Africentric School an unqualified success, in spite of challenges

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday July 11 2012 in Opinion
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The good news is that Toronto’s first Africentric Alternative School – grades 1-5 – has been a success.


Success is seen in ways both quantifiable and unquantifiable. These have occurred despite high-profiled, high-decibel misrepresentations of ‘segregation’ levelled against its supporters by politicians and mainstream media. And the low-level expectations perennially had of Black students.


Among the unquantifiables is the long waiting list of students eager to attend. This is no small measure of the confidence parents have in the school, its concepts and possibilities for their children.


And then there are the other successes. These have been by benchmarks which are quantifiable and definitive: the annual EQAO province-wide assessment tests in reading and math for grades 3 and 6 students, for example. The school’s averages in both subject areas were above those for both the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Province as a whole.


To the opposition, the school’s success was nonetheless, qualified. A Toronto newspaper – one perennially at odds with our community – editorialized that the school’s success was attributable, not to its Africentric context, but instead to the likelihood that these students would do well anyhow, regardless of where they were being schooled.


By comparison, those in our community who hold our breath caring about such things as the success of our children and youth, exhaled. Now, there is a collective holding of our breath over recent news reports about dissension within the ranks of those with direct and indirect responsibilities for the school’s curricula and progress.


There have even been urgent and despairing comparisons drawn between the Africentric Alternative School and Caribana; if only because Caribana, too, a creation of Toronto’s Black community, has likewise been an incomparable success story … and an epic failure!


Some personal caution here is prudent. True, one might have been a member of the organization that founded and produced Caribana in the past, and as well a former teacher for several decades. However, neither experience would now qualify anyone to be an unequivocal authority, generally on this comparison, and specifically on the school’s current challenges.


Therefore, in this instance, being equivocal is hopefully also being prescient. Prudence should also be considered by supporters who might not also be teachers. This is so because if the past experience of teaching in Ontario is prologue, being a teacher at any level is likely still fraught with immense challenges of curricula changes and electoral whimsy; of testing, assessments and expectations which are fluid, uncertain and oft initiated to meet unpredictable political winds.


In the meantime, the teacher – having a teaching certificate (which does not also automatically justify being in the profession) has to have her reports, marks, student assessments, her assessment in on time; in addition to meeting with parents, being a parent, guidance officer, disciplinarian, friend, facing social media allowed in class … and not feel guilty having summer to recuperate.


O.K., I’m a trifle biased. And have some questions to be pursued.


First, generally regarding Alternative schools in the TDSB, how many are there and how might their mandates differ according to the political clout communities of interest might or might not have?


Secondly, specifically regarding the Africentric Alternative School, how might the defining of what being ‘Africentric’ means affect curricula implementation, student assessment, and Board versus community expectations? Also, what might possible points of confluence versus points of departure be for a principal in her balancing roles as responsible professional, and as responsive communal point person?


Finally, why might the possibility of negative infusions like ‘gossip’, and initial disagreements based on objective policy morphing into intractable subjective positions, hark back to destructive occurrences in Caribana?


To be continued.


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