Last night, the Board of Education finalized their decisions to close four schools and to reconfigure many more.
Make no mistake. There are many in our communities who are grieving this morning.
You have likely heard the mantras “programs before buildings” or “teachers teach kids, buildings don’t teach kids” in the past few months, if not the past number of years. To be honest, I have used both phrases myself. While I agree with these phrases, neither fully takes into account all of the feelings and memories that come with the closing of a school.
I have never worked in a school that has been closed, so it has been difficult for me to understand how someone who has worked in or attended a school for a very long time would be feeling today. I have never stayed in a position or at a school for more than four years. Because I have moved around the district and have had many different types of educational experiences, I have gotten used to change. Change has certainly never been easy, but it’s gotten easier.
As I have spent a great deal of time thinking about these possible school closures over the past months, I have tried my best throughout the process to think about people. When operational decisions are being made, it is extremely important to not become completely task-oriented and forget about the students, staff members, and their families who will be impacted by such decisions. It’s not that I’m heartless, hopefully the opposite. It’s just that empathy is more difficult when we are unable to truly see a situation though someone else’s eyes.
In the midst of that thought process, something suddenly struck me that gave me a much better understanding. It happened when I started to think about a building that is important to me.
I started thinking about my house. Our family has lived in the same house for nearly fourteen years. My second of four children was a few weeks old when we moved in. Essentially, my children have spent most of their growing-up years in that house. My kids have learned to walk and talk there. Umpteen teeth have been lost and subsequently hidden under pillows. Many mini-sticks championships have been played in the basement. If we ever moved or something happened to our house, our family would seriously grieve the loss of our house. Of course, our family would still be a family, but it would never be quite the same again, and every time we drove by that house for the rest of our lives, there would be a tinge of sadness associated.
It’s important to add one more item to the equation. How would we feel if someone else made the decision for us that we needed to leave our house, and we had very little control over that situation? Sure, they might ask us how we were feeling about the potential loss of our house. They might ask us if we had some viable alternatives to leaving our house, but in the end, a third party decided that we would be leaving our house.
With the Board’s decisions now being official, many of our colleagues, friends, and neighbours are being told they need to leave their “houses”. In some cases, their “families” may be dispersed. In these cases, it’s not reasonable to expect that these changes will be easy. For many teachers, teaching is more than a job. It is an identity and a life calling. If you have been carrying out that life calling in one location for many years, a move will be very difficult.
I have said to many who have asked over the past week, including members of the media, that I am “happy” the process is over. In no way do I step back from those sentiments. The consultation process is not a fun one for anyone. While I am certainly not happy about the need to close schools, I am indeed looking forward to moving to the next stage. Consultation processes, by their very nature, can be extremely acrimonious. No one whose school is slated for possible closure is ever going to shake your hand and say thanks.
As we head into the implementation process, there is much to be excited about. When students and staff enter new schools, that fresh energy can be extremely invigorating. I am very confident that students who will now be transitioning into a new situation will be moving into very good schools.
With configuration changes coming to all of our secondary schools, there are opportunities to look seriously at how we provide that education. With big changes come big opportunities. There is much to do in a few short months, but there are many who are already asking how they can be involved in crafting what lies ahead.
While the offering of educational programs needs to be a well-run business, people need not be trampled in the process. Whether pleased or not with the educational and operational decisions that were made last night, we need to remember all of those who are grieving a loss as we move forward.