On an early Tuesday morning in late June, a handful of students sat eating bagels with cream cheese in the gym at Regent Park/Duke of York Junior Public School. On the left wall, blue and purple construction paper bubble letters spelled out the school’s maxim: “Be kind, be gentle, and take care of each other.” Outside the gym, a few doors stood open; inside them, teachers attempted to sort out old assignments, kids’ art projects, and everything else that accumulates over the lifespan of an elementary-school classroom. Across the city, it was the last week of school for the summer, but for Regent Park/Duke of York, it was the last week of school, period.
Two years ago, after closing the nearby Nelson Mandela Park Public School for extensive renovations, the Toronto District School Board began to contemplate long-range options for Regent Park. The neighbourhood then had three elementary schools: Nelson Mandela Park and Lord Dufferin ran all the way to grade 8, while Regent Park/Duke of York only went to grade 6. The school board wanted to promote the kindergarten-to-grade-8 learning model, and none of the three schools were filled to capacity. Regent Park’s vice-principal, Jason Kandankery, says, “You’re paying to heat a building that’s half-full, you’re paying to light it, you’re paying for all these costs. When we’re trying to be more efficient with our funds, it doesn’t make sense.”
Click on the photo gallery above for scenes from Regent Park/Duke of York’s last week.
Soon after Nelson Mandela Park closed for its makeover, the school board held more than a dozen community consultations, inviting parents, teachers, administrators, residents, and local business owners to share their input on the future of the neighbourhood’s schools. Working with a public review board, the TDSB decided in the fall of 2011 that Regent Park/Duke of York would shutter at the end of the school year, and the kids would be reassigned to either Lord Dufferin or Nelson Mandela Park, which will reopen in September. Although it’s not yet clear what will happen to the school, the decision coincides with the larger Regent Park revitalization project, which looks to create a mixed-income, mixed-use neighbourhood.
Many Regent Park staff members will follow the 500 students to one of these two schools, including Kandankery, who will be the vice-principal of Nelson Mandela Park. Judith Dennison, who taught kindergarten and ESL at Regent Park/Duke of York, is also looking forward to her move to Nelson Mandela. A community centre will be added to the school, which already boasts new science rooms, a dedicated steel-pan drum room, and a multi-faith prayer room that will be able to accommodate the large number of Muslim students. Dennison says of the diverse community at Regent Park/Duke of York, “It has enriched my life. For many of these kids, it’s their first experience of school in Canada. And for the staff, it’s not just a job. They’re totally committed to the community.”
20+: Number of languages spoken by Regent Park/Duke of York students
20+: Number of nationalities represented by the school’s students
70: Percentage of students whose first language is not English
Percentage of kids from Regent Park/Duke of York transferring to Nelson Mandela Park versus Lord Dufferin:
Distance between schools: