Toronto Prep School KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Toronto Prep School's Feature Review excerpts disclose its unique character. Based on discussions with the school's alumni, parents, students, and administrators, they reveal the school’s distinctive culture, community, and identity.
What we know
- Toronto Prep is a modern prep school in every way, giving students the skills and confidence they need to succeed at post-secondary study.
- Family run, the feel is close knit, both for students and staff.
- Toronto Prep offers a high level of student support.
Our editor speaks about the school (video)
You won’t find any of the trappings of traditional private education at Toronto Prep School—no uniforms, ivy covered walls, groaning Victorian architecture. It’s a modern institution to its core, firmly rooted in the realities of being an adolescent in today’s world. This makes it a preparatory school in the truest sense. TPS meets students where they are academically and socially, ensuring they receive the individualized support they need to reach their post-secondary goals.
The academic program is demanding yet adaptable enough to support students at both the mid and highest ranges of ability. The school’s aim, quite simply, is to maximize every student’s personal potential so they can gain the skills needed to succeed in university. The teachers and admin we spoke to admitted that this resembles a platitude, but they agree it’s the school’s main differentiator. “We’re not a school with a single academic specialty, like science or arts or business,” says head of science Eric Oest. “Where we excel is in giving a push to students who are bright yet—this may sound like a cliché—not living up to their ability and getting lost in the crowd. In our small classes, it’s impossible to be anonymous. We hold every student to high standards and expect them to achieve their personal best.”
One parent says she chose TPS because it was immediately apparent that they “get” families. “The instant we met Fouli and Steve, we felt the warmth and friendliness and the genuine interest in not just our child, but also in us,” she said. “They invest in the whole family. They’re close-knit themselves and we wanted a nurturing, welcoming environment for our child.” Said another parent, “For us, TPS was a place where we felt our daughter would be completely supported during her high school years in whatever way she needed and wanted to become her best self.”
ON SCHOOL LEADERSHIP
Former Principal Steve Tsimikalis, who died suddenly in September 2021, and his wife Fouli, head of admissions, founded the school together in 2009. (We interviewed Steve a few months before he passed away and have kept many of his comments in this review because of the profound and lasting influence he had in shaping TPS over 12 years). Their son Pete, who became principal at the start of the 2021–2022 academic year, was previously assistant head of admissions, while their daughter Maria is head of guidance. The teachers we spoke to said that they’re treated like extended family. “Staff meetings often feel like family dinners,” says Principal Tsimikalis. “There’s lots of laughter, but also straight talk about how we’re all meeting our obligations to provide an optimal possible learning environment for our students.”
The Tsimikalis family made a big decision in 2020 to enrich the learning environment at TPS, opting to join the Globeducate network of international schools. The network includes over 28,000 students in more than 55 schools and online programs in Canada, Spain, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, India, Portugal, and Malaysia. “We’d taken our school to a certain level and were looking for a way to expand our students’ international opportunities,” says Tsimikalis. “We were lacking in exchange programs, for example, and now we can offer phenomenal exchanges across the world.”
Even though TPS is now officially a Globeducate School, it’s still Steve and Fouli Tsimikalis’s school. According to everyone we spoke to, they’re the heart and soul of the place. “Mentors, supporters, visionaries—they’re just phenomenal,” says Steve Kinnear, head of the math department. “We were essentially a start-up, and start-ups depend on their leaders to succeed. Steve and Fouli got us from our relatively humble beginnings to where we are today.”
ON THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
“When I give tours to prospective families, they often comment that it has a university feel to it,” says Pete. While one of the hallways is shared with other tenants in the building, the rest of the space is exclusively for TPS students. The classrooms are spacious and bright—many with floor-to-ceiling windows, such as the art studio and the cafeteria for Grade 7 and 8 students. There are multiple student lounges and communal gathering areas with couches and other comfortable seating.
Sports are important at TPS and have a central place in student life, but there are no free passes for student athletes. “Our family has always put a high value on athletics in our own lives, but we consider them an adjunct to education, which is the first priority,” says Pete. Pete played professional hockey, so he’s well-acquainted with the balancing act. “Our rule here is that participation in sports teams is a privilege, not a right. You do all your schoolwork and you’re a respectful member of the TPS community, or you’re not playing.”
The school offers about 20 sports and 48 teams in a regular year, with all the basics covered and a few you might not expect (bowling, curling, and golf). “We encourage every student to make physical activity an integral part of their lives at TPS, whether that’s working out in our fitness facility or the GoodLife Fitness in our building, or joining a team,” says Pete. Over 65% of students typically take part in competitive or recreational athletics.
ON THE SCHOOL'S VALUES
“We don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Fouli Tsimikalis. “Teachers make a point of understanding how each student learns best, and with small class sizes they can keep a close eye on how everyone is doing. This leads to a high level of accountability for students.” This isn’t a place for kids who like to stay under the radar and minimize their engagement with the school community.
TPS continues to operate based on the set of beliefs of the late Steve Tsimikalis, co-founder and principal. Raising him alone on social assistance after his father passed away, Steve’s mom always put education first. She taught him that only education can level the playing field and create choices in people’s lives. Steve shared his story with TPS students in an effort to inspire a sense of gratitude and responsibility in a relatively privileged group. “I tell them they should appreciate it and work towards saying thank you by putting in the effort to take full advantage of the opportunity.”
As a member of the Globeducate network of more than 50 international schools, TPS offers students and teachers unique opportunities to learn with and from their peers worldwide. “For the staff, it means we can collaborate with colleagues from a wide range of educational settings,” says educational strategist Adam Rosenbaum. “We can see what types of teaching approaches are working for them in their part of the world, share our own experiences, and tackle common challenges together. For TPS students, this partnership opens up so many exciting avenues to create contacts with kids from other countries and join forces to explore global issues.”
Once pandemic travel restrictions are lifted, students will have the chance to participate in academic competitions and events focusing on sports, music, and art across the world. This will only expand the school’s already substantial extracurricular options.
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
The teaching approach at TPS is rooted in the belief that strong teacher-student relationships are the foundation for learning. “True learning only occurs when teachers push students beyond their comfort zones,” says Tsimikalis. “But students need to trust their teachers and believe they have students’ best interests at heart for it to work.”
“The culture is supportive and encouraging, no matter what academic level you’re at,” says educational strategist Adam Rosenbaum. His full-time job is to guide and mentor both teachers and students as they find the most effective educational approach. You don’t need straight As to get into TPS, but you do need to demonstrate a willingness to work hard and improve with the wide range of academic support available. “Our philosophy is that students’ work ethic should always exceed their talent and intellect,” says principal Tsimikalis. “If they’re maxing out their work ethic, we’ll be happy with whatever results they get, whether it’s going from a 60% average to 70% or a 94% to 95%.”
The academic program is rigorous and geared to preparing students for post-secondary education (99 percent go on to attend university). Yet both teachers and students agree that the culture is more supportive than competitive. “It’s not that there’s no competition,” says one senior student. “But it never gets to the point of being detrimental to ourselves or others.” For the size of the school, the range of electives in high school is impressive. “TPS offers truly exciting and diversified classes, covering a vast array of topics today’s students are most interested in,” says the parent of one graduate.
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Toronto Prep School
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