75 — number of students enrolled at PDCS
Port Dover Composite School (File photo)
The loss of students at Port Dover’s high school deepened over the summer. When the new school year gets underway Tuesday morning, the student body will number a mere 75.
It’s a steep drop from a year ago when nearly 250 teenagers went there (three years ago enrolment exceeded 300) and will create a high school smaller than anything the area has seen in recent memory.
Many classes at Port Dover Composite School will have 5-10 kids in them. Most will have no more than 15. There will be no football team for the second year in a row and it’s uncertain how or if other extra-curricular activities will roll out.
The grand total of teachers will be 14 — or one for every five pupils.
Where have all the students gone?
They have left in an exodus a few kilometres to the north to Simcoe Composite School, which at one point was looking at a September enrolment of far less than 800 but is now sitting at roughly 890.
The sudden swing in numbers has surprised few, however. As the long, drawn out process to decide which if any schools to close in Norfolk County moved forward over the past 15 months, it became increasingly clear PDCS would likely be the victim.
Students and parents have pre-empted the board’s choice and have left of their own accord.
Educators say they will make the most of the situation and provide the best education possible for the remaining 75.
The school’s much-vaunted theatre program, which makes use of nearby Lighthouse Theatre, remains.
Sports teams are uncertain, said principal Marc Dulmage. “Our hopes are we will be able to do something. If we don’t have the numbers (for school teams), we will look at intramural activities.”
Theatre students will work with and offer “leadership” to the Grade 7 and 8 students who also go to the school, Dulmage added. “We are looking outside the box at ways to make it a little different for the kids.”
Andy Nesbitt, superintendent of education with the Grand Erie District School Board, said “clearly we are in a bit of a unique situation,” but added that the board is “prepared to have all systems go at Port Dover” on Tuesday.
There are restrictions on class sizes in Ontario and using one teacher per five students in Port Dover has put pressure on class sizes in Simcoe.
Some teaching hours have been moved forward from second semester to help smooth things over at SCS.
“We’re in good shape cap wise,” said SCS principal Dave Abbey, whose school has just expanded wireless Internet connections to most parts of its building and is adding more smart boards to classrooms.
In the long run, PDCS appears doomed. In July, Norfolk Trustee Don Werden — who built his career on saving PDCS from closure a dozen years ago — put forth a motion to close the school after enrolment projections showed there was no point in keeping the fight going.
He was voted down by other trustees, who expressed fear they could be sued for going outside the timeframe given to them by government for making decisions on closures.
The result is a high school with 75 students.
“I don’t like the situation,” Werden said on Thursday. “We will do the best we can to keep programs going for the kids until the board decides what to do.”
Trustees will make a final decision about the future of PDCS in October. The only question needing an answer appears to be when, not if, it will be closed.
Daniel R. Pearce
519-426-3528 ext. 132
Was the Grand Erie school board right or wrong to keep PDCS open this fall?