Full-time Kindergarten starts in Weston

There aren’t a lot of perks that go with living in the poorest riding in Toronto—but there is one. Full-time Kindergarten.

Only 15% of the elementary schools in Ontario will be getting full-time kindergarten this year. And, as the father of a kindergartener, I can tell you, 85% of parents look at me with envy.

Weston is unusual. Most of the elementary schools here have full-time junior Kindergarten: HJ Alexander, Weston Memorial, and Portage Trail all do. (Pelmo Park and St John the Evangelist do not.)

Weston has this high proportion of full-time kindergartens because the province tried to place them in low-income neighbourhoods.

The provincial Liberals say that

“A full day of learning will provide four- and five-year-olds with the strong foundation they need for future learning…. Students who achieve early success in school are more likely to perform well later in school and go on to postsecondary education.”

On her website, Laura Albanese, the MPP for York-South Weston, says that children

“will learn new skills and have enriching experiences to help prepare them academically and socially for Grade 1 and get them on track for future success.”

This may be, but not all is rosy in Weston’s elementary schools. Most of the schools are not doing as well as the provincial average in grade 3 achievement. Pelmo, Weston Memorial, and Portage were below average in all of the categories measured. HJ Alexander and neighbouring St John were above.

The deficits are sometimes shocking. At Portage, only about a third of the students meet the provincial standards. Three years ago, more than half did. At Weston Memorial, about two-thirds of the students make the grade, but that number is falling rapidly. In 2006, Weston Memorial trounced the provincial tests.

The data whipsaw around, so it may be that the declines in school achievement are nothing to be concerned about. But perhaps they are. It certainly worries me that the province appears to have not paid much attention to the quality of the school when it decided where to place kindergartens. Under-performing Portage got one, but the dog-eared Pelmo did not. Hot shot HJ got a kindergarten, but its Catholic over-achieving brother, St John, did not.

George Brown College takes the first steps to Weston campus

George Brown College wants to build a new campus in Weston. The province confirmed this week that the college had submitted an application for funding.

In May Councillor Nunziata wrote to John Milloy, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, to recommend Weston for a campus. This week, Milloy responded, saying, in part, “George Brown College has submitted its capital project template, and … the proposal for a new campus in Weston has been included.”

Paul Bedford, former chief planner for the city of Toronto, had first proposed a Weston campus at a community meeting in May, as one of several other ideas for reinvigorating the town. He said then that “George Brown College has taken interest in expanding a campus to Weston, although talks are in early stages.”

Lately, the status of the talks had not been clear, but Nunziata says “this is no longer just an idea—there is now a plan”. Of course, there are several hurdles yet to be overcome, not the least of which is securing approval and financing from the government. The province is collecting proposals from all colleges this year and will announce its plans in 2011.

College staff have toured the roughly 75,000 square feet of empty retail space at 31–35 King, which has sat vacant for several years. It is not yet clear whether that space is still being considered, but a space of that size would, by your humble correspondent’s rough calculations, be able to hold about 1000 students (George Brown has 15,000 full-time students).

The potential new site for George Brown College's Weston campus

Swanek Park 1: St John 0

Swanek Park will not be the new home of St John the Evangelist elementary school.

At the very time that Rob Davis, the school’s trustee, was holding a meeting to increase pressure on the city council, Frances Nunziata was announcing in Swanek Park that the issue had been definitively and completely settled. The Etobicoke York Community Council, on which Nunziata sits, has the power to decide these issues, Nunziata told me. That power was given to them five years ago. On Tuesday the council voted unanimously against moving the school to the park.

The school board appears to be under the impression that their matter will be debated at the July 6–7 Toronto City Council meeting (the schedule for which is not yet available). A representative of the school council confirmed that this was their hope, and Davis appeared to be attempting to generate pressure on the City Council at the meeting Thursday night. He said “on Tuesday night, the York Etobicoke Community Council passed a motion that would rule out the use of Swanek Park as a possibility, as an option, and a rally was called for tonight to get people fired up, to support that”. Further, the Swanek Park location was still presented as a “preferred option”, and the handouts still mention it as an possibility with several advantages.

According to Nunziata, Davis is mistaken. Swanek Park is completely ruled out by the unanimously passed motion of the community council.

For what it’s worth, he is also mistaken about the rally being called. The ‘rally’ was a Neighbour’s Night Out, many of which occur all over the city, and in no way resembled a political rally. Further, it had been planned long before last Tuesday. I received notice of it more than two weeks ago, and I’m sure preparations were in place long before that.

Swanek Park 'rally'
Swanek Park 'rally'
Rob Davis speaking at St John
Rob Davis speaking at St John
Swanek Park as option
Swanek Park as option

Duelling meetings tonight

The Swanek Park Neighbour’s Night Out is tonight at 7:00. Residents will certainly be talking about the proposal to move St John the Evangelist school into the park and the accompanying demolitions, but city planners will also be presenting an alternative vision of the space.

The Catholic board has also called a meeting to discuss the issue—and while it’s the same issue, and at the same time, and on the same day, it’s in a different place. Their counter-meeting will be held at St John the Evangelist; the announcement says that board staff and the trustee will be answering questions about the new school site.

The Swanek Park meeting will be at 7:00 at the Queenslea St entrance. The city planners’ presentation will be at 7:30.

The TDCSB meeting also starts at 7 in St John the Evangelist Elementary School at 23 George St.

Community council officially opposed to school move

The Toronto District Catholic School Board took a liver punch yesterday. Etobicoke York Community Council expressed its disapproval of the proposal to move St John the Evangelist elementary school to Swanek Park.

The TDCSB wants to move the over-crowded school to Swanek Park. The school is now located on a small, primarily concrete parcel near the train tracks. At a minimum, the board would buy and demolish enough homes to create space for an entrance to the school. Likely, however, it would have to create green space equal to the amount given up to the school site. This may entail the expropriation and demolition of all the homes around the park.

The council passed a motion yesterday that said the plan to buy and demolish “many, if not all of the 33 houses immediately surrounding the park” was “unacceptable”. Frances Nunziata, the councillor for Ward 11, said that Swanek Park is “not an appropriate location for the school” in her summary to the council.

There are no sanctions or actions attached to the council item. Still, the pressure is now clearly on the school board; Nunziata also sits on the the Toronto Parks and Environment Committee, and is also almost certain to win the election in the fall. Thus, the TDCSB now faces both an outraged community and an opposed, long-sitting councillor with considerable power over the fate of its plan.

While this is only a symbolic loss for the TDCSB, the board appears to face a struggle.

The Toronto District Catholic School Board took a liver punch today. Etobicoke York City Council hammered the board for its proposal to move St John the Evangelist elementary school to Swanek Park.

The TDCSB wants to move the over-crowded school to Swanek Park because it is a large green site. At a minimum, the board would buy and demolish enough homes to create space for an entrance to the school. Likely, however, it would be forced by the city to create green space equal to the amount used for the school site. This may entail the expropriation and demolition of all the homes around the park.

The council passed an unscheduled motion today that said the plans to buy and demolish “many, if not most of the houses surrounding the park” was “***”

The motion does not appear to actually do anything except express council’s disapproval. There are no sanctions or actions attached. Still, the pressure is now on the school board; Frances Nunziata, the City Councillor for Ward 11, sits on both the EYCC and the Toronto Parks and Environment Committee. She is also almost certain to win the election in the fall. Thus, the TDCSB faces an outraged community and an opposed, long-sitting councillor with power.

While this is a first (and mostly symbolic) loss for the TDCSB it will not likely be the last.

Etobicoke-York Council considering future of Swanek Park

The first political shots have been fired in the battle over Swanek Park. Etobicoke-York City Council will today vote on whether it should officially disapprove of moving St John the Evangelist into the park.

The Toronto District Catholic School Board would like to move the over-crowded school to Swanek because the current location is small, lacks green space, and is close to the train tracks.

At least 4 houses would have to be demolished, but Nunziata says the “TCDSB have stated that if the school were to be built on this parkland, many, if not all of the 33 houses immediately surrounding the park would have to be acquired or, if necessary, expropriated.”

The local council will consider two of Nunziata’s recommendations: whether to not support the conversion of Swanek Park, and whether to direct the city to consider adding Swanek Park to the inventory of heritage properties.

St John’s Advisory Council co-chair explains move to Swanek Park

Dave Bennett, co-chair of the St. John the Evangelist Catholic School Advisory Council, answered my questions about moving the school to Swanek Park. Bennett stated emphatically that the board will not be expropriating the houses surrounding the park. “That is untrue,” he said, “There are 32 homes that go around Swanek. We need four. That’s quite a difference.” The four homes would be to create an opening to the park and would be sold voluntarily, he said.

Bennett also claimed, though, that the city will want to keep the total amount of green space the same as it is now. “If the city were to ask for [the same acreage of] Swanek Park to be there, it would be an additional 13 homes. That’s only if the city asks for that. Nothing is in stone. It’s all about the site”, he said. The city could also replace the green space lost at Swanek by creating parks elsewhere, he claims.

According to Bennett, the board is considering four locations in addition to Swanek:

  1. The former Beer Store lot on Weston Rd.
  2. Pelmo Park
  3. The grounds of HJ Alexander School
  4. The Visioneering land on Oak St.

The TCDSB prefers Swanek Park because it “is .8 km from the current site [and] almost in the middle of the catchment area for the school.” Further, he said, “the park size is more than what’s required for a school and our community would still have their park.” The other locations are all small and either close to the train tracks or the 401.

When asked what the board would do if they were unable to buy four contiguous homes around Swanek Park, Bennett replied, “That’s a good question.” Expropriation “is a process that is a last resort. They want to be good neighbours.”