Reports show that increasing numbers of families are opting to send their children to private high schools in Toronto. This trend may reflect uneasiness over recent high-profile incidents, some of which have parents concerned about the safety of Toronto public high schools.
The shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners in 2007 was a shocking wake-up call to our community and politicians immediately announced initiatives to reduce violence in schools. However, reports of violent incidents on public school property continue to hit the local media, including emergency lock-downs, sexual assaults, extreme bullying, gang-related gun- and knife-play, along with disruptions caused by alcohol and drug abuse.
Some observers feel that Toronto public schools are failing in their attempts to provide a safe atmosphere for students. The truth is that Toronto public schools are relatively safe, but even at schools with fewer violent incidents, teachers spend too much time dealing with less serious discipline problems, which impacts the quality of education delivered to students who want to excel. While authorities are working to address the situation in our public education system, some parents have discovered that private schools offer a major advantage when it comes to providing a safe place for students to learn.
Private schools, unlike public schools, are not obligated to accept students who have a history of discipline problems. If an enrolled student demonstrates undesirable behaviour, he may face expulsion as per the contract he and his parents have signed with the school. Well-articulated and clear codes of conduct give private school administrators the ability to deal with problems in an efficient and timely manner. In contrast, public schools may have to follow a lengthy process of documentation, warnings and suspensions before expulsion is possible.
The threat of imminent expulsion is a powerful factor in deterring improper behaviour, but there is also evidence that the private school environment encourages good conduct. The best private high schools in Toronto place almost as much emphasis on character development as they do on academics. In an atmosphere where integrity and respect are valued and rewarded, students who identify with their school tend to demonstrate these qualities themselves. Schools that make core values such as cooperation, service, tolerance and responsibility as important as algebra marks and basketball team standings can even help modify the behaviour of a student whose conduct needs improvement.
Private high schools have smaller, more stable populations, resulting in smaller class sizes than public schools. This allows students and teachers to form deeper working relationships, which in turn makes it less likely that students will act out. If an incident does occur, it is far more likely to be noticed and dealt with quickly in the more intimate setting that a private school provides.
Self-control is emphasized in independent schools, as is achievement. The challenging nature of the academic work at top private schools helps to focus student attention and the pervasive culture of excellence gives students goals to strive for.
In short, standards of behaviour at private schools are higher than in public schools and the ability to deal efficiently with discipline problems are superior to that of the public system. This may explain why so many families are enrolling their children in private high schools in Toronto.