As a class volunteer at Shoreham Public School and a student at York University, Josh Cardoza was privileged to see first-hand Jacqueline Spence in action.
“She treated every student and parent with the utmost respect and dignity and she encouraged collaboration with her staff,” said Cardoza who is a Grade Five teacher at Carville Mills Public School in Thornhill. “You could see she deeply cared about the young people and their educational advancement and also parents’ expectations for their children.
“I got the impression that the school was her home away from home and she treated every person that came through those doors as a special guest.”
Cardoza was ecstatic when he learned that Spence is the Africentric Alternative School’s new principal. She said she was approached a few weeks ago with the offer to replace founding principal, Thando Hyman-Aman.
“I was surprised, but very excited and honoured when I was asked if I would be interested in going to the school,” said Spence, the sister of Toronto District School Board (TDSB) director, Dr. Chris Spence. “This is an amazing opportunity. I have followed the school’s progress and I know of the great work that Thando has done and the outstanding foundation she has set for the school. My job as principal is to continue to build on what has been done.”
Spence brings a steady and calming personality and outstanding credentials to her new position.
She did her undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario and her Masters at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She also taught and was an administrator in schools in the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods.
Her first teaching assignment was at Sloane Public School in the Victoria Village community.
“I spent about five years there before going on maternity leave and when I went back to work, I decided I wanted to be in an environment with students that looked like me and were in challenged neighbourhoods,” said Spence, who spent close to 18 months as principal at Gosford Public School before going to Shoreham. “We know about the hurdles that some of our students face, so I wanted to be somewhere where I could make a difference. “I learned so much about embracing community and finding ways to work together in the best interest of the students from my experience at those schools in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood.”
Born in England and raised in Windsor, Spence was York University’s Urban Diversity Consecutive Teacher Education program course director for three years before being appointed last September as the TDSB’s central coordinating principal of equity, inclusive schools, student, parent and community.
In that role, she spearheaded the development of the Africentric High School program for Grade Nine students. Beginning in September, students enrolled in the program will get the opportunity to learn the provincial curriculum through the diverse perspectives, experiences and histories of people from the African Diaspora.
She also coordinated a partnership with Redemption Re-Integration Services that supports the TDSB’s commitment to improved outcomes for racialized groups and access to transitional programs for young people re-engaging with education following custody or detention in the youth criminal system.
Despite developing culturally relevant and responsive programs and building partnerships, Spence says she’s excited to be returning to a classroom environment.
“In as much as I enjoyed working at York and with the TDSB equity department, the daily interaction with students is what I love the most,” the married mother of two added. “I love challenges and I think I will grow personally and professionally in my new experience.”
York Region Equity Council member, Donna Cardoza, said the TDSB made a wise decision in selecting Spence to head the Africentric School.
“She brings a tremendous amount of experience as an educator and school administrator to the position,” said Cardoza, who five years ago founded the Nubian Book Club that uses literacy as a tool for enhancing leadership and social skills, community engagement, respectful peer relationships and overall student success. “If ever there was someone who can build on the success and enable the school to continue to thrive, it’s Jackie. She understands students and she knows how to connect with them and make them feel valued. She brings hope to those that feel isolated.”
TDSB vice-principal Gary Pieters is confident Spence will thrive in her new role.
“She understands the community and its needs,” said Pieters, who is also the president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.
Spence is the education committee chair of the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE). PACE sponsors basic schools in Jamaica. She and her husband, Dr. Dominic Shelton, have adopted Wesleyan Holiness Basic School in Portland.
By RON FANFAIR