Is the Africentric School targeted?

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor

There was a meeting at Ryerson University last weekend to discuss an issue regarding the Africentric School. We at Share only found out about it when some people called to ask about it. They said they were told that the Black principal, Thando Hyman-Aman, had been removed from the school and replaced with a White principal. They wanted to know if that was true.

In spite of the opposition to this school when it was first announced, even from Premier Dalton McGuinty, it has been an extraordinary success…under the leadership of Hyman-Aman. So, what gives?

Share has been a firm supporter of this school from the beginning. When all the mainstream newspapers – and even other community publications – came out against the school, we stood steadfast in our support. We never wavered once. So, if there is a problem I would think someone might have given us a heads-up. Maybe those who called the meeting don’t read Share and are not aware of our interest.

As it turns out, Hyman-Aman had been at home for the past three weeks as a result of a complaint laid against her by the parent of one of the school’s students. We have also learned that this is not the first time that particular parent has complained about her.

From what we understand, the complaint is not serious and the investigation should wrap up shortly. If that is the case, why has it taken so long and why has this principal been removed from her job for three weeks?

And, why are we just hearing about this?

In the old days, when there was an issue of concern in the community, there would be open discussions, public meetings, demonstrations and what have you. How come this has been kept so quiet? Where are all those people who crammed the Jamaican Canadian Association’s center in the summer to support a fundraiser for the school?

If it was true that this Black woman was replaced by a White man to head the Africentric School for which so many have fought so hard for so long, shouldn’t we be storming the gates? At the very least, shouldn’t we be calling very publicly for answers from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB)? 

I don’t have a problem with White teachers teaching Black kids. They do so all the time throughout the school system. And many of them are very good and caring educators. A more important issue, if the TDSB was really replacing this Black principal with someone who is White, especially at this stage in the school’s development, would be the optics. One of the strengths of this school is its ability to show Black children role models at the front of their classes and in the principal’s office who look like them.

As good as male teachers might be at teaching girls, it would be a stretch to imagine that TDSB director, Dr. Chris Spence, would choose a male principal for his proposed Girls Only (G.O.) school.

Hyman-Aman has not been fired or replaced. She has been on home assignment with full pay – as per board policy – pending the outcome of the investigation by the TDSB.

Members of the TDSB staff are not allowed to speak on such issues. We have tried to get comments, to no avail. Not even from people in the senior ranks at the TDSB, including Black officials. But, what about supporters outside of the school system who might have known about this and are not bound by TDSB’s confidentiality rules?

Speaking of those senior Black officials at the TDSB, and there are quite a few – the Superintendant responsible for this school; the Director of Education for the TDSB; the TDSB Student and Community Equity executive officer, among them – what are they doing to protect this school?

We seem to be no better protected today than when we had no Black people in these positions.

Another thing. I understand that a senior official went over the heads of staff at the Africentric School to enroll a White student who was not on the waiting list while scores of Black kids wait for a space. Is that true? And, if it is, is it appropriate?

It took some 30 years for the school board to approve this alternative school while it was approving other alternative schools left, right and centre. More than 30 at last count. Then, when the issue finally came to a vote at the board, it passed by just two votes. Of the two Black trustees on the board, one voted against and one for. It almost never happened.

We were delighted when it was announced that Hyman-Aman was chosen to be the school’s first principal. We know her. We saw her grow up at the side of her activist parents.

Those public meetings and demonstrations I referred to earlier with regard to issues affecting our community? Her parents would have been front and centre; their voices would have been the loudest, calling for fairness and justice for Black folks in this town. And a young Thando Hyman would have, more often than not, been right there with them. Maybe some of those people meeting quietly at Ryerson, as well as those Black executives at the school board, may well have benefited from the very public efforts of these folks so many years ago.

This school and this principal have been under attack from the get-go by a small group of disgruntled people from our community. Are they still opposed to this school and just want to frustrate everyone involved? Is there someone among them who wanted the job as principal and won’t stop until Hyman-Aman is fired? Is it that they are unhappy with the curriculum which some say are not African enough?

We need to let the TDSB know that this school is very important to a lot of people and has a tremendous amount of support in the community, even from many who at first opposed it. (In an editorial last weekend, the Sunday Sun, in urging the TDSB trustees to support the vision of executive director, Chris Spence, also lauded the success of the Africentric School. What a statement that was! The Sun was one of the harshest critics of the concept when the school was first announced.)

Over the 40 years I have been in this community (as of this Friday, actually) I know first hand that many of us, as individuals, have achieved a lot. But, as a community, there is still so much more that we can be.

We need to revive that bold spirit of activism. We need to let people in authority know that we, as a community, will not accept unfairness, in whatever form it takes. And we need to stand up boldly and publicly when our community’s achievements are put at risk, even by our own.

This school was an important “get” for us. We won’t stand idly by and let anyone destroy it.

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