Little income-based disparity among Ontario schools, says N.Y. reporter

A team of Rochester, N.Y. reporters came to Windsor last month to learn about the public school system. What were their takeaways?

A team of reporters from Rochester, N.Y. came to Windsor, Ont. to learn about the public school system

Justin Murphy and his team of Rochester, N.Y. reporters came to Windsor to learn about some of the differences between the cities' education systems. (Michael Hargreaves/CBC)

When a Rochester, N.Y. reporter showed up to Windsor's West Gate Public school, he was surprised by what he found. 

Though the school is in a poorer area of the city, the school wasn't much different from those in more affluent neighbourhoods, said Justin Murphy, education reporter for the Democrat and Chronicle.

"It wasn't just an understood thing that this is a bad school and the kids here are getting screwed."

That's a stark contrast from how things are in New York, he explained, where often schools are labelled "good" or "bad."

He and his team crossed the border to take a look at the public school system in Windsor, and see what Rochester — where public schools face significant challenges — could learn from it.

Windsor, Ont. was the city of choice because it is similar in size, economy and ethnic diversity to Rochester.

Something that stood out for him during his time in Windsor was a conversation he had with the principal of West Gate, Jackie Connelly, where she told him about her experience visiting Chicago and seeing the stark differences between schools depending on where they were in the city — which Murphy said was reflective of the United States.

"That kind of encapsulated it for me," he said.

He echoed her sentiments, that there are "very, very prominent" disparities between city and suburb schools in Rochester especially.

That observation is in contrast to Ontario, where education is governed by the province and there's a "commitment to provincial equity," he said.

Not only that, but teachers in Ontario are also better trained, better paid and have a greater status in the community, according to Murphy, adding that in Rochester, there are many teachers who work second jobs in order to make ends meet.

One of the main outcomes he learned from his trip was that "everything came back to the early foundation of the social safety net," referring to social services like access to health care and EarlyON centres.

Things like access to speech-language pathologists are much more readily available than they would be in Rochester for families, according to Murphy.

He said there isn't much the city could do with regards to that social safety net, but they could start centralizing their services so families don't have to go all around the city in order to get resources.

"I think there's really no reason that anybody couldn't get together and organize their things in that way."