Public school electors of Hamilton: It’s time to have a conversation.
A great many citizens have watched the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board for the past three years and questioned some of the decisions made by trustees.
The demolition of the historic downtown Education Centre and the decision to relocate to a site near Limeridge Mall.
The code of ethics violation in 2011.
The conflict of interest case in early 2013.
The destructive nature of the ARC process and the move from neighbourhood schools to big-box ‘education factories’.
The Scott Park decision.
Public school board supporters across Hamilton have been left shaking their heads in bewilderment. How can it be that the elected representatives we put our faith in have so callously abused that faith against the wishes of their community?
After Trustee Bob Barlow passed away in May, I sought the open trustee’s seat on the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board in the hopes that I could help guide the conversation in a more positive way. I’m an urban planning student, so it’s my responsibility to know how to build strong, healthy communities and how those communities change over time.
I wanted to be a part of the conversation because, to me, it seemed like the HWDSB was looking at only half of the picture when it came to Hamilton. Closing schools in older parts of the city while pursuing a new school in the sprawl of the south mountain doesn’t take into account the natural life-cycle of neighbourhoods.
Established neighbourhoods go through cycles, with families maturing, children moving away, parents remaining in their homes for as long as possible, moving or passing away, and opening the neighbourhood up to young families again. Closing schools because enrollment is dropping now will cause problems in 20 years when new families in the neighbourhood are clamouring for a new school to meet their needs.
I didn’t win the appointment to the board in August. The policy remained the same; neglecting established neighbourhoods and following sprawl development rather than being a catalyst for change and supporting community schools.
With the recent decision to level Scott Park and put up a parking lot, it is apparent that now, more than ever, we need a change in the direction of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.
That’s why I’m running for Public School Board Trustee in Ward One in the 2014 municipal election.
We need an ‘activist’ school board, one that helps make change in Hamilton. A progressive, forward thinking school board can be part of the change in this city, not part of the problem.
This is becoming desperately necessary for the simple reason that Hamilton is a rapidly changing city. We’re no longer the manufacturing centre we were fifty years ago. With the amazing growth in our post-secondary institutions, our burgeoning creative community, and the enthusiastic, engaged group of social justice advocates and local entrepreneurs, the city’s economic and political culture is shifting. In many ways, education is becoming the new currency of Hamilton.
We can become a centre of innovation, education, and progress, but only if our municipal institutions work in tandem with the amazing activists and change-makers in Hamilton. I know I can steer the conversation in that direction. I’ve been a labour activist, a student leader, a writer, debater, and researcher. I’ve served on municipal advisory committees, helped with participatory budgeting efforts, and run canned food drives across this great city of ours. Most of all, I know I can be the voice Ward One residents deserve.
When I moved to the Westdale/Ainslie Wood community a few years ago, I did so because I had fallen in love with the area after starting at McMaster University in 2008. The closeness of the community, the heritage of the area, and the vibrancy of the intersecting student and resident cultures made for a progressive, accepting, diverse community in which I felt I could thrive.
I could walk to nearly everything I needed. The diversity of the community meant I could feel safe and included. The involvement and engagement of the neighbourhood in local business, culture, and politics was inspiring.
Losing neighbourhood schools shook the community. The Dalewood ARC process and the subsequent decision regarding Prince Philip’s future fueled widespread anger because so many residents here value the walkability of our community. With some of the highest walkability scores in the city, local residents recognize that a healthy, vibrant community needs neighbourhood schools.
Over the next year, I’ll be reaching out to the residents of Ward One, talking about my platform of respecting local history and heritage in our schools, increasing public participation, providing meaningful involvement for students, promoting our diversity, and supporting strong, healthy neighbourhood schools. I’ll need your help, though. If you want to see change in our community, leave a comment here or tweet me @ChrisErl. I’ll be working to get my campaign going for early next year, so look for more opportunities to get involved when it officially begins.
I’m excited to be a part of such a crucial debate in a great community. I know that the voters of Ward One will get engaged, stay informed, and ask the crucial questions that need to be asked during an election campaign.
I want to stress that it is unfair to paint every trustee with the same brush. I know and respect some of the trustees on the board and will be running as a progressive candidate, not simply an anti-establishment candidate. West Hamilton is the perfect place to do this, with its strong progressive culture, amazing city councillor and stelar council candidates already working hard to get elected in 2014.
It’s time for an honest, constructive conversation. That’s what elections are for. That’s what I’ll help initiate, starting right now. That’s what the residents of Ward One deserve.