
On Wednesday, TDSB trustees will hear a parade of parents, students, alumni and others present their arguments about the fate of the high school — which superstar musician Drake once attended.
What happens to Vaughan Road is the most contentious piece of the five reviews of school clusters that are in various stages and will be on the table at the board this week.
In the next six years, more than 100 schools face possible closing or boundary changes as the board, under pressure from the province to sell assets and generate revenue and facing a $3.5-billion repair backlog, tries to reconcile its budget with the contentious and emotional issue of closing schools that are at the heart of neighbourhoods.
“This whole process throws the entire community into chaos,” says Elizabeth Cinello, who graduated from Vaughan Road almost 40 years ago and lives in the area.
Cinello plans to ask trustees to delay their Dec. 7 vote on whether to close the school, and at the very least let the current students stay until they graduate.
She and others opposed to the plan blame years of neglect from the board and the policy of optional attendance which allows students from the catchment area to travel further afield to schools like Forest Hill Collegiate, which are above capacity while Vaughan Road is only about 20 per cent full.
They say the decline in attendance led to even less investment in programming or facilities, which perpetuated the problem and now leaves teens who want to attend a school near home facing the prospect of having to go elsewhere.
Trustee Marit Stiles, whose ward is south of the school, will be among the trustees who she says “are going to be listening very carefully” to delegates on Wednesday. She stresses that while a staff report recommended closing the school, the decision has not been made.
If the school is slated for closure, the next step is for the board to determine what happens to the land, a process that would begin in the new year.
Sneyd and others argue that developing it as a community hub would benefit the neighbourhood and also safeguard the space in case demographics shift and there is a need for more high school space down the road, which some predict will happen in line with increased development already taking place.
Stiles notes that needs can change quickly and that some schools being considered for closure as recently as a couple of years ago are now growing again.
Urban planning expert Mitchell Kosny says while sometimes tough decisions have to be made, school boards and governments have a responsibility to do what they can to retain school assets for communities.
Schools are “the bricks and mortar that hold neighbourhoods together,” says Kosny, associate director of Ryerson’s school of urban and regional planning.
He says like roads and parks, “I don’t think they are commodities you liquidate, I really believe they are public assets.”
And once they are gone, he cautions, you can’t get them back.
Photo: (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR)
By ANDREA GORDON thestar.com Education Reporter
Wed., Nov. 16, 2016