Roundtable Q&A Discussion About Toronto Prep School (2021)
Toronto Prep School alumni, current students, and parents shared their insights on the school’s culture, values, strengths, and weaknesses. Hear what Phil Jones, Fouli Tsimikalis (Founder), Pete Tsimikalis (Principal) had to say about the school.
Highlights from the Q&A discussion
Phil Jones — current parent
- Child 1
Gr. 7 - Gr. 12
- Child 2
Gr. 7 - Gr. 12
- Child 3
Gr. 7 - Gr. 12
Phil had three children attend Toronto Prep School. He wanted a school with small class sizes, energetic teachers, and no uniforms. He appreciated how every child could participate in whatever sport they wanted to. He felt that he could support the mental health of his children because he was confident that Toronto Prep would take care of their academics.
We didn't even go to any other school or apply to any other school other than Toronto Prep for a number of reasons. And the primary reason is that we wanted to have a small classroom size, and Toronto Prep School is the smallest. You had to have young, energetic teachers, which at the time we knew that you guys had. But a critical criteria for us was no uniforms. And so we didn't want our children going to, never mind a single-sex uniform school, but even a coed uniform school.
What we really loved about your school is that if you don't fit the mould, it's heaven on Earth. And I think it's important for people to understand.
There was just a gamut of different teachers that were able to inspire him and make him feel compelled to work a little harder.
One thing about Toronto Prep was that they were able to accommodate every single one of our daughter’s needs, every step of the way, in order for her to succeed. To be frank, she had some issues that were difficult for her to get through, not only school, but life in general. I'm almost getting a little emotional here talking about it.
What's wonderful about the school is that no matter their skill level, your child could participate in whatever sport he or she wants to. I think it's important because that will give kids confidence as well with their ability. It enables them to join these teams and enjoy a team environment. Okay, so what if the team doesn't do well? At least they're having a great time, right? Being together, taking the day off school or half a day or whatever. And I think that's important for parents to understand.
What prepares students for university is having the confidence to actually go in and do it. When it comes to, ‘Oh, what's the university going to be like? What's going to prepare them for university?’ it's almost like they need to be in it in order to understand it. But what you guys do really well is you give them the confidence to go and say, ‘Well, I don't know what this is going to be like, but what I do know is that I can figure it out.’
It's really important for parents to understand the level of support the children have in Grade 12 when it comes to the whole cradle-to-grave university application process. I was blown away. I mean, it's great because the parents could sit back and go, ‘Ah, we just let Toronto Prep and the guidance team take care of it.’ It is incredible. I mean, you guys do it better.
The other critical success factor that's important for new parents to understand that I don't think any other school has is the late start, but also resource teachers. The 10 a.m. start is fantastic. Students have the ability to come in at nine o'clock and see their teacher, or see the math and science resource teacher, or the English/history resource and have that support. So if your teacher is not available, then you can go in to see whoever the math and science resource person is and or whatever teacher is that you guys have staffed there every single day for these kids to draw on.
Everybody from the top down cares and everybody from the top down wants to see your child get better and succeed.
When I send my child to Toronto Prep, I don't have to worry about them academically. Because as parents, you can be hyper focused on your child's academic success, academic standing, and then ultimately getting into university. But the great thing is when they go to Toronto Prep, you don't have to worry about that. I would say that that's really, really important, particularly in this day and age with awareness of mental health and stuff like that.
Fouli Tsimikalis (Founder) — current parent
I always say to parents, we're a safety net. Parents are holding one end of the safety net and we're holding the other end. We’re working together. We are on the same page about what kids need and what attention they need and support and when they need discipline, when they need love, when they need companionship. You're a parent. You know you have to do all that for your children when they're growing up. We know as teachers and at the school, we have to be the same way.
We as adults have to recognize when the child is struggling, whether that be academically, or when it has to do with friendship, family, school, whatever it may be, because they're human beings. High school is a tough place, man. Just like us as adults, we have to navigate through their feelings and their emotions.
So why do we have the small classes? Each teacher gets to know each and every one of their students. We want to know our students. We'll remember the families and what they do and we want to know where they go on vacation.
After leaving Toronto Prep School, your child knows how to attack [university-level] problems. It doesn't matter if there's a 1,000 in the class or 2 in the class. The skills were learned in a small class to make sure that they were embedded in your child and that they learned them so that they could use them in the real world out there. These are skills that are transferable and that could be used not only at university, but hopefully in a job.
When people come to me and say, ‘Well, do the kids get into university?’ I say, I'll give you one better. Our kids graduate university and do very well. Because to us, that's the key. That's the success. People are like, ‘Oh, I didn't realize your graduation rate is 99% first selection university.’ Getting into school, yes, it's hard. I understand it's hard, but one in three kids will drop out the first year and be asked to leave. That's not the case for the TPS graduates. Not at all. They go in full gangbusters ahead and they rock. And so I tell them, if you're going to any school, please ask them what the success rate is of their kids at university, not just who gets in. And that's really important to us.
It's all about respect. Familiarity can be there as long as there's respect. People respect our knowledge and our behaviour with their kids, and they trust us that we're going to take care of their child. And we have trust in the parents that they will understand what we're trying to do.
We have to build their self esteem and their confidence so that when we're not there, they're going to have the fortitude to turn around and say, ‘No, I'm not doing that,’ or ‘I got to go now. I'm going to walk away.’ Teenagers have so many pressures around them all the time. They need to be good looking, to be smart, to be athletic, to fit in.
Our mantra is all about respect: respect for yourself first, respect for your family second, and respect for your school third. And I think we live it and we show by example.
Pete Tsimikalis (Principal) — current parent
We are family and we do get to know our families. So we are invested. It's not lost on kids and teenagers. It's not lost on them. They can pick up on it, too. A lot of times we'll say we're a family here, and it's cliched, it sounds empty, but it's true.
When students know we’re genuine and we actually care, they'll accept what we say. When I'm telling you to do your homework, it's not because I'm being a jerk and I want to ruin your weekend. It's because this will help you and I care about you and you can do it. Stop saying that you're not a math person or a language person. You can do this. They'll accept a little tough love.
[When it’s time to apply to university,] we want the Grade 12s focusing on their academic work. We're going to hold their hand through the process, but we need to make sure that we do everything perfectly just so to make sure it gets uploaded properly. everything's online now, right? You click one wrong button and you don't apply properly.
We want kids to like coming here and enjoy coming here and feel comfortable. If they don't, this is all for naught. We can push them a bit. Academically, we know what we're doing. We're rigorous. We can do that. We want the kids to enjoy coming here, feel comfortable and want to hang out.
In no way does having that closeness [with the students] impact the academic integrity of the course. This old model where distance between educator and educated has to be there for effective learning. We don't believe in that.