Once elected communication between politician and constituents can become fragmented. Logistics plays a part in this role. Other factors could be that elected officials run on a platform and by receiving enough votes look at their election as the tacit approval to carry out that platform. The challenge is that constraints evolve and issues change as part of their natural lifecycle.
The trustee role has a broad impact to the community. Decisions affecting schools not only affect voters, but future voters as well. As such it’s important to consider schools as community members themselves. Schools are a significant anchor to a healthy neighborhood. They bring continued investment to communities where young families move to raise children. They provide community spaces for people to congregate and they bring the vibrancy of continued growth and renewal that makes neighborhoods unique and special places where people want to live. As a municipal politician it is important to value schools as community hubs and look for opportunities to preserve and invest to keep an area vibrant and active and a destination for families to invest in both personally and financially. When schools aren’t treated as a community member and not valued as such they can deteriorate to the point of becoming unsalvageable. School closures can be catastrophic to a community. Abandoned schools create dead space, a cancer where urban or community decay can begin.
Guelph does not have to look far for a recent instance of this occurring. The ‘Ward’ over the past few years was a place of gentrification and renewal. Artists finding affordable housing in walkable distance to the river, parks, schools and downtown made the area a destination for investment and inspiration. At the centre of this emerging community was Tytler Public School, Guelph’s oldest school at the time. Tytler closed in 2013 leaving a void and separating a community from a walkable and accessible option for education. Hopefully this does not reverse the effects that a wonderful community has had on an area that had been neglected. Recent efforts by the community to preserve Tytler for other uses indicate the resilience of the community. However, looking at options to keep Tytler at the centre of the ‘Ward’ renaissance should have been the priority. Instead it has been left to the community to keep Tytler on life support so it can remain a community hub.
This is something that I feel strongly about. Treating schools as community members and part of constituents’ extended family. They are places where we entrust our children for most of their waking day. They are places where children grow into adults. Keeping lines of communications open through neighborhood group meetings, school council meetings, or other regular gatherings an elected official can build consistent public interactions into their operations to present issues proactively so we can work together to drive planning and decision making from a collective perspective to minimize impact and hopefully come up with community positive outcomes.