When Stanley Munro Jr. learned there was a free Saturday Morning Tutorial Program at Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute just around the corner from Marlee Avenue where he was raised, he grasped the opportunity without hesitation.
The teenager had just made the transition from elementary to high school and was hungry for any extra academic help he could get in Grade Nine.
The late John Vieira and former community liaison officer, Ruth Wiggins, developed the then City of York Board of Education-sponsored tutorial program in 1982 as an off-shoot of a similar initiative at Brock Avenue Public School.
The program attracted several experienced and qualified instructors, including Dr. Thomas Massiah, who survived the Great Depression in the 1930s to graduate from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry in 1947, a Master’s in Organic Chemistry from McGill University in 1956 and a Doctorate in Organic Chemistry from the Universite de Montreal six years later. He also did post-doctoral research work, primarily in the field of pharmaceuticals, for nearly two decades and was granted five patents.
When Munro showed up for the program in 1991, Massiah – who was then retired – welcomed him with open arms.
“I remember Dr. Massiah telling us how difficult things were back in his time and that his success was not easily attained,” recalled Munro. “That really inspired me and I said I wanted to be a doctor just like him even though I had no idea what field of study I was going to pursue.”
Last May, Munro obtained his doctorate in Educational Leadership from San Diego State University. His dissertation was a case study of a charter high school where the percentage of Black and Latino students who passed the state’s high school exit exam far exceeded overall and district state averages.
“Stanley did a particularly good job of describing how the school’s leaders influenced the school’s culture and that culture resulted in better teaching and learning,” said Dr. Joseph Johnson, the executive director of the National Centre for Urban School Transformation and Educational Leadership professor at San Diego State University.
A principal at Fulton K-8 School in San Diego, the 35-year-old educator also has Master’s degrees in Teaching Math, Administration and Reading Specialist, a Master of Science Education in School Administration & Supervision from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Business Management and Business Administration certificates from Georgetown University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto.
Back home for Thanksgiving, Munro took time out from family commitments to visit his mentor.
“There were many young people who left the program after a few weeks, but I persevered,” Munro, who attended Glen Park Elementary School, People’s Christian Academy and Forest Hill Collegiate Institute, said.
“On many occasions, there were just about 10 of us in the Saturday class and a few times it was just me and Dr. Massiah. He helped me work through my Math problems and I would be prepared for school on Monday mornings.
“That guy was retired and he didn’t need to be there every Saturday. He could have also charged a fee for his service, but he didn’t. He just wanted to see his students succeed academically. I am forever grateful to him and to my parents for ensuring that I woke up early every Saturday morning and attended the program.”
Munro also paid tribute to Forest Hill teachers Barbara Aston and Peter Hall for contributing to his academic and professional development.
While at U of T where he majored in Math and Physics, Munro was a peer tutor in school and at the Jamaica Canadian Association which also runs a Saturday Morning Tutorial program.
“It was during that time that I developed a passion for teaching,” he said.
Munro worked for a year as a cost analyst with Telus before relocating to the United States in 2001 to attend John Hopkins University.
“I was also accepted into Teachers’ College at the U of T, but my parents suggested it would be a great opportunity to go to another country where I have many family members,” he said. “I saw it as another opportunity to broaden my horizons.”
After securing his teacher certification, Munro taught in Baltimore and was vice-principal at Scott Montgomery Elementary School in Washington, D.C. He said he gained an appreciation for poverty while working in Baltimore.
“I hadn’t experienced poverty and violence like what I was exposed to in Baltimore,” he said. “Knowing the background the young people were coming from and what they were going through helped me going forward in working with students.
“While demonstrating love and care, I however made it absolutely clear that I was not going to expect less from them because of their circumstances. I am very hard on my students and I demand the very best from them because I know if I gave up on them in a society that has already given up on them, they would probably give up on themselves.”
A vice-principal at Correia Middle School in the San Diego Unified School District for two years before being promoted to principal in 2010, Munro said he constantly reminds students that education empowers people and strengthens nations.
“I tell them the world can be harsh and cruel and they need to be educated because no one will take them seriously,” he said. “Education is the key to pass through the door. Without it, you are locked out. There is no in-between as you are either in or out. I plead with them to hit the books because that’s the only way they are going to move forward in life.”
Munro met his wife, Yovana – a behavioural health, marriage and family therapist – in D.C. and they moved out to San Diego five years ago. They have a son who celebrated his first birthday last week.
Excellence runs through Munro’s immediate family.
His father, Stanley Sr., is a real estate sales representative who previously managed Rothman’s and Canron Inc. cost accounting departments while his mother, Monica, is a registered nurse. Younger sister Belinda is a multi-talented singer, songwriter, model, actress, motivational speaker and realtor who lives in the U.S. Her debut single “Hurts Just to Breathe” was released earlier this year.
BY RON FANFAIR