Francophones seek new school

Trustees at Toronto’s largest school board got a tough assignment this winter, but local francophone parents are hoping they have at least one of the answers.

In January, Ontario’s education minister assigned the Toronto District School Board a list of 13 reforms, including a call to look at selling some underused schools.

When TDSB trustees replied on Feb. 10, they agreed to review a cluster of 10 high schools in Toronto-Danforth and East York later this year.

Some of the schools, like Eastern Commerce, Eastdale, and Danforth Collegiate, have low enrolments. Others, like Riverdale and Monarch Park, are at or near capacity.

Just because the schools are under review does not mean any will be sold.

But if a school building does go up for sale, a coalition of francophone parents hopes it can remain a high school by becoming the first French-language high school in the East End.

Lianne Doucet is a mother of three and a long-time member of the parents’ coalition.

“We’re not trying to say anything other than ‘We need space, you have space, let’s collaborate,’” said Doucet. “At least one school that might be on the chopping block does not have to close in this riding because we will use it.”

Doucet’s three daughters all started at Georges-Étienne-Cartier, a French Catholic elementary school in Beach Hill.

For Grades 7 to 12, her eldest opted to take the 35-minute streetcar ride to Collège français, a small French public school downtown. Her other choice was an hour-long bus ride to a French Catholic school north of the 401.

Doucet said the Collège français is a great school, but the building itself is like the No Frills of high schools – it has no cafeteria, no music room, no track or field.

Meanwhile, Doucet said, some TDSB high schools in her neighbourhood are “great big beautiful stone buildings” with auditoriums, double gyms, and less than 50 per cent enrolment.

“Nobody likes to close schools, and I get that,” she said. “I don’t know whose problem it is, and how they are sorting it out. As parents, all we know is we need a school, and they have empty schools. What’s the problem?”

Jean-François L’Heureux is president and Toronto West trustee for Viamonde, a French public school board with 13 schools in Toronto, including the Collège français.

L’Heureux said Viamonde has seen a 20 per cent enrolment boost over the last five years, and every time a new school opens, demand is higher than expected. La Mosaïque, a Viamonde elementary school north of Coxwell and Danforth, reached its capacity just three years after it was built.

“Sometimes it’s very difficult to identify those people until they wave their hands,” he said, noting that Viamonde has had to rely largely on 2006 demographic data since the long-form census was scrapped.

Along with immigration from Europe and north Africa, L’Heureux said Toronto is seeing more and more families with at least one French parent moving here from other parts of Ontario.

L’Heureux said Viamonde is in regular contact with the TDSB, because under Ontario’s Education Act, Viamonde has the first bid on any property declared surplus by the English public board. If it is a sale, the property is priced at the lesser of two values: the market price or, more likely in Toronto, a price determined by Ontario’s school funding formula.

“It may not be a purchase,” said L’Heureux. “It may be something like a partnership, or a rental agreement.”

In the West End, Viamonde opened the Toronto Ouest high school in a former TDSB building with an agreement to sublease the third floor to the TDSB for 20 years. The school also remains available to community groups outside school hours.

“We share the same community, the same neighbourhood,” said L’Heureux. “We’re working together all the time.”

Réjean Sirois, education director for Toronto’s French Catholic school board, said he also hopes to find property for a high school that can serve the Beach and other parts of east Toronto.

Sirois said the board already has land and a site plan for a new high school at Eglinton and McCowan Avenues, expected to open in September 2016. That will bring the number of Toronto French Catholic high schools to three, he said, but there is still enough demand for one closer to the Beach.

One option, he said, may be to replace an elementary school on Jones Avenue with a new K to 12 school of 500 students. The board opened the temporary school two years ago, largely to deal with over-enrolment at Georges-Étienne-Cartier.

No matter who builds it, Lianne Doucet said francophone parents would welcome an East End French high school with open arms.

“We’re open to whatever the boards can work out,” she said. “My third daughter is now about to enter Grade 6, and we’re still fighting the good fight to get a French school in this riding.”

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Thank you for writing this article Andrew. We appreciate that you took the time to research this story. As parents in the coalition, we want a win-win-win: school stays open for community, French kids get a local school, TDSB sells or leases a school so that it continues to be what it was built for: educating our children.

Thank you for writing about the francophone community! Given the many underutilized schools in the area, I sincerely hope that the school boards will work together to meet the needs of French and English students alike.

Thank you very much for your balanced article.

Francophone children in our area (Beaches, East York, Riverdale, Danforth, Leslieville) have been in need of a local French high school for at least the last 10 years. The current times present the perfect storm whereby the TDSB needs to raise funds for capital improvements and the 2 French School Boards need a secondary schools in our area. In my view, the best option is for the 2 French School boards to purchase or lease an under utilized school from the TDSB. I know the school on Jones St. Mr. Sirois is talking about since I send my 2 boys at Georges-Étienne-Cartier and there is no way it is appropriate to house JK-12 in such a small school with no track and field space. He must be dreaming!

As a resident of Chatham Avenue, I find these developments most encouraging. My daughter attends the College Français on Carlton Street. The buiding lacks many of the resources which Eastern Commerce has in abundance (track field, adequate gymnasia etc.) but which are currently not being used for their intended purpose. Rather than continuing to be a drain on TDSB resources through the cost of maintainance and necessary repairs, transfering the building to the Viamonde School board is a winning solution for the entire Eastt end community.

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