By RON FANFAIR
It’s no accident that C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute is ranked among one of the most improved high schools in the Greater Toronto Area since Dr. Monday Gala started as principal four years ago.
Through the introduction of initiatives that allow students to complete their education through experiential learning and earn post-secondary credits, the launch of a robotics program that engages students in science, technology, engineering, math and community partnerships that have led to a significant number of bursaries and scholarships for graduating pupils, the entire school community is feeling good and excelling.
That’s a testament to the hardworking and committed staff led by Dr. Gala, who was recently honoured with a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Excellence Award.
Not wanting to take all the praise for the recognition, he said students, teachers, parents and the community who have all played an integral role in the school’s meteoric rise should share the honour.
Just a few years before Gala was promoted to principal, C.W. Jefferys made headlines for the wrong reasons.
Grade Nine student, Jordan Manners, was fatally shot on the premises in May 2007 and six youths faced sexual abuse charges for assaulting a Muslim girl in the school’s bathroom a few months earlier. The charges were later dropped.
In addition, a high percentage of students at C.W. Jefferys and other schools in the Jane & Finch community were underachieving in class.
Gala had a simple formula he believed would inspire excellence among students and teachers.
“When I got here, I told everybody they are the best in the TDSB,” he said. “I remember a lot of people were looking at me as if I was crazy. However, I believed that and I wanted everyone to feel the same way. Once our students and staff believed they are the best, they worked hard to actualize that belief. Not only did we see a rise in the credit accumulation for students and graduation rates, but we were also doing well on the standardized tests where perennially no one expects us to do well. We were out there shoulder to shoulder with everybody.”
Two years ago, the school – with the support of Superintendent Jacqueline Spence – launched a groundbreaking streaming pilot project.
Students who would have chosen applied streams in certain subjects were encouraged to pursue academic courses.
“We are offering an overwhelming majority of our Grade Nine courses at the academic level only,” he said. “We got rid of the applied courses. So far, we are seeing that not just the achievement rates are higher for everybody, but when we actually desegregate the data and look at the students that would have taken applied courses, the kids are also succeeding at higher levels than in the traditional success rates we saw in the applied classes. We are making our students believe they are as good as anybody.”
Spence, whose family of 27 schools includes three secondary institutions, said Gala’s success stems from his absolute love of students.
“Monday engages with them in an incredible way,” she said. “When you go to C.W. Jefferys, you will hardly ever find him in his office. He is always in the hallways or classrooms. He has an amazing relationship with parents, teachers and students. When it comes to the students, he has high expectations for them, he knows they are capable and with the help of his staff, he creates an environment for them to flourish.”
As the student council president, Nuradin Mohamed-Nur has a close relationship with the principal.
“He makes our school a vibrant place where students want to be,” said the Grade 12 student. “He’s a good man and one of kind. I am proud to consider him a friend.”
Trustee Tiffany Ford said Gala is an amazing principal who is dedicated to student achievement.
“He is the example of a principal whose leadership not only changes the atmosphere of a school, but it influences an entire family of schools,” she said. “His dedication and passion for student achievement are measurable by the success of the school.”
Gala joined the TDSB 19 years ago after teaching geophysics and environmental science courses at the University of Western Ontario.
While living in London, I used to follow the news in Toronto and Jane & Finch always seemed to be making negative news headlines,” he said. “I really wanted to go into that area and teach because I felt I could be impactful. When a teaching position came up, I applied and was successful.”
He has been at C.W. Jefferys since 2000 as a teacher, vice-principal and now principal.
“I was at other schools for a short period in that time, but my heart and soul have always been with C.W. Jefferys,” he said.
Growing up in his native Nigeria, Gala said his parents constantly reminded him and his siblings that education liberates people.
“Despite them telling me that, it was not until I got into Grade 10 where I encountered an amazing physics teacher that made learning easy,” he said. “At that point, I knew I was going to be a teacher. The irony is that physics teacher was a Canadian and the fact that I am now teaching in Canada feels like I am giving back to the country for that inspiration I got.”