Young people in the Jane-Finch community are far too often unnecessarily stigmatized.
Tiffany Ford knows this as she was born and raised in the neighbourhood.
Armed with a university education and intimate knowledge of the community she still resides in, Ford ran for trustee in Ward 4 in last November’s municipal elections. Stephnie Payne was the area trustee for 23 years.
Ford wanted the opportunity to directly influence change for better schools and accessibility to quality education while providing transparency and promoting a holistic approach for serving young people in York West.
She got her wish, defeating seven contenders including businessman and Cabbagetown Youth Centre executive director, Spiros Papathanasakis.
One of 11 new trustees, Ford chairs the three-member suspension and expulsion hearings committee.
“There is a reason I chose to head this committee,” she said. “Nearly 12 per cent of Black students are in the Toronto & District School Board (TDSB) system, yet when I go to the hearings, about 90 per cent of the students are Black.”
Some of the hearings are weapons related.
While Ford doesn’t condone students taking weapons to school, she says she can understand why some of them feel the need to bear arms.
“I attended schools in this community so I can relate to the experience because I lived them,” she said. “As a 13-year-old, I took a knife to school to protect myself because I was threatened with physical harm by other students. We have students who have been robbed and threatened multiple times and they feel they have a need to protect themselves. I can relate to that because it happened to me.”
Ford is also the vice-chair of the special education advisory committee legislated by the Ministry of Education to assist the TDSB in understanding the special needs of exceptional children and youth and to advise the board in matters that apply to the delivery of special education services and programs.
“About 60 per cent of the calls have to do with this issue, so it’s obviously a priority for parents in my ward,” she said.
With special education funding cut by $7.3 million, trustees last week voted to cut about 50 special education jobs in the next school year. There are almost 40,000 special education students.
When Ford got wind that the Reading Recovery program could be affected by the cuts to balance the budget, she acted and it was taken off the table before becoming an agenda item.
Reading Recovery is a one-on-one early reading and writing intervention program for selected students in Grade One. Teachers take part in intensive training in their first year of teaching the program and are continuously trained throughout the time they teach the program in 30-minute daily lessons for a maximum of 20 months.
“This is a program that’s in many schools in my ward and the students need the one-on-one help,” she said.
A total of 22 schools and Emery Adult Learning Centre are in Ford’s ward, which will host its first council meeting under her stewardship early next month.
Ward council meetings provide an opportunity for parent representatives from schools in the ward to meet with their local school trustee and discuss issues of concern. The meetings also provide a forum for the trustee to provide information to parents about relevant board matters.
In addition to the parent representatives, Ford plans to add Jane & Finch Concerned Citizens Organization executive director, Winston LaRose, a youth representative and a community member to the council.
“I think it’s important we get the views of a cross-section of the community,” she said.
The holder of a communications & sociology degree, Ford founded the Ford Global Group and Beyond at Risk, which aims to dismantle negative connotations associated with the term “at-risk”.
She claims she was unaware that Payne was stepping down prior to making her decision to run for trustee.
“I just thought I was ready to step up to the plate and try to improve the lives of students in this ward,” said Ford, who attended Firgrove Public School, Oakdale Park Middle School and Westview Centennial Secondary School. “I sensed residents wanted change and someone from their community to lead in supporting our students and creating positive changes for schools in York West.”