TDSB asked to move gifted program from overcrowded school—charges of racism and elitism ensue
Somehow the biggest story in Toronto public education is all of a sudden all about class, race and prestige. The story centres on one of the most prestigious high-school programs in the country, the Talented Offerings Programs in Sciences (TOPS), which is currently housed at Marc Garneau Collegiate in a high-need neighbourhood in north Toronto. The problem is that Marc Garneau is incredibly overcrowded—some 400 students over capacity—and a of group parents with children enrolled in TOPS want the program pulled out of the school and moved somewhere that isn’t so cramped, prompting calls of racism and elitism from those who think the advanced program should stay put.
“The board’s sitting on half-empty schools all over the place and yet for some inexplicable reason, they continue to hold the program hostage,” said Mara Cole, whose two eldest sons attended TOPS. “There’s absolutely no educational case for this.”
Ms. Cole and some of her supporters have been called racist and elitist for insisting that the program should move. But TOPS students are as diverse, ethnically and economically, as their host community. They come from all over the GTA, from private schools and public housing. One recent graduate, who is now on full scholarship at Harvard, needed financial assistance in order to afford his public-transit pass.
Cole’s point about the Toronto District School Board sitting on half-empty schools deserves a little expansion. Right now, the TDSB is facing a long-term structural problem: frankly, there’s a giant disconnect between the distribution of schools and the distribution of students in the city—the downtown area has the most schools while the inner suburbs are quickly amassing the most students.
The TDSB is adamant that TOPS should remain at Marc Garneau—education director Chris Spence claimed moving the program would not be interest of the school or the community as a whole—but, really, there’s no quick and easy solution for a situation like this. Sure, it would be nice if the province built more schoolhouses, especially in immigrant-heavy areas like Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe, but that doesn’t seem to be on Queen’s Park’s list of priorities right now. And, sadly, we’re not overly optimistic Toronto public education is going to be a campaign issue any time soon.