Toronto

Drake's old Toronto high school could close, students want rapper to save it

The Toronto District School Board is launching public discussions Thursday evening about five high schools deemed underused or under review, but students at one of the schools are hoping some star power will help keep it open.
Vaughan Road Academy Grade 10 students Alicia Holas, Pinar Tasdelen, Lara Santos, Rachel Seymour, Burcu Cetin and Canan Avcu hope superstar rapper, and Vaughan Road Academy alumnus, Drake can keep the school open. (Stephanie Matteis/CBC)

The Toronto District School Board launched public discussions Thursday evening about five high schools deemed underused or under review, but students at one of the schools are hoping some star power will help keep it open. 

The discussions are part of what the Ministry of Education calls a "pupil accommodation review," which takes place when schools are slated for possible closure and might mean students have to move to nearby schools.

The first of two community engagement sessions began at 7:30 p.m. at Vaughan Road Academy, whose most famous former student is none other than Toronto's own superstar rapper, Drake.

Here is Drake wearing a sweater with the school crest in this Nike ad.

Hotline help

"Somebody should hit up Drake and tell him to come save it," said Rachel Seymour, 15. Seymour is one of a group of 10 girls rallying for the internationally famous musician to get Vaughan Road Academy off the TDSB's list of underused schools.

Drake attended Forest Hill Collegiate and Vaughan Road Academy but didn't earn his high school diploma until 2012. (Arthur Mola/Invision/Associated Press)

TDSB staff will make recommendations before the board makes any final decision regarding the future of the schools.

Declining student enrolment is at the heart of the issue. At Vaughan Road Academy, in the Oakwood Avenue and the Eglinton Avenue West area, the TDSB estimated 220 students between grades 9 and 12 were enrolled in September 2016.

That's down from 276 the previous year.  According to the board's website, the school can accommodate 1,179.

One is the loneliest number

Film studies teacher Jason Kunin has worked at the school for 17 years and says he's heartbroken about the prospect that Vaughan Road Academy could close.

"This is a part of my community. This is a huge chunk of my life," Kunin said. 

As he saw the numbers go down, he took to satire. In his short video called The Last Student at Vaughan Road Academy, a lone student wanders from classroom to classroom where Kunin is the only teacher.

His other video, The Lonely Teacher, shows Kunin bored in an empty classroom, then wandering through empty school halls, when he decides to work on student recruitment with no success.

The films are tongue-in-cheek but Kunin sees the school's decline as a product of diminishing resources.

'A death spiral'

"Several years ago we entered into a death spiral. Basically when your enrolment gets below a certain point you get fewer staff and with fewer staff you get offered fewer courses. And so more kids leave because there's fewer courses. And it's very hard to get out of that cycle."

Student enrolment dropped by 69 per cent in the last decade and the school is now less than a quarter full.

The schools that would be affected by a closure in the Eglinton Avenue West area between Keele Street and Spadina Road includes:

  • Forest Hill Collegiate Institute
  • John Polanyi Collegiate Institute
  • Oakwood Collegiate Institute
  • York Memorial Collegiate Institute

All of those are within 15 kilometres of Vaughan Road Academy and would likely absorb some of the students from Vaughan Road Academy if it closed.  

Some in the neighbourhood are worried the land the school sits on might attract a developer who wants to build condos

Under the Education Act's Regulation 444, the TDSB would deem the site as surplus to its needs and also has to offer any site it decides to sell to other boards in Toronto, the province and the city before any other type of sale.

But long before it gets to that point there's still the matter of those public meetings — and for student Rachel Seymour, the chance that a star will save her school.

About the Author

Stephanie Matteis is a senior reporter with CBC News, filing stories for television, radio & online. She's a pathological truthteller and storytelling junkie whose work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and Marketplace. Contact Stephanie: stephanie.matteis@cbc.ca and @CBCsteph on Twitter.