MM Robinson high school opens for the former Pearson high school students - a lot of effort was put into making the integration work.

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

September 4th, 2018



They will stream into the school by the hundreds.

The changes to the outer appearance of M. M. Robinson will be noted and the students transferring in from Lester b. Pearson high school will settle into their new surroundings.

New cladding roof MMR

M. M. Robinson high school being “spruced up”.

The building was looking a little worn – it was time to spruce the place up a bit. Some of the work was done during the summer- the balance will get done before the end of the year.

Getting to this point has been a huge task that pulled on most of the resources that exist at the senior levels of the Halton District School Board.

Blackwell +

Superintendent Terri Blackwell talking to Pearson high school during the formal school closing.

Several of the Superintendents were on call; Terri Blackwell was leading the drive to ensure that Pearson fit into MMR perfectly; that every possible and reasonable need was met.

Many of the teachers from Pearson came over with the students.

The closing of Pearson was contentious and might well result in at least two of the trustees losing their seats in the October municipal election.

School closing are not the concern of Claire Proteau, the principal at M.M. Robinson high school. Her job is to make the school work and ensure that each student gets the education they need and deserve.

She brings both an eclectic and colourful background to the task. She is not your cookie cutter idea of a principal. Very very hands on with an understanding that students today are different and that the world they are going into is equally different.

Claire outside the school

Claire Proteau stands outside her high school while students take part in a program run by the Halton police.

Claire graduated from high school and went to a community college because, as she put it, her marks were not good enough to get into university. She studied behavioural sciences at community college and went to teachers college as a mature student.

Claire treats her students as young adults and works with them at whatever level they are at. She has bounced around the Halton District School Board and worked in some challenging situations. She was at the Syl Apps Youth Centre, a 48-bed, Secure Residential Forensic Mental Health Facility for Ontario male and female youth. The Halton District School Board provides the educational component.

That job pulled on Claire’s experience in the federal correctional service – penitentiaries – where she found the inmates to be people she could work with. “It was the custodial staff – guards – that I couldn’t take. It wasn’t where I wanted my career to begin and end.”

Life in Kingston came to an end – Claire and the family moved to Burlington where she joined the Halton District School board.

She was on staff at Bateman when the Elgin/Brock students were integrated into the new school.

She worked at Central high school where she was a vice principal.

The opportunity to move to MM Robinson was too good for Claire to miss – she asked for the job and got it.

That’s when the challenges began – integrating several hundred students from Pearson which was a very small school. They are coming into a school that you can actually get lost in. It is the largest high school in the HDSB system.

It is a composite school – offers everything.

It has a student body that is defined by the part of the city they live in; north of the QEW east of Tyendaga. Middle class families in a quiet neighbourhood.

MMR has two vice principals, 50 teachers and 26 educational assistants.

There is a Community Pathway Program at MMR that is visible, the CPP students are fully integrated.
Students who have mobility challenges are helped by other students. While it is a big school with a large student population everyone seems to know everyone else.

Proteau at desk

Claire Proteau in her office – where she is open and engaging with her students.

There is a very healthy relationship between the student body and the Pathway program. It’s one big family.
The administration offices are on the second level of the school with an awkward set of stairs that gets you to that space. There is a small gallery, almost a balcony that let’s Claire look out over the gathering area inside the front doors where the students meet and lounge around.

The gallery area let’s Claire see what is going on – she has a very keen eye. Is there a principal that doesn’t have eyes in the back of their head?

A high school is a big operational challenge. Young people finding themselves, figuring out who they are and what they think they want to be is a big task in itself.

Every year new students arrive and go through that process of fitting in.

This year the Pearson students are added to the mix.

Given the discord that surrounded the decision to close Pearson and moving students from a small school to a really big school adds to the challenge.

How do you make that work?

The prep that was done to get to this point was huge. Pearson students visited the high school many times; parents met with MMR staff – every question asked had to get a satisfactory answer; the students and the parents had to know that Pearson students were going to a new home that would include their character and values.

Two of the Boards Superintendents were assigned to ensuring that everything went smoothly.

statue outside MMR

MM Robinson high school is the only one in the city with formal art work at the entrance to the school.

Claire decided that the Student Theatre should be renamed and called the Pearson Theatre. Some students objected – Claire asked them what the name of the Theatre was now – they weren’t able to tell her. The theatre is on the left hand side of the main lobby just inside the entrance doors to the school. Pearson students will know the moment they walk into the building that part of their heritage has been transferred to MMR.

The new home for the Pearson crowd is a lot different than the small school they left; it is bigger, offers far more in the way of program and has its own culture.

The MMR space is organized as hallways; there is the French hallway – the space where the French classes take place, a hallway for English, Math, science, phys ed, the arts.

Students move from hallway to hallway – they meet with their friends who are taking math in that part of the school and meet with their friends in the phys ed hallway.

It’s a little different – but it works.

Two students were assigned the task of taking a Gazette reporter on a tour. We asked that students handle the tour – it was their school and we wanted their take on the place.

Group of students MMR

Students catching up on what’s going on in the school lobby.

We went from classroom to classroom: the phys ed set up is great; the photography class still uses film, they recycle the silver that is part of the celluloid. The money earned from the sale of the silver is rolled back into a fund that is used to purchase new equipment.

The automotive shop had just as many females as males in it.

Claire has worked to ensure that the school was not a collection of silos – with one group having no idea what another group was doing.

Her approach was to run a school that was as open as she could make it; as much a school that was totally focused on students – a place teachers come to each day to serve and meet the needs of the students.

Not always easy – something every parent can attest to.

The Angela Coughlan Pool is attached to the school and used by the school but is more a city facility that the school makes extensive use of.

Noted was that the high school does not seem to have a stellar swimming team. Nor does it have a student council.

Claire walkin cones in lobby

Students taking part in a police class where they learn what the influence of substances does to their ability to drive a vehicle. Principal Proteau take part

Discipline is always a problem in a high school setting – one could well expect Claire to be a very strong disciplinarian – she isn’t. She is a strong believer in second chances – and third chances if that is appropriate. She is there to listen to the students and understand where they are coming from and what they are dealing with.

Rules are necessary but Claire doesn’t treat them as the end all and be all.

She has a sense of humour and is there to be approached and engaged by her students – and her staff.
Some members of the staff chaff a little at Claire’s approach – but they too adapt or they look for a situation that better meets their approach to teaching high school students.

Claire waving in courtyard

Claire Proteau in the courtyard waving to students. A lot is riding on how well the Board of Education staff have prepared for the integration of the former Pearson high school students.

Will it work? It will work, if only because of the commitment Claire and her staff have made to merging the two student bodies. MMR isn’t Pearson but part of the heart and soul of Pearson will be in the building and the students that graduate will be the

Closing a school is never easy for the Board administration, always difficult for parents and hard for some students to understand.

Claire Proteau is doing what has to be done to make it work. You can bet on this one.

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