Faced with new and shifting challenges serving areas outside of London, the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) is launching an online survey with a focus on rural schools.
Arlene Morell chairs the TVDSB and also chairs the board’s rural education task force, which was formed last year.
She said the board, which only a few years ago had falling student enrollment, is now dealing with a sharp upswing in demand for student spaces in certain rural areas.
“Over the past few years, we’ve become a board of growth,” she said. “But we have pockets where we still have significant empty people places and pockets or our urban and rural centres where we have incredible growth and portables at schools.”
Morell said some of the rural centres outside of London are seeing sharp growth in demand for school spaces.
She said Ilderton, located about 20 kilometres northwest of London, is one place where demand for school space is growing as new subdivisions are built.
Complicating this is a moratorium on school closures imposed by the province in July 2017. This means the board has to keep operating schools where enrollment is falling while also providing service where it’s surging. Morell said it helped that the moratorium came with extra funding from the province for rural schools, but she said meeting the service needs as the demographics shift is complex.
“We would be pleased to work alongside the minister to influence the policies that would allow for the lifting of the moratorium but also recognize the importance of rural schools,” she said. “Especially in single-school communities.”
Marcus Ryan is a parent who opposed the closure of A.J. Baker Public School by the Board in 2014. He’s also an Oxford County councillor, the mayor of Zorra Township, and co-chair of the board’s rural education task force.
“While the province does provide some financial support for rural schools, Ontario’s school funding formula may need to change completely to relieve pressure on Boards to close rural schools,” he said.
Survey will happen online
With in-person consultation not possible due to COVID-19, the survey will be conducted using Thoughtexchange, an online platform that gathers input from participants.
Those who take the survey will be asked to answer this question: “What are the unique challenges and opportunities of our TVDSB rural schools, and how do you think we can enhance the rural school experience?”
The survey can be accessed by navigating to the Rural Education Task Force website at www.tvdsb.ca/RETF and clicking on the survey link.
The survey will go live on Monday before coming down on Dec. 14.