March 7, 2011

TORONTO — A new private Catholic high school that wants to open its doors to youth from low-income families is taking flak from critics who argue the plan would "economically segregate" students.

David Livingstone, director of the University of Toronto OISE Centre for the Study of Education and Work, has concerns about the proposed model for the 500-student Toronto Cristo Rey School, which will be run by the Basilian order.

The project is "well-intentioned but ill-informed," said Livingstone, author of How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs.

Research since the 1960s has, he said, found that mixing low-income and high-income students together suggests "low-income students are going to gain and high-income students are not going to lose."

But Basilian Father Joseph Redican, who is spearheading the project, says the school will be "inclusive" and provide opportunities for students, including those who could be the first in their family to attend university or college.


The new school will get poorer kids out of poorer neighbourhoods "and get them more involved in the entire city," he said in an interview.

The proposed Cristo Rey School for students from lower-income neighbourhoods is based upon the model of a school Redican ran in Detroit which provides American college preparatory education to youth who can't afford private school education.

The Detroit school is part of the 24-school Cristo Rey Network run by the Basilians in the United States.

Cristo Rey students participate in a work-study program where they work one day a week to pay their tuition while having longer school days during a four-day school week.

Redican, also president of St. Michael's College High School, a private Catholic boys' school, said a number of schools like St. Michael's already offer financial assistance to students who can't afford the tuition.

He said 45 students are receiving full financial assistance, but added there's a limit to the number of students who can benefit from this program.

With the proposed school, Redican said "good, quality, Catholic independent education" can be open to a much larger group of students.

The selection criteria will be based upon economic need, the ability to do a university preparation program and possibly an entrance exam, which is standard for private schools.