“It all started in the mid-1980s, when my husband and I moved to our current house in South Etobicoke,” Pamela Gough recalls in a recent interview.
The house, near the southeast of the corner of Royal York Bloor, had been their choice because of its proximity to a neighbourhood school.
To the family’s surprise, however, the school board – the Etobicoke Board of Education – closed the school down.
After a sharp rise during the Baby Boom era, school enrolment in the neighbourhood had dropped dramatically by the mid-eighties.
“The Etobicoke board was closing schools all over Etobicoke,” Pamela Gough notes. “We had the steepest level of decline in enrolment of any board in Canada.”
“However, I knew, and my neighbours knew,” she adds, “that there were babies being born and families moving in. And we knew that there were children in the area that were going to be of school age, by the time the five year lease, that the school was under, had expired.”
The neighbours tried to convince the school board to keep the school open, but to no avail.
“The planners were telling us they have the census data, they knew the demographics.” The message from the board was that “there weren’t enough children to run a good program.”
“After a certain amount of banging on the walls,” Pamela adds, “I decided that there was only one way forward – and that was, I had to run for office as a trustee, and get on the board and work from the inside, to have my voice heard. Which is what I did. So I ran in the 1988 election, and I won.”
A huge success story for the community
At that point, she became deeply involved with educational issues – not just the local issue of reopening of the school. The school itself was reopened in 1990, and is now full and has a portable. It also has a school-based day care, which is run by the parents of the children that go to the school.
“So that was a huge success story for our community.” And for Pamela herself, coming from a background in environmental science, getting involved with education as a school trustee was a revelation.
“I found that the ideas that I was finding all around me as a trustee – in terms of how children learn, what constitutes an effective school – these were all questions that really affected me very deeply, that made me eager to learn more.”