Finding the pluses in the closing of two high schools - there are some.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

June 8th, 2017



There were no happy faces at the Halton District School Board offices this morning.

miller-stuart-onlineThe Director of Education had to look away during part of our interview with him this morning – the last nine months have been hard and “there were decisions to be made that were necessary” said Miller.

Stuart Miller wasn’t having all that good a day. He said he didn’t sleep all that well when he got home. The Board staff met for a short period of time after the marathon meeting; they knew what had to be done and for them the hard work had just begun.

Miller was appointed the Director of Education in October of 2015. At the time he was the Associate Director of Education and had been with the HDSB for all of his career except for a period of time when her served as a volunteer overseas

He started as a classroom teacher and worked his way up the ladder. He was at one point the vice principal of a school that he came to realize had to be closed – Lester B. Pearson high school which had more than 1000 students when he was there.

Miller with students Mar 7-17During his interview for the job he was asked by the trustees that hired him what the really pressing issues were and “I told them at the time that there were serious problems with the way French Immersion was being handled and that a Program Accommodation Review was necessary because at the time there were more than 1500 empty classroom seats in the seven Burlington high schools.

Miller’s job was to solve those problems. He produced a staff report with a recommendation that called for the closing of Central high school and Lester B. Pearson high school. That report called for a Secondary school Program Accommodation Review (PAR).

Miller prep at CentralThe recommendation was accepted and the PAR began in October of 2016. The decision to hold the PAR was made by the trustees and it was evident to the trustees then that school closures were a very real possibility – but the general public was not forewarned.

The creation of a PAR means the creation of a PARC a committee that looks into all the options and serves as the official channel between the Board and the parents. Each school nominated one parent and the Board staff selected an additional parent from those who expressed an interest in serving. Those 14 people had no idea what they had gotten themselves into.

The met on seven different occasions for meetings that went well into the night. As a group they were not able to arrive at a consensus on any one recommendation. They sent five back to staff and said these were worth additional thinking.

Central, Pearson and Bateman were now on the recommended list. Not closing any of the schools was also on the list.

With Central and Bateman recommended for closure it was clear that there was a serious battle shaping up – both schools would not be closed – it was one or the other.

After hours of debate the trustees decided on closing Bateman and Pearson – but moving the Bateman closing to 2020.

With the decisions made the work of healing the hurt that parents were feeling and assuring them that the promises made were real and would be delivered had to begin.

Board staff did not visit the schools this morning. “It was time for the school principals to begin working with their staff and prepare for the changes that were going to take place” said Miller.

Miller knows people are hurting “this isn’t what I got into education to do” he said. And he adds that while right now the attention is on the school closings there were some very positive decisions made. There are now going to be two composite school in the city – one in the North –M.M. Robinson and Nelson high in the south.

Composite high schools are by their very nature big enrollment schools. They are there to offer every program available in the Halton system. “We wanted every student to attend a high school in their part of the city” they won’t necessarily be walkable to schools but they won’t be on the other side of the city either.

Composite high school will offer every possible program – for those in the Community Pathway programs to those in the International Baccalaureate Program.

When the PAR process began we weren’t thinking about the creation of composite schools – they will become a very strong part of the high school set up in Burlington, said Miller

Hammil + MillerThere will also be a “magnet” school, an awkward word for a school with a specific purpose that the Gazette will report on in more detail later.

There is another change in the wind and that is the change that will take place at Nelson high school. A name change is a distinct possibility; that may be the price the Bateman parents demand for losing their school.

More to the point though is the cultural change at Nelson will undergo.

The students from Bateman are both culturally and socially much different than what Nelson is today. The influx of these students is going to have a huge impact on the current Nelson culture.

The big thinkers on the Board staff think this merging of cultures is a good thing and will result in a stronger more diverse school. They had better be right. It is going to take an exceptional principal to make that happen.

Stuart MillerOur interview was in the forenoon – for Stuart Miller it was going to be a sad, reflective day. A decision that had to be made had been made – his task now was to make sure the healing took place and that the near term result was a parent community that was able to come together and make the best of what was ahead of them.

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18 comments to Finding the pluses in the closing of two high schools – there are some.

  • Sharon

    First of all, there are several students that are at Bateman that live in the Central Catchment. One parent told me when she moved into the area and took her child to Central they told her they couldn’t take him because of his IEP and take her child to Bateman.
    I have no doubt that MMR will make sure their Special Need students are taken care of. They already do.
    Second of all Bateman lost students when Haydon was built. Students that lived in Millcroft and The Orchard came to Bateman.
    Haydon killed Bateman and Pearson and the Board knew that was going to happen when they built Haydon. Pearson was down to 1 and 1/2 feeder schools and Bateman was down to 1/2. Haydon has 7. And you expect schools to survive? They were starved. I only wish I had seen the writing on the wall before now.

  • Sharon

    The only ones that agreed with Miller’s recommendation and think all the Trustees did a fabulous job are Central, which we, unfortunately, we had to hear again on Wednesday night as a delegation. It’s funny how fast people’s opinions change when they are no longer on the block. I’m quite frankly so happy that I will never have to see another smug face of Central. And I hope none of the Central community has to have the experience of having a special needs child because I would be scared of how that child would be treated in your community. Oh, wait! I know segregated.
    I don’t care what anyone says this whole process what manipulated. One day Central will get the bullet they can’t dodge it forever. Been lucky 3 times now the fourth might not be.

    • Colleen A

      Sharon, I’m not part of the Central community. I have 3 children on the autism spectrum, 2 in elementary school, one at Hayden. I am honestly sorry that Pearson & Bateman are going to close. Having said that, your anger has blinded you to anyone else’s experiences except your own. I am sure, that like Hayden, Central does have special needs students. Students that require IEP’s, resource support & EA’s that work with them. And I can assure you, they are not ‘segregated’. They are given all the supports they need to succeed, as I’m sure will happen at Nelson & MMR when the time comes. You know how I know that? Because I am sure that the same passion & creativity that went into advocating for Bateman, will also be at work when these students go to their new schools.

    • John

      I’m not from Central nor have I ever been. This was the logical decision and that’s why you saw 10-1 and 8-3 votes. I do think Pearson had a better chance of staying open since Hayden is overcrowed but these issues are so much more complicated than boundary changes.

      • Tom Muir


        Well said continued hyperbole.

        It’s like I said – Playful Provocateur.

        Looks like your new hobby.

        Good bye.

  • Cindi

    As a Pearson parent I think the boundaries should have been to balance the numbers and redistribute kids into neighborhood schools for a return to walkable schools. Hayden is far too populated and pulling numbers from boundaries too close to Pearson and MMR. The plan, as I understood it, was that Hayden had a projected “fill date” when it was built based on the new housing created there and the median ages of children in the area. Now there are kids being bused there? Portables? Seriously? These administrators talk community of which there is none.

  • John

    Absolutely right Colleen. The Director and Staff answered all questions incredibly well and thoroughly for anyone who was listening with an unbiased ear. This was absolutely the right decision and I live in an area where my kids school was not at risk of closing so the outcome was irrelevant to me in that regard. All things considered, this was the best option for Burlington. The Director and Staff were all incredibly thoughtful and knowledgeable and the Trustees were engaged and all worked extremely hard as well. They should all be commended for their dedication and hard work and it’s sad that they have to be subjected to this vitriol being spewed at them.

    • Tom Muir


      They answered none of my questions and I asked quite a few. So I had nothing to listen to.

      They went out of their way to obstruct my FOI, which they forced, instead of, as you say, answering all questions incredibly well and thoroughly.

      None of the trustees engaged with questions and information directed at them from me, and I provided a lot.

      At the 11th hour, on Wednesday, two trustees emailed me to complain that they didn’t like my last written delegation. After 8 months they have nothing else to say?

      I reported on all of my experience with this in the Gazette. I know you read it all. I could go on and on. Where were your comments then?

      This is not vitriol, just the truth of what I saw and experienced. A great majority of people seem to think the same way.

      This comment of yours is a Trump-worthy string of complete fabricated BS and disingenous fiction. You really do not know what you are talking about when it comes to the experience and views of a great many others.

      I’ve seen several others on Meed Ward’s newsletter with the same experience and views of you, calling you out in a similar way.

      You sound like a shill.

      • John

        Gee, I wonder why they didn’t answer your questions Tom, you seem like such a level headed and friendly guy. And I have no idea what you’re talking about, I haven’t read anything you’ve written??? Anyway, what I meant was they answered all questions and addressed all issues incredibly thoroughly that the trustees needed information on. I’m not saying they answered each and every one of every resident’s questions, that would be impossible. Also, I’m not part of Central and have no connection to them whatsoever nor have I ever read or commented on Marianne Meed Ward’s newsletter. Funny how it’s assumed I have a certain bias when I actually have none whatsoever.

        • Tom Muir


          Sorry if I may have thought you were someone else.

          But you still use hyperbole, and provide no basis in facts to support the board “answering all questions and addressed all issues incredibly thoroughly”, and all the other board praise of similar form and exaggeration. Sounds like BS to me.

          And if you have no idea what I’m talking about and haven’t read anything I’ve written, or Meed Wards newsletter, then, as I said, you have no idea what you are talking about on the views of pretty much most people on this matter who have also written here.

          Or even what the board has or has not done.

          You are just playing with everyone. I’m most sorry for falling for it. As the saying goes, BS baffles brains. Congratulations.

          Give us a break.

          • John

            Because I’ve never heard of a newsletter or read what you’ve said in the comments section of a website, that means I have no idea what I’m talking about? You really think you’re important.

            I’ve watched this process since it started out of general interest for my city, watched every meeting and read every board report that was released. I’ve also spoken with many neighbours and friends across Burlington over the past few months and that is how I’ve based my opinion. I think I’ll stick with that rather than some random newsletter or the comments section of some website.

            I’m sorry if you disagree with my opinion but there is no need to hurl insults about my intellect or accusations about how or why I’ve formed my opinion. I also did not mean for my post to read as a point proof essay with supporting references and footnotes, so I’m sorry it lacks the detail you’re looking for. I was simply stating my general opinion on the comments section of a website. I think you need to chill out and find a new hobby.

    • Colleen A

      Thank you John, that’s exactly what I thought as well.

  • Keely

    My daughter is in the same boat! They are not putting any improvements into MM Robinson as they are with Nelson. They are just plopping our children into an old school that was built in 1963 and has not been properly maintained over the years. Our school trustee didn’t even recommend a later closing date for the graduates of 2019.

    We are all in shock still from their horrible decision.

  • Cassandra

    My daughter will not in anyway Benefit from this “composite school” In order to take all these amazing courses you say will be available you have to have the prerequisites, which moving in her senior Grade 12 year from Pearson to MM she will not have, if anything this will disrupt, and be socially awkward for these vulnerable children. They will they be uprooted from their neighborhood school that they could walk to, and sent 3km away and expected to walk. Realistically 6km daily in the winter will not be happening instead we will flood the roads with cars, so much for the environment. Your composite school idea is not what Pearson students need especially in their last year of school. So many options were suggested, yet you need we will en took those ideas into consideration. Shame on you for even suggesting you had the children’s best interest in mind.

  • Colleen A.

    Finally, a human perspective on the other side of this issue. It’s amazing what you can find out when you have a conversation with someone instead of hurling out baseless accusations and rude assumptions. This was an extremely difficult decision to make and I think Stuart Miller, the trustees & the board staff all conducted themselves beautifully.

    • Steve Atkinson

      Hahaha! Thats’ a good one Colleen !!

      • Colleen A

        Thanks for proving my point.

        • Tom Muir

          As I said in these spaces, right at the start, hoping to get parents organized to fight and make me wrong, the decision was already made with Miller’s first report.

          From that day forward it was not difficult at all, except to go through the steps with the PARC to get to the confirmation of the ordained decision to close 2 schools, at the end of the PAR.

          The process the Board chose to get to the end was the source of the conflict and crisis. What else did you expect with the arena fight it out to see who was to die.

          I talked to Miller for an hour back in February, and while he was personable enough, it was evident that he wanted to eliminate those surplus seats in no uncertain terms. From that phone call forward, he refused all contact with me.

          He did say at that time, that he felt he didn’t want to close a downtown school – Central – but they had 300 empty seats. So from that conversation, I was not surprised when he changed his mind.

          From what I saw, all the communication with the public was orchestrated to direct things to the already made decision.

          So how people caught up in this were supposed to act otherwise than they did, as you are critical of, is hard to say.

          I remember a lot of people telling us here that the decision was already made, in the early days, but I didn’t want to be cynical, so like a lot of others I put in some work to fight that.

          They were right and I was wrong, big time.

          You are entitled to your opinion on the performance of the HDSB as a whole, but I was on the front lines the whole time, in my own way, and let me tell you that you are completely wrong.

          This was one of the most terrible experiences with an authoritarian bureaucracy, abusing its power, and possessing complete lack of accountability, that I have ever had, and I have had many.

          I don’t know what planet you were on.