Five local schools to become four

Five local schools are half empty, one will close, but which one should it be?

An accommodation review committee report has recommended that Arlington Middle School be shut down while JR Wilcox, Cedarvale, Rawlinson, Humewood elementary schools all expand from grades 6 to 8.

Board staff will make its own recommendations and trustees will vote on this issue at the end of June.

Meanwhile, Arlington school council chair Robin Fraser is pushing everyone to rethink their decision.

“My person opinion, I am little confused about the recommendation because Arlington has the best facility,” said Fraser, who has a son at the school. “It has a larger gym, auditorium, a lunch room, science labs, a music room.”

It’s also right on Cedarvale park with a baseball diamond, soccer and football fields and a ravine, she added.

Her solution is to keep the 1971-built Arlington and close 90-year-old JR Wilcox instead.

“Our thinking was bring Wilcox over to Arlington,” said Fraser, a member of the accommodation review committee.

The main drawback for Arlington is if it shifted from a middle school to include JK to grade 6, it would need a playground.

Arlington Principal Andre Patterson took the Town Crier on a tour of the school and pointed out all the attributes that parent Fraser mentioned.

He also indicates the main floor art room could become a kindergarten and with the addition of a doorway and steps, it could open up onto the parking lot.

Fraser, an interior designer, envisions that parking lot turning into a playground instead.

But as Patterson points out the board doesn’t own that parkland, they city does.

But beside the fact Arlington doesn’t have any land around the school, it has a lot to offer within it, he said.

“Because of our International Baccalaureate program we have kids from 25 different schools,” he said.

The program not only attracts junior high students from local elementary schools but also from Markham and Woodbridge as well, he said.

Despite Arlington’s attributes, enrollment is on the decline with about 240 kids this year, which is 46 percent of capacity. So principal Patterson sympathizes with the school board’s challenges.

“We can’t have half empty buildings and say we are doing the best for kids,” said Patterson.

St. Paul’s school trustee Josh Matlow said closing Arlington school is a reasonable recommendation.

“JR Wilcox and Arlington are around 50 to 60 percent capacity. Humewood is around the same. Something had to change,” he said.

“We are funded with a formula per pupil. Schools that are half empty get half the resources and teachers.

“I am convinced it’s the right thing to do,” said Matlow. “For us to continue with the status quo with resources so thinly spread across Toronto when we are aware we have 100 schools that are half empty is irresponsible.”

The five local schools range from 46 to 58 percent full and by 2018 they will be at about 52 percent capacity if nothing changes, according to school board documents. If the board votes to close Arlington, the city would be among those given first dibs to purchase the building.

“My hope is the city considers creating a community recreation centre there,” said Matlow.