In a school where students are 90 percent Filipino:
Frustrated parents seek PEACE at St. Margaret’s Catholic School
From Bathurst and Eglinton to Bathurst and Steeles, TCDSB elementary schools have two things in common: high Filipino populations and a need for more space.
After implementing full-day kindergarten, St. Margaret Catholic School could no longer accommodate its full student population.
For the past three years, the school has been split into two. Students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 4 at the original Carmichael Avenue school, and the Grades 5 to 8 students are at an old TDSB high school on Neptune Avenue called the “Beatrice campus.”
Not only is this satellite site a 20-minute walk from St. Margaret, but it is already used by Dante Alighieri ninth graders who were also displaced due to overcrowding.
“The original school has the capacity for 288 kids, but there are 640,” said St. Margaret parent Jerrylyn Gueverra. “My kids are in Grades 4 and 6, and it’s like they go to two different schools.”
“Sometimes, they don’t have mics. Sometimes, they don’t have a principal or a vice-principal. Sometimes, they don’t have a Child and Youth Worker.”
“This is our third year having a split school. How is student success not compromised?”
Gueverra is also concerned that the Beatrice campus is in a substandard building.
“They found lead in the water in the summer. They said that they fixed it, but who knows what else could be wrong?”
Upon joining the parent council, Gueverra noticed that the conversations always strayed towards acquiring a new building.
When they found on TCDSB trustee Joanne Davis’s Twitter feed that the board had put in a bid for the TDSB’s old Bannockburn School, St. Margaret parents were taken by surprise.
Large enough to accommodate the entire St. Margaret student population, Bannockburn currently houses a Montessori and is located only an eight-minute walk from the school’s original location.
However, since the land includes a significant amount of green space, local residents are actively engaged in a “Save Bannockburn Park” campaign. With fundraising reaching over $14,700, the residents are adamant that the site be maintained as a public park.
Angelo Sangiorgio, Associate Director of Planning, said that relocating to Bannockburn would be possible if the TDSB agrees to sell them the school and the yard.
“Bannockburn will be an option only if we can get the full five acres,” said Sangiorgio.
The much-awaited TDSB decision will be made on January 16th.
Sangiorgio said that the other option would be to build a new school on St. Margaret’s original site.
Due to the school’s meagre two-acre lot, the proposed designs include an underground parking lot so that students could retain their schoolyard.
If the underground parking lot is approved by the Ministry of Education, then an application will go to the City of Toronto.
“Best case scenario, it’ll be three years to completion. But it’s all dependent on the response from the Ministry,” said Sangiorgio.
Trustee Maria Rizzo wishes that the provincial government had prioritized St. Margaret long ago.
“They’ve passed St. Margaret over and over and over again,” said Rizzo.
“In terms of the Filipino community, St. Paschal Baylon, St. Antoine Daniel, Our Lady of Assumption, and St. Margaret— they’re all sort of on the same Bathurst strip. And there’s not a dime for any of them.”
With government funds bypassing schools in Filipino areas, “some members of the community feel that there is some racism going on,” said Rizzo.
“It’s not blatant racism, it’s systemic. To some degree, it’s my fear that it’s because these parents are not as politically active as the people on the east side of Avenue Road.”
To empower St. Margaret parents, Gueverra recently created a group called PEACE (Parent Engagement And Community Empowerment) as a subcommittee of the existing parent council.
“All of our CSPC meetings were about the new school, but we need to talk about social issues, access issues,” Gueverra said.
St. Margaret parent Judith Cortez hopes that others will join PEACE. “We need everyone’s help to raise awareness, to advocate and most importantly to contact or e-mail our MPP Mike Colle and Minister of Education Liz Sandals to give us funding to build St. Margaret to properly serve the students in our community.”
“I just moved to the area last year, but when I got here, I thought, ‘This is a disaster,’” said Gueverra. “This is Bathurst and Wilson— this is Little Manila. St. Margaret is 90 percent Filipino and we can’t even talk about culturally-responsive curriculum.”
“Parent engagement shouldn’t be about me worrying about a building for my children’s school.”
This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on January 8th, 2016.