Then there were 15 applications for Grade 9 one year — all from the same apartment unit. “An apartment superintendent was selling false leases,” recalled Michael Smith, principal at the time. “We shut that down.”
At this time of year, as Grade 8 students apply for high school, families can get creative in trying to get their children into schools they believe are best. In a system that gives first dibs to children who live in the district, schools with good buzz can drive out-of-district families to desperate measures.
TDSB Trustee Jerry Chadwick’s Scarborough ward has two hot schools — Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate, near Lawrence Ave. E. in the West Rouge area, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate, on Guildwood Parkway.
“They’ll say, ‘I’m only one block from the boundary; it’s not fair,’ ” Chadwick said. “They’ll even use the grandparents’ address — and it’s often the kids who’ll tell you they don’t really live there.”
But it helps that they’re both in “fairly well-to-do neighbourhoods,” he added.
There are good schools in lower-income neighbourhoods, said Chadwick — they’re just a tougher sell.
“Take Sir Robert Borden Business and Technical Institute; the last two principals have turned that school around; their library now has the highest circulation of any public high school in the city,” Chadwick said. But its address near Kingston Rd. and Galloway, an area that has struggled with crime, makes rebranding a challenge.
“If I could drop that school at Yonge and Lawrence,” mused Chadwick, “it would be one of the most popular schools in the city.”
All three high schools in TDSB Trustee Shelley Laskin’s north Toronto ward are over-subscribed. Between them, Northern Secondary, North Toronto Collegiate and Forest Hill Collegiate turned away some 500 students from out of district last year.
If there’s extra room, schools will let in out-of-district students, especially if they have a sibling at the school. If there are too many, “they’ll hold a lottery,” Laskin said. The deadline for applications was Feb. 1 and schools have until Feb. 14 to send out letters of yes or no.
North Toronto has spanking new digs, Northern has everything from gifted programs to special education, biotechnology and advanced placement courses, and Forest Hill has a sterling academic cachet. They’re all on TTC routes and all in leafy, middle-class neighbourhoods.
“They’re blessed by geography,” said Laskin, “and sometimes parents who can’t afford houses in certain neighbourhoods have the idea of their kids going to school there and meeting different kinds of kids.
“But there are also schools in other neighbourhoods that are fabulous but they’re not seen that way. Is it fair? No,” said Laskin, who dreams of a system where students moved from school to school over their high school years, “to switch it up so socioeconomics don’t determine a student’s future.”
Until then, some parents have told Laskin “they’ll die” if their children don’t get into a particular school.
In the end, he got into Forest Hill, where he finished Grade 11 last year and left to take Grade 12 in the United States.
“To find a good school that your kid wants to go to,” said Friedman, “all I can say is you do what you have to do.”
One Cedarvale neighbourhood parent said she got her son into Forest Hill by faking a separation from her husband and saying she had moved in with her mother, who lives in the Forest Hill Collegiate area. She even had her ID changed.
“I knew it was wrong,” said the woman, who asked not to be named. “I used to say to the kids, ‘You’re going to get your education, but your mom’s going to rot in jail.’ ”
With files from Alex Ballingall