Class of 2017 procession of YCDSB’s Jean Vanier Catholic High School in Richmond Hill. Photo by Ena Goquiolay

Great Expectations: Ontario English Catholic boards at head of grad class

  • November 12, 2018

For those who doubt the value of a separate Catholic education system in Ontario, they need look no further than Ministry of Education numbers to see that Catholic schools outperform their public counterparts in producing high school graduates.

The latest statistics compiled by the ministry show Catholic schools consistently graduate a higher percentage of their students than their public counterparts.

Eight of the top 10 spots for graduate rates among English boards are taken by Catholic boards. Only the York and Halton public boards prevent a Catholic sweep of the top 10.

It comes as no surprise to Ab Falconi, director of education at the York Catholic District School Board. The board has topped the ministry’s list each year since 2014. Falconi believes the distinct guidelines set out by Catholic Graduate Expectations — introduced in 1998 — are inextricably linked to Catholic boards’ success. These expectations are shaped by the faith tradition, integrating body, mind and spirit in a student’s education.

“The fact that we have the Catholic Graduate Expectations and we teach towards and we make sure we are nurturing those different aspects of each of our learners makes a difference,” said Falconi.

These expectations foster the feeling of a caring family, he said, and “all of a sudden that child feels that sense of belonging, they feel a little bit of responsibility towards themselves and towards others.”

John Kostoff, executive director of the Ontario Catholic Supervisory Officers’ Association, said these expectations are very clear and focused from day one in Grade 9. It’s attractive to parents who make a conscious choice to send their kids to a Catholic high school. 

“Parents choose to put their kids in Catholic schools, so there’s an understanding of the expectations upfront. Clearly, this is what a Catholic school is about,” said Kostoff.

The latest statistics show 86.3 per cent of all students graduated from high school within five years, with 79.8 per cent attaining their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) in four years. The ministry has set an 85-per-cent graduation rate as a target.

But it is Catholic schools leading the way in propping up those numbers. Pretty well every Catholic board across the province — 19 of 27 boards (no numbers were available for two boards) — surpasses the province’s 85-per-cent goal in graduating its students in a five-year period, and two of those boards are so close that it could be considered a rounding error. Only eight Catholic boards fall below the average, most located in northern Ontario.

John Crocco, director of education at the Niagara Catholic board, said Ontario has four excellent, caring public school systems. But how much the Catholic faith means in the results cannot be dismissed.

“We’re blessed and we’re unique in that our Catholic faith is infused in every subject area,” said Crocco, whose board was third behind York Catholic and the Halton Catholic in graduating students within a five-year rate. “That helps permeate what we do because it teaches the students the responsibility (of our faith).”

All the educators recognize that it goes beyond just sharing Gospel values. At York Catholic, Falconi said its SWAC (School Within A College) teachers maintain a personal touch with students with “pretty intensive efforts” to keep kids in school. 

“It might be a student who might be somewhat disengaged and all of a sudden there are people out there who are watching out for me and are caring about me and want me to succeed,” said Falconi.

That’s not to say Catholic boards are the be-all and end-all. Kostoff said it could very well be that the next statistics show a reversal and more public boards are at the top in producing graduates. 

“Public schools in Ontario are probably one of the leading systems in the world, not just Canada,” he said. 

But Catholic schools recognize they “have to be more than just the academic graduation rates.” If that’s it, “then I don’t know that we’re fulfilling the mandate of what Catholic schools were created to be.”

Still, despite the encouraging numbers, the challenge remains in seeing more students graduate. 

“I won’t be satisfied until it’s 100 per cent,” said Crocco.

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