Teach. Grow. Fly.
Alternative Education for those lost within existing educational structures
Concept drawings for the former Scott Park Secondary School.
Some of these thoughts below were born out of my early engagements with the Parkview Secondary School family back in 2013. Otherwise, visions for educational and architectural rebirth have mostly lived in the moments between the lines of the stories our lives tell where we are afforded an opportunity to dream.
I realize it’s the 11th hour; well maybe the 10th given we’re only 60 days into Phase I of HWDSB’s property disposition process. I know this building means a great deal to you. I only see it’s beauty and potential for continued educational use. You see years of service including the time you spent within its storied corridors. You learned, played, made lasting friendships, and fell in love within those walls. I know your affection because I feel the same for my Alma mater, Barton Secondary (Veritas Omnia Vincit), with years of learning miles left throughout. A facility that will also see the same fate in 2020 with the new Nora Frances Henderson planning to open its doors next fall.
I’ve hinted at thoughts of a future that sees Delta remaining public and what our dreams for INSE are, but given it’s a mixture of a public and private venture, I’ve been mostly silent on what we aim to accomplish with our endeavors. Not because we seek to build this entity alone or to even profit from our efforts. Perhaps it was just about being ready. Ready to be vulnerable. Ready to succeed or fail. Either way, now seems as good a time as any with assets like Delta towering empty in our neighbourhoods, to send dreams and ideas into the wind.
These have been our thoughts over emails, social media PMs, at the dinner table, on paper and floating scraps of verbal exchanges throughout the years. The end goal may look nothing like these initial concepts. Some of it may not be possible or even realistic, but we must start somewhere. Either way, I was taught early on to come forth with an idea, rather than pumping fists at the change you want others to solve, so here we are.
Part 1 – The Concept in Brief
(Part 2 – The Curriculum in Short)
First, let’s start by entering the same headspace by referring to this project as Parkview 2.0. Re-imagining Parkview as if it had been given the proper chance to grow and naturally and holistically spread its wings. Imagine that decision makers valued that concept and held it’s worth in high regards when discussing Tier 3 programming within our Boards.
When I muse ‘Let’s Buy A School’, I say this with no intention of personally owning anything. I believe in public education and public assets.
I’ve been on the inside of education so I also have great respect and admiration for what goes on behind the scenes of local learning in all of it’s forms from public, separate, private and homeschooling. We do not wish to trash, whether verbally or physically, any form of instructional learning in their current forms. We have simply seen a need for greater choice and wish to play a significant part in the development and delivery of alternative education.
Although our plan, like any business, has been to start small and build our model over time, with assets like Delta possibly passing us by, I also believe there is potential with a larger collective, to start big and just re-prioritize the order of concept development operations.
We have touched on the idea of community hubs in our first PSA, but while we are throwing existing educational mindsets out of the window, we’ll do the same when discussing business, community, and concepts like hubs. Of course, the definition of a hub, and the fact that the end goal is to ensure substantive community use and access to our schools, aligns with the concept we are proposing, however I will refrain from these terms to ensure we are clearly differentiating between what we’ve historically known and what we aim to define.
For the purpose of this PSA, I will use the term ‘Education Mall’ to describe our learning model which consists of a balance between education, seniors living, health and social services, the arts, trades, faith, and various commercial elements. Hence the term Education Mall. I ask that you don’t envision Limeridege, Eastgate, or Jackson Square because the plan is to structure this in a way that doesn’t see hundreds of cars circling the neighbourhoods we serve at any given time including any traditional start and end bell/clock times.
One of the issues I have with our school sites is their lack of after hours access and use beyond the roughly 6.5 hours they are active for bell time instruction. These are large assets within our neighbourhoods that could be serving so many other purposes beyond 8-4 instruction. To me, this is a highly unsustainable model and when we are talking vast decreases in the area of EA support over the years, recent online learning requirements, and increasing class sizes and the waterfall effect that that creates, it was important that we put a heavy focus on creative sustainable solutions so that we can greatly increase critical supports and programming options.
While we seek to build a model outside of current social-political boxes, it doesn’t mean we and any potential partners would not utilize funding and grants from varying ministries as one source of funding. At the end of the day, we are still providing education, health and social services. #provincial
While we are on the topic of provincial support, we would work with the ministry of education in an effort to develop a base education amount for students wishing to transfer completely/or partially from their existing boards to our institute, as it is our goal to deliver a curriculum mostly inline with current Ontario content. However, our delivery and timelines will differ with early focus on building emotionally and physically healthy youth, and moving to intellectual and community education when the individual is ready. I see funding increasing as our success is proven. This includes asking (not requiring), that all students check in through the years and allow us to capture the data of their success and struggles post secondary studies (B2Life), which hopefully with the love of learning we strive to instill in our youth, will be a lifelong connection to INSE and education as a whole. #OntEd
In an effort to become sustainable ourselves, we’ve also discussed how we can make our communities as a collective more self-sustaining. With our site being a mix of many entities, I envision a new property tax bracket being created. One that still offers a discount for the educational and health elements of INSE, yet other components like the housing and the commercial side would now finally create a tax base for a property as large as Delta’s with a plan to better utilize the entire property for commercial and community use. I am sure the thought of tax revenues from Delta has been welcomed by City staff in an age where Provincial funding is declining, and that any plan for Delta to remain institutional and not a contributing member of our tax base is frowned upon. We also hope that as they have supported some of our existing community initiatives already over the years, that that backing will continue with this project as well in some fashion. #municipal
As stated, we have great respect for what our coterminous educators and educational peers are doing so this is not an attack against current learning options in our communities. Rather, we look to complement what exists and ideally, inspire change where it could benefit the institutions that exist to educate our youth and people of any age really. One of the ways we envision partnering with local learning is through their existing Alternative Education streams, and imagining that some students would come to us for support like they might have with former Hamilton special schools like Parkview or Mountain, and return to their home schools should students and their families feel that is in their best interests. This would mean funding for the education of these students could come from the ministry through the local board. Maybe some of the amazing alternative education programs that exist across the city might find a place among us with assets like gyms, a cafeteria, and other elements that make students and staff feel like they are part of a slightly larger school community. I say slightly because smaller class sizes are crucial to our model. I also see us being a teaching school where educators, proprietors, and leaders come to learn about our best practices and how they can be worked into schools and even places of business. #LocalBoards
We see many of the rooms in our facilities run by small to medium-sized businesses therefore creating a mall-like atmosphere of coffee shops, a food court, storefronts selling the work of our students and professionals alike, an auto shop that runs out of the mechanic bays, night classes, after hours athletic, academic, and social clubs, community meeting spaces, and entertainment such as theatre arts, music, art installations, etc. We envision spaces that are priced based on our partners providing education related to their fields, and in turn having full use of the classes, spaces, and equipment for their business. These rooms would be open to those permitted in our facility during prime educational hours, and to the public in the evenings and on weekends where it fits the space. We also look to offer programming, learning, and entities like an animal sanctuary or play spaces that other boards, organizations, or the general public would use for school trips, team building or after hours activities for them and their family. What about animation, film, textile, or photography studios? A gym and daycare for staff, students and families. The possibilities are endless. #business
With this being a private entity at its root, those 14 and above would also work for INSE and our partners as would their caregivers, to help pay for part of their education as a way to teach our students and families the value and cost of education and also to encourage them to be involved in decision making at INSE in an effort to keep this sustainable and affordable for all. Co-op of course would be a larger focus for us so we would have a vast array of partners where our students would learn and hopefully eventually work for, meaning our partners are an important part of education, and our staff and our students deeply connected to business trends and local employment in general. It is our goal at INSE that the two have a great impact on one another. #employment
Partnerships of course are crucial for a space as large as Delta in many ways, including to ensure those who specialize in the various services we seek to offer are running the programming, doing the repairs, and inspiring the students to fall in love with or at least have great respect for the learning they are connected to. The relationships we create with our partners from the volunteers we supply, to the co-op programs we build together, are critically important to our growth and success. #partners
Community is at the forefront of everything we seek to accomplish so with this in mind, volunteering is the greatest element of our education and supports from our initiatives like Pumpkin Prowl, Icing Anxiety, and future programs, to that of our partners. Students and families will be required to volunteer so many hours as well from helping a student in need, in spaces such as our animal sanctuary, to cleaning a local alley or park. There are so many amazing things happening in our communities from park makeovers to helping repair a shelter so residents can move back in, and we want to play a vital role in connecting our students, their caregivers, and our staff to these wonderful programs that help make our city better, more beautiful, and more sustainable as well. #volunteers
We recognize concerns over after hours activity at Delta and at all schools with their dark nature and playground spaces, and barely lit buildings. We understand that the future of this site within your neighbourhood is important to you. At INSE, community is front and centre. Our goal is for the entire site to be something the neighbourhood and the city as a whole sees as a beacon of light both figuratively and literally. We seek to utilize every channel imaginable to ensure there is never a delay in hearing and acting together on any issues you may have. This includes constant updates as to what is going on at our institutions from the exterior of our sites, to programming inside. You are our most important partner because having a local school facility should be a valuable asset, not a detriment to the aesthetics of the landscape, a mystery of the amazing things that happen within community schools, or a mostly vacant structure that you should have constant connection to. Lights on. Let’s brighten up the night. #community
Of course, none of our ideas are set in stone. They are all simply a collection of thoughts over the past 6 years and a starting point for a discussion on the evolution of the assets we’ve lost and those that will follow. These concepts are also not entirely new either as I have opined about the possibilities of Parkview 2.0 as far back a 2014 in an effort to save the then soon to be closed Parkview and Mountain Secondary Schools here in Hamilton.
To conclude, it all starts with education, and it is the hope that through this incubator of birth to life education and supports, that what we create together acts as a catalyst for municipal, provincial, federal, and global sustainability change. #you
Everything is possible, until it isn’t. Then, it’s about the knowledge we gained. What others learned from our efforts. How it prepared us for the next battle because there will always be that next challenge; until we are gone. Even then, whether it’s over months or a few brief moments, there will be that final struggle with ourselves about what we stood for. What fear stole from us. How silence or words regretted sit with our fading soul. The gifts and joy those leaps of faith brought us. Did we love and believe in ourselves? #noregret