Open Letter to the Board of Trustees: Evidence does not justify closing Pearson high school.

Open Letter to the Board of Trustees About Closing Pearson High School: A line-by-line refutation of Recommendation 2 of the Director’s Final Report

News 100 blueBy Rory Nisan

April 25th, 2017



Dear Trustees of the Halton District School Board,

This has been a long process, now coming to a head with the Director’s Final Report recommending closing Pearson and Bateman high schools. As a Pearson alumnus, I am writing to refute the arguments made for closing Pearson in the Director’s Final Report. I have addressed every argument in Recommendation 2 below.

The Director’s Final Report portion is shown in red bold italics, my comments are in standard type.. I have aimed to present Recommendation 2 in full without any deletions or other changes.

Rationale: Recommendation 2 – Lester B. Pearson High School

“Lester B. Pearson High School has been experiencing a decline in enrolment for several years and that is projected to continue to 2026 and beyond.”

This is an unfair, obtuse characterization of enrollment at Lester B. Pearson High School. The Director’s Final Report fails to mention the reason for this declining enrollment: a reduction in the number of feeder schools for Pearson, in order to prop up Hayden High School, leaving Pearson with only 1.5 feeder schools compared with seven for Hayden. This was not by accident, but a deliberate decision taken by the HDSB when Hayden opened.

One need only observe the change in enrollment since Hayden came online to see how this gutted Pearson’s numbers. Before Hayden opened, Pearson lost only 10 students from 2010-2011 (see Figure 1, from the Director’s Final Report). Furthermore, the change from 2015-2016 is only 11 less students, because the Hayden transition has ended. It is inappropriate to close a school on the basis of a reduction of 11 students year-over-year when there are many options available to boost utilization.

Recommendation 2 of the Director’s Final Report’s is wholly based on “low and declining enrolment” as the basis for closing Pearson, ignoring the fact that the low enrollment is entirely of the HDSB’s own making.

Figure 1

Figure 1  English Programme enrollment at Pearson as shown in the Director’s Final Report, demonstrating that Pearson would not have an enrollment issue if not for students being sent to Hayden.

“Lester B. Pearson High School is also the only school in the Halton District School Board that provides Extended French at the secondary school level. The students in this program begin extended French in Grade 7.”

This is correct but extended French is only one of several one-of-a-kind features of Pearson High School. The co-op nursery is correctly mentioned further below in the Director’s Final Report. The natural surroundings of the forest allow for unique learning opportunities. The third gymnasium increases sport opportunities. Pearson’s lower capacity gives it unique, well-established strengths, such as less bullying, better social bonds, more opportunities to play on a sport team and/or join other competitive clubs.

Indeed, the student survey (contained in the Director’s Final Report) indicated that Pearson ranked #1 for percentage of students who agreed that their teachers knew something about them (e.g. interests, strengths and how they learn best), #1 for having an adult they could connect with, and #2 in participation in extracurricular activities.

It is therefore no surprise that Pearson regularly punches above its weight in the Fraser Institute rankings of secondary schools. Pearson has the second highest average score over the past five years among Burlington public secondary schools. This is not despite its small size; it is because of it.

“The result of this low enrolment is a diminished ability for the school to provide the same breadth and range of programs for the students as other schools in Halton.”

Nobody doubts that Pearson has low enrolment (though its utilization rate is higher than that of M.M. Robinson). However, as explained above, the Director’s Final Report fails to properly explain how this came about.

Equally important is that he has not given the trustees simple solutions to this low enrolment that do not involve closing Pearson. The simple, obvious answer: redesign the catchments and feeder schools to ensure that (a) Pearson has its fair share of students, (b) Hayden, which is bursting at the seams, is brought down to a proper utilization of 90-100 percent, and (c) M.M. Robinson also sees an increase in students, including from Bateman High School should it be closed (though this is not being advocated), or through redistribution that allows students to go to their closest high school. Figure 3 shows the current feeder schools, demonstrating the imbalance that can be easily fixed.

Figure 3

Figure 3 Feeder schools to the high schools in the north — note the lopsided distribution favouring Hayden while starving Pearson.  (There is no figure 2)

“In order to take specific or desired courses, many students have resorted to online offerings.”

The Director’s Final Report contradicts itself here, as it references in an appendix the student survey which indicates that Pearson has the second lowest percentage of students among Burlington public high schools needing to take online offerings, well below the city’s average (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Figure 4 – percentage of students taking online courses

Regardless, this argument is invalid as there are more than enough students in the north of Burlington to fill Pearson’s hallways and provide more course offerings.

“Second, this situation will be exacerbated as it is expected the number of students attending Lester B. Pearson High School will decrease by an additional 70 students by 2025.”

Once again, this assertion rests on the assumption that Pearson would not be given any more students while Hayden bursts at the seams and M.M. Robinson takes on students from Bateman and the Evergreen and Alton West developments.

Perhaps most worrying for parents and students in North Burlington is that the Director’s Final Report fails to take into account (a) turnover in North Burlington as more baby boomers sell their homes to young families; and (b) that there will be more development in the north than that which is noted in the report: the Adi proposed development is over 600 residential units, and the Valera road development is expected to have 400 residential units. Furthermore, North Burlington has seen a trend of multiple families moving into singly houses, leading to having twice or more the number of high school students per household.

“Another issue occurring as a result of low enrolment is the impact on the students’ pathways. At present, the numbers reflecting Lester B. Pearson High School students’ pathway choices are as follows:

Figure 5

Figure 5 The Director’s Final Report emphasized low enrollment for applied students in Grade 9, neglecting to mention the reason why enrollment is so low: Grade 9 students being sent to portables in the Hayden parking lot.

“Unfortunately the low number of students and staff has prevented the school from providing the same breadth of programming offered in other Halton District School Board schools. This is most evident given the low number of students in applied programming and subsequently the college pathway, resulting in these students having fewer options or little flexibility in selecting courses they can take.

“Schools are required to provide a pathway to graduation for all students. This means the school will have some smaller classes (for example, 11 students in Grade 9 Applied), and in order to be compliant with staffing formulas and provincial mandates, will have some larger classes to offset the smaller numbers. Consequently, not only is the range of course selection not available to students but there is also a greater disparity between class sizes.”

This entire section is based on the false assumption that there aren’t enough students available in North Burlington to bring Pearson back up to better utilization levels. The arguments made above make clear that this is not only possible, but an excellent option for managing overcrowding at Hayden and the new developments, as well as the fast rate of turnover in North Burlington communities.

Again this is likely to be exacerbated as the projections indicate a continued decline in enrollment.

Again, these projections are based on the inaccurate assumption that there aren’t any students available to bring to Pearson. The above statement seeks to create urgency where there is none.

“Lester B. Pearson High School is 1.9 kilometres from M.M. Robinson High School. Students who currently attend Lester B. Pearson High School are within the walking distance to M.M. Robinson High School. A closure of Lester B. Pearson High School will not result in an increase in bussing costs for the Halton District School Board.”

This is technically correct yet misleading. If Pearson were to stay open and the catchment areas appropriately reshaped, there would be less students bussing, meaning a cost savings for the Halton District School Board.

Regardless, HDSB representatives have stated on several occasions that it’s about the students, not the money.

“At present there is a nursery school located in Lester B. Pearson High School. This is a longstanding relationship between the City of Burlington and the Board, and since the mid-1970s has become part of the fabric of the Lester B. Pearson High School community. If the recommendation to close Lester B. Pearson High School is approved, the Halton District School Board will engage with the appropriate municipal partners to investigate available options for a continued relationship with the Halton District School Board.”

The promise to “investigate available options” should be interpreted as the Board has not undertaken sufficient consultation on this important issue up to this point, and is not making any commitment to maintain the co-op nursery.

Furthermore, the Director’s Final Report is recommending keeping Hayden as an over-capacity mega school, and turning M.M. Robinson into an over-capacity mega school (see Figure 6 below). It does not take into account new growth in North Burlington, nor the aggressive turnover in Headon Forest and Palmer neighbourhoods, which will take Hayden and M.M. Robinson to unsustainable levels.

Given that these schools will be filled to the brim, are we to believe that there will be space to maintain the co-op nursery?

Figure 6

Figure 6 – Mega schools projected for the north if Pearson closes (before taking into account increased enrollment due to new developments and residential turnover)


“Lester B. Pearson High School has served its students and community very well for the past 40 years; however, its enrolment has been in decline for some time. It is currently less than 65% of capacity, and by 2025 it is expected to decline to 55%.”

Having read this far, trustees already know that Pearson would only decline to 55% if catchments weren’t appropriately reshaped. To assume that Pearson would decline to 55% is to assume that Hayden would be at 140%, which is the status quo prediction for that school in 2025. Everyone knows that Hayden’s over-utilization is unsustainable, and that Pearson has space to accommodate those students. Therefore, the conclusion of Recommendation 2 of the Director’s Final Report is misleading.

“Based on the two identified criteria for a program and accommodation review (PAR):

“1. The school or group of schools has/have experienced or will experience declining enrolment where on-the-ground (OTG) capacity utilization rate is below 65%.


“2. Reorganization involving the school or group of schools could enhance program delivery and learning opportunities.

“Lester B. Pearson High School meets the criteria for a PAR, and subsequently is recommended for closure.”

Pearson would not have met the criteria for a PAR if it weren’t for the redistribution of its students to Hayden High School.

In conclusion, trustees must question the validity of the evidence brought forward through the Director’s Final Report to support a closure of Pearson High School.

Two final questions for trustees as they make their decision on whether to close Pearson:

(1) Is it in the best interests of students and the community to close Pearson, leaving North Burlington with two schools with over 1300 students, already over capacity before taking into account new developments and residential turnover?

(2) If trustees decide to close Pearson high school, will they, in 10 years’ time, receive a Director’s Final Report requesting $35 million to open a new school in north Burlington, and on what land will that school sit?

I respectfully submit that you must, given the evidence, decline Recommendation 2 and ask the Director to provide options for redistributing Hayden’s student population to Pearson and M.M Robinson.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by delaying a decision on closing Pearson until the true enrollment figures are clarified after a redistribution of Hayden (and possibly Bateman) students, and the new developments in the North are completed.

The Director’s Final Report has not met the burden of evidence for a closure of Pearson High School.

Thank you,

Rory Nisan
Lester B. Pearson Alumnus (class of 2001)

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

6 comments to Open Letter to the Board of Trustees: Evidence does not justify closing Pearson high school.

  • Tom Muir


    I think you have described a way we can coordinate the evidence for each school to show why all schools should stay open.

    As you say in your last line, when you show, as you have very well, that the Board has not met the burden of proof, of evidence, to show that any individual school should be closed, then it follows that this is evidence that none should be closed.

    The evidence clearly shows that Hayden is the problem in the way they planned it as surplus seats, have stuffed it overflowing, and drained the other high schools and their feeders to do just that.

    This is what the evidence shows – not that Pearson or Bateman, or any school needs to be closed.

    They started this closure plan in 2008, but they can fix the problem they created by doing something like you so well describe, and that can be elaborated and generalized to all schools, in your open letter. I will not support closing a school, so I have deleted your reference to Bateman, as it is not needed.

    “The simple, obvious answer: redesign the catchments and feeder schools to ensure that (a) Pearson has its fair share of students, (b) Hayden, which is bursting at the seams, is brought down to a proper utilization of 90-100 percent, and (c) M.M. Robinson also sees an increase in students … , … or through redistribution that allows students to go to their closest high school. Figure 3 shows the current feeder schools, demonstrating the imbalance that can be easily fixed.”

    This can be generalized and rationalized using your line of argument. I have said so much in other words, and so have others, and we are consistent witnesses in our testimony.

    Miller’s report just says whatever they want, to try and get what they want.

    It’s their narrative of assumptions and assertions describing things as they want them to be.

    Let’s keep building our case.

  • Ian Cairns

    Thanks you Mr Nisan. I only hope the Trustees finally hear some sense.

  • Anna

    That feeder school diagram really says it all, doesn’t it! The board has seriously mismanaged Hayden, and now other schools are being asked to bear the brunt of their poor decision making.

  • George

    Thank you Mr. Rory Nisan for providing the facts to be considered versus the nonsensical views of the Halton Director of Education’s apparent political agenda.

  • Great work Rory! I realize how time consuming it is to reading through this stuff and analyzing it all.

    It only makes sense from the perspective that it’s easier managing fewer schools and cheaper to put kids in portables that class rooms.

    They are obsessed with universal availability of “optional programs” though I have never gotten a list of what exactly these program are or how many more students would take them after this change. Thus the benefits are none as far as can be actually counted.

    Because of land values hopping the schools father north and bussing is quite profitable to the school board. For a new school in North Burlington any price of land – even in the green belt can be selected. Local parents (obviously impassioned) will ram this home over any objections.

  • Diane Miller

    Thank you for stating so clearly the arguments and rationale for keeping Lester B. Pearson High School open. The burden of proof has not been met by the Director and indeed the assumption is based on false misrepresentation of why the student numbers are declining.