When Toronto District School Board trustees voted some four years ago to approve an Africentric alternative school, it was greeted by many in our community as a major accomplishment and by others as the culmination of some 40 years of effort.
What most of us didn’t know at the time was that there were two separate proposals.
One of these was being developed by a number of highly respected educators and other professionals from our community which, from all appearances and based on who were involved with it, could easily have been determined to be a continuation of the work previously done. The other, the one that was finally approved, did not seem to have the same background – or pedigree, if you will.
So, why was this proposal approved instead of the other?
We know a couple things. One is that the school board had refused consistently for almost four decades to approve an alternative school for Black kids during which time it approved more than 30 other alternative schools. Two, the vote on the proposal was won on the smallest of margins which means that a significant number of trustees didn’t approve of this school.
What about the staff? How did they, from the director on down, feel about this school being “foisted” on them after they had resisted it for so long?
And did the choice of proposals have something to do with the approval? Did the board, in fact, choose what they might have considered the proposal with the weaker community support expecting it to fail eventually so that they could get on with their other business and not have to worry about a school for Black kids for another 40 years?
Also, did the trustees know of or even see the other proposal? In other words, did the board staff present only the one proposal for the consideration of the trustees?
These are some of the questions being floated now following the tumultuous three-year term of the outgoing principal. People have been wondering why the board seemed to have left her on her own for so long, allowing a small group of dissidents to create what can be easily termed a poisoned environment in any other workplace.
But this is no longer about Thando Hyman-Aman. She is gone and will get on with her life. This is about the school. Does the board really want this school to continue to exist? Or was it set up to fail?
The school has proven itself and, while the principal has left, the teachers she worked with and who worked with these children are still there and I expect they will continue to work diligently to see their charges succeed academically.
If members of the board – especially its staff (and anyone else) – had planned on this school failing, they most certainly miscalculated. They definitely underestimated the passion and commitment of the teachers; people who, in spite of the seeming lack of board support and resources, helped the students raise their test scores to surpass Toronto’s, and indeed, Ontario’s average.
But, let’s give the board the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that they wanted the school to succeed and they, in fact, made sure they hired the right educators to achieve the desired results, why did the director, the assistant director, the superintendent and other board staff allow the unfortunate, destructive behaviour by a few disgruntled people to so affect and demoralize the teachers and other staff?
The board must now begin to provide the necessary resources and also to assist the teachers and other school staff by providing a safe work environment at the school.
The board needs to get the dissidents out of the school environment and it is its responsibility to see to this. Then the board has to ensure the new principal gets the necessary support and resources – financial and otherwise – to make this thing work.
I also understand that a majority of the parents are determined to see to it that this school continues to thrive and are prepared to fight for it. But, they could use the support of the community.
Why is it that I get the feeling that Black educators – teachers, principals, vice-principals, support staff – in the TDSB are under siege. No one will speak with us; we hear that they are afraid of the board; that they are under strict orders to not speak publicly of their concerns. And, the fact that the director is Black does not seem to make a difference.
There is another question that also needs to be asked: How come there has been such silence on the part of senior and respected educators in our community where this school is concerned? Is there some sort of disconnect with these folks around how the school came into being? One could be forgiven for thinking that there should have been more support from the community – especially from educators – for this school. They have wanted this for a very long time. What’s going on? Are they also afraid of the TDSB?
Based on the success of this school (in spite of the problems), trustees have voted to establish a secondary Africentric program at a Scarborough school. That is good news. But, it might have been better. They might have established a secondary school instead of a program. Maybe the problems with the elementary school have given them pause. If that is the case, it means that we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot; it means that our destructive behaviour continues to hold us– and our children – back.