KINTORE — They came for the food, but they didn’t head home after enjoying their dessert of home-made cupcakes. Instead, supporters of A.J. Baker Public School in Kintore — a sizeable number of them, anyway — proceeded into the school on Thursday, Sept. 26 to listen to and applaud their community counterparts delivering requests to keep the school open to members of the Thames Valley District School
Board’s (TVDSB) North West Oxford Accommodation Review Committee (ARC).
Setting aside an introductory gathering last spring, Sept. 26 marked the ARC’s first real meeting, and was preceded by a short tour of the Kintore school. Among four schools identified by administrative staff when the North West Oxford ARC was established, it’s the only one recommended for closure. And supporters have made it clear they won’t let it go down without a fight.
Members of the ARC — including members of the parent councils at each affected school, municipal councillors from Zorra and Thames Centre, and community representatives from each school catchment area — received bundles of information reports when they arrived at the meeting. They were instructed by Superintendent Barb Sonier to look over the reports in preparation for the next ARC meeting, Oct. 24 at Zorra Highland Park Public School near Embro.
Sonier then informed the meeting that she will no longer serve as the staff lead for the North West Oxford ARC. That job will now be passed to Scott Hughes, who recently retired as a TVDSB superintendent, and who has served in similar capacities in the past.
The Chair of the ARC, meanwhile, Oxford County trustee Graham Hart, could not attend the Sept. 26 meeting. He was replaced on an interim basis by the other TVDSB trustee from Oxford, Bill McKinnon.
Once these introductory matters were dealt with, the microphone was passed to a succession of 14 members of the public who had applied for and been scheduled by the TVDSB office to provide public delegations to Thursday’s meeting. Seated behind the presenters — politely, as requested by McKinnon, holding their applause until the end of each talk but then bursting out in boisterous appreciation once the presenters were finished — sat dozens of yellow-clad children, parents, grandparents and other community members.
Two Grade 3 students spoke, saying they fear getting separated from their friends if A.J. Baker’s students are sent to other schools. A trio of recent graduates — currently attending university or just starting careers — addressed the value of a small-school upbringing to their future education. More than one family name was repeated more than once in the list of speakers, giving the obvious impression that generations of A.J. Baker graduates want to see the school remain open.
Uniondale hog farmer Lisa Linton, whose Letter to the Editor appeared in last week’s Journal Argus, spoke about the threat of closure. “This is MY school,” she said, even though she didn’t graduate from there herself. “My heart aches to think of having this taken away from us.”
And St. Marys DCVI teacher Les Brunton, whose children go to school in Kintore, told ARC members about his own research into the elevated high school success rates of A.J. Baker graduates, compared to the provincial average.
“No cliques, no groups, just peers,” Linton said of the social benefits of small schools. “This is something I want for my (four) girls. Give the kids a rural education in their community. That’s what they deserve.”