Researcher wants save-our-school stories

Originally posted on The Hamilton Spectator:

By Matthew Van Dongen
May 8, 2014

If you're a heartsick parent with a story to tell about your endangered local school, Bill Irwin wants to hear from you.

The assistant professor at Huron University College is part of a research team that's getting increased attention across the province for work on how school closures affect communities.

"A lot of people want to talk to us," said Irwin, who was invited to Hamilton Thursday to speak to a joint committee of city and school board officials.

"We hear from a lot of frustrated, worried people. . I've talked to some from Hamilton. That's OK, we're looking for stories, for input."

So far, the project conclusions will sound familiar to local parents and advocates: a loss of neighbourhood identity, walkability and economic revitalization opportunities. Legislation and an accommodation review process that "pits communities against each other," not to mention elected trustees.

"School boards aren't the villains here," Irwin said, arguing that trustees are trapped by "outdated legislation" that focuses on short-term financial fixes over "long-term societal consequences."

The next stage of his research involves evaluating alternatives to present to policy-makers, he said, and revamping a funding formula based on head counts is one obvious route.

But Irwin is also kicking the tires on ideas like school boards not owning property, or making it easier for schools to share space for community or business uses.

Anyone with a relevant story or suggestion to share can do so on the research project website at