Canada's best high schools
Introducing 30 extraordinary schools that set standards for excellence in their own distinct ways
BRIAN BERGMAN with KARIN MARLEY | Aug 22, 2005
For his landmark 2003 book, Making Schools Work, American researcher and author William Ouchi studied more than 200 schools in six North American cities, looking at what makes the difference between great places of learning and mediocre ones. Ouchi, a professor at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, concluded that the most commonly cited factors, including class size and funding levels, were not, in the end, decisive. Instead, the school districts that excelled, whether serving poor or affluent neighbourhoods, were those that decentralized control to local schools and principals and encouraged them to think outside the box about providing families with the widest possible range of educational opportunities. One of the very best jurisdictions, wrote Ouchi, was Edmonton Public Schools, which he described as "a shining example to educators throughout the world."
See the best schools for the following 10 categories:
It's perhaps no coincidence that two of the 10 schools featured in our magazine's second annual Canada's Best Schools survey are from Edmonton. Both Old Scona and Jasper Place are examples of how public high schools, under the right leadership, can tailor academic programs to meet the very particular needs -- and challenges -- of their students. In fact, all 10 high schools featured in our magazine's pages(and another 20 high achievers on this website)show how principals and teachers, given the freedom to innovate, can promote academic excellence. That they often do so under the most adverse circumstances makes their achievement all the more remarkable.
Consider Kipling Collegiate Institute in one of Toronto's more impoverished areas. It struggles to serve an immigrant population hailing from 54 countries and families who often subsist on welfare. Principal Roger Dale has gone the extra distance, helping neighbourhood social workers and support groups to work together on the students' behalf. Or Winnipeg's Children of the Earth, a predominantly Aboriginal school, where Cree principal Lorne Belmore uses mandatory Cree and Ojibwa language classes to help instill native pride while turning would-be dropouts into future doctors and lawyers.
Sometimes, it's an educator's private passion that helps inspire students to reach new heights. At Stelly's Secondary on Vancouver Island, Peter Mason, a math and outdoor education teacher as well as a veteran climber, raised thousands of dollars to erect elaborate outdoor and indoor climbing facilities that have become an integral part of school life. In Victoria, Reynolds Secondary principal John Harrison, the father of two soccer-playing girls, seized on a new provincial policy demanding more flexibility and choice in public schools to introduce a credit course in soccer that's producing students who score big on the field and in the classroom.
However they do it, the staff at Canada's best schools put the lie to the stereotype that high school is something to be endured, not embraced. These kids are actually clamouring to spend more time with teachers and peers. At Montreal's John Rennie, students show up before school every day and on Saturdays to take part in an Actors' Studio that earns them credits toward their diploma. Students at Vancouver's Kitsilano Secondary travel to the rustic island of Gambier for an annual writing retreat co-hosted by teacher John Gellard.
The enthusiasm is infectious. When Maclean's asked readers in February to nominate their favourite high schools, we received more than 1,000 letters from principals, teachers, parents -- and, of course, the kids themselves. They raved about nearly 200 schools in all, citing everything from innovation and academic achievement to community involvement and great teachers. Maclean's editors also factored in the Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence -- given to 65 top teachers a year -- and results from science fairs and academic competitions.(Our sister publication Today's Parent is featuring 40 great elementary and middle schools in its September issue.)
Distilled to its essence, though, what makes a great school tick remains the enormous potential of a single educator to effect change. Bruce Coggles, the veteran principal at this year's selection for overall achievement, Jasper Place, is perhaps the clearest example. After assuming the helm of the hardscrabble school 10 years ago, Coggles took advantage of the autonomy Edmonton Public Schools invests in its principals. He wiped out an inherited $500,000 deficit, replacing it by last year with a $600,000 surplus. He did this not by cutting corners, but by vastly improving overall student performance -- Edmonton public high schools are funded on the basis of course completions; the more Grade 10 students a school takes through to graduation the more money it receives from the district. Small wonder Ouchi calls Coggles "a perfect example of an entrepreneurial principal." Small wonder Jasper Place is flying so high.
School profiles in this feature were written by Brian Bergman, Ken MacQueen and Karin Marley
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