Queen's University — Since 1873
30th July 2013

KCVI’s closing controversy

Ontario’s oldest public school may be closing; Kingstonians rally to keep doors open

KCVI is the alma mater of Sir John A. Macdonald and The Tragically Hip’s Rob Baker
KCVI is the alma mater of Sir John A. Macdonald and The Tragically Hip’s Rob Baker (Sam Koebrich)

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Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute (KCVI), a historic Kingston landmark and neighbour to Queen’s, has been no stranger to controversy and quandary throughout the years. Now, it may be shutting its doors for good.

The school, which is the oldest publicly-funded high school in Ontario, is caught in the middle of a funding deficit the local school board is facing due to decreasing enrolment.

Since 2011, deliberations and consultations have taken place about the future of the three downtown-area high schools: KCVI, Loyalist Collegiate (LCVI) and Queen Elizabeth Collegiate (QECVI).

The process is now slowly coming to a close, and it’s looking likely that KCVI will be closing down.

In a meeting on June 19, trustees for the Limestone District School Board (LDSB) approved a motion to close both KCVI and QECVI in order to build a new school. This outcome would keep LCVI open. “Trustees carefully considered more than two years of consultation, input and review before making their decision,” said Karen Smith, communications officer for the LDSB. “Trustees focused on several key areas including programming, student success and fiscal sustainability.”

Since the construction of a new school is contingent on provincial funding, though, the plan can’t yet be finalized. Should this not be possible, the Board plans to keep KCVI and LCVI open while repurposing QECVI as an educational centre.

The Board is now working on submitting a business case for funding the new school, which will be submitted by the end of October, and a final decision regarding the funding will be made in the spring of 2014.

Yet, not everyone is happy with this decision.

Many of those with the loudest voices are students, alumni and parents from KCVI.

One of the arguments, among many, for keeping the status quo is the rich history the school embodies.

The school is the alma mater of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and many other well-known Kingstonians, such as triathlete Simon Whitfield, politician Peter Miliken and Tragically Hip member Rob Baker.

Carl Bray, a parent representative and adjunct professor at Queen’s said the school has been starved of renovation funds for several years.

Bray said that the school receieves just enough to fund emergency maintenance. He said the heating system and windows could use an upgrade, and a roof repair is needed.

“Essentially, the building is sound but has suffered from decades of deferred maintenance,” he said. “A phased, innovative program of upgrades is a feasible and financially responsible process for addressing this issue.”

KCVI is flourishing with full enrolment, French immersion and IB programs, a grand auditorium and more, Bray added. He feels there are all kinds of reasons to keep the school open.

“It’s an amazing school. It’s the most urban of all the high schools in Kingston. It’s right downtown, it’s very much integrated within the neighbourhood, it’s close to all the major employers and downtown,” he said.

KCVI also has the highest standardized testing results in the city, which has been brought up by parents during recent deliberations and has become a point of contention.

It’s not just the parents, though, who are concerned.

Bray’s son, who is an incoming grade 12 student at KCVI joined the battle to save his school when he organized a walk-out on June 14.

James Gibson-Bray’s family has attended KCVI for five generations, and he’s made it clear he will not back down. He organized the protest after he felt misrepresented by a student representative at a meeting.

He said that at the meeting, the representative stated that students didn’t care about the building. Gibson-Bray disagrees.

“We love our school, building and all. It has some of the best attributes of any school in Kingston, whether it be location or facilities and opportunities,” he told the Journal via email.

The protest was scheduled four days before exams, yet over 100 students showed up.

“It was very stressful, but we needed to show the trustees that even in a stressful time we would not going to give up that easily,” he said.

The students marched from KCVI to the Board’s offices on Portsmouth Ave.

This protest is reminiscent of a past outcries when the school was threatened with closure.

In the 1980s, similar to today’s struggle, the school was threatened with closure because of a decrease in enrolment.

Like today, many people of the community banded together and kept the school open.

The devastating loss of a historical downtown school was an important aspect for Gibson-Bray.

As a part of his protest, he had students from Peterborough Collegiate, a historical school in Peterborough that was shut down last year, write letters detailing how the closure affected them.

Gibson-Bray also expressed how unfair he felt the deliberation process has been — how it was designed to turn students from different Kingston schools against each other.

“The debate created about ‘which school should be closed’ turned into ‘this school is better than the other’, and students start to fight with each other and defend their school and put down other schools,” he said.

He said he believes this drama is welcomed by Board officials, which distracts those fighting and allows the Board to close whatever school they choose on its own terms.

Gibson-Bray felt that KCVI’s fate had already been decided before the process started — to him, it appeared they only went through the process just to make it “official”.

“There’s some crooked stuff going on there,” he said.

While the motion passed on June 19 isn’t what the Gibson-Bray and many other students want, they have the determination to keep going.

Moving forward, he’s hoping the Board doesn’t receive the funding it needs to take away KCVI and LCVI and build a new school.

“The process might be over for the summer, but they ain’t seen nothing yet,” he said. “We’re going to keep fighting, we’re not going to let KCVI close.” Christine Sypnowich, a Queen’s professor and a parent of a recent KCVI graduate, finds the school to be an exceptionally special and a welcoming environment for every type of student.

She remembered a holiday assembly a few years ago when every student was encouraged for their talents, no matter how unusual they were.

She recalls a large crowd of students gathered in the school auditorium, cheering on a group of students from the yo-yo club, a group Sypnowitch felt could have been dismissed as “nerds” at another school.

“I just thought, ‘wow, this is quite a special school, I couldn’t imagine that anywhere else,’ ” she said. “Everyone embraces … kids from all kinds of backgrounds.”

Sypnowich is also a primary organizer for efforts to keep Kingston schools open.

“I’ve always been involved in heritage issues in the city and I really just thought that closing KCVI was unthinkable,” she said.

“It’s also been really crucial to the vitality of the downtown because it’s the only school that really is a downtown school,” she said.

Even Queen’s faculty and students will become affected by the closure of KCVI.

“It’s been able to draw on the resources at Queen’s and I think for Queen’s professors, one of the attractions of teaching at Queen’s is that school,” Sypnowich said.

Sypnowich said she’ll work to persuade the government not to allocate resources for the new school.

“Why spend the money on something people don’t want? Why not instead look at the existing schools and think of more innovated ways to save money that way?”

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