The fate of a competitive high-school program remains uncertain after trustees voted to defer a request to move it so that Toronto District School Board staff can draft a plan to cope with crowding at its host school.
The program known as Talented Offerings of Programs in the Sciences, or TOPS, is offered at an overcrowded high school in Thorncliffe Park, in the city’s northeast end. A group of parents, teachers and students have asked to have the program moved, but TDSB staff say it must stay because it’s integral to the ethnically and economically diverse community it serves.
Community supporters have called the parents elitist for waging a years-long campaign to get the program moved.
“I think this issue has dragged on quite a bit; I’d like to get some answers,” said trustee Shaun Chen.
But Mr. Chen said he would also like to give staff time to review what accommodations can be made, and was part of a nearly unanimous vote to defer until October. That decision disappointed many of the staff and students who filled the boardroom Wednesday night.
“We had hoped that this would be addressed, so a deferral just feels like another way not to do anything about the problem,” said Sophia Glisch, 16, a TOPS student in Grade 12.
The host school, Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, is about 508 students above capacity and 250 of those extra students are TOPS students who come from outside the community.
The result is a school built for 1,422 students crammed with 1,930, turning hallways into mosh pits and stairwells into lunchrooms. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the TDSB, schools are being closed and sold off because they’re too empty.
Demand for TOPS is growing, as graduates win more than $1-million in scholarships each year. The annual TOPS information session draws so many families from all over the GTA it has to be simulcast in the school’s gym and cafeteria, and about 500 students write the admissions test and essay to win one of just 60 spots in the Grade 9 class.
The teachers who run the program say they have to turn away deserving candidates and that the program could grow. They’ve asked the board to move TOPS from Marc Garneau Collegiate, near where the Don Valley Parkway meets Don Mills Road, to a new location with more room and better access to public transit.
But TDSB education director Chris Spence informed them in a letter this summer that they must stay put while satellite programs are opened instead.
Rauda Dickinson, a TDSB superintendent who will lead the review of short-term solutions, said a small group of community members and TOPS parents will consider options such as timetable changes to alleviate congestion at Marc Garneau.
Trustee Shelley Laskin supports keeping the program at its current location.
“The staff made a decision in July about this, when does it stop?” she said.