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Africentric high school, new trustees on TDSB agenda

Thando Hyman-Aman, principal for Toronto's Africentric public school, in 2009.

Charla Jones/Charla Jones/Globe and Mail

The Toronto District School Board will consider several controversial items, including an Africentric high school and the appointment of new trustees, at a board meeting Wednesday night.

Trustees are deeply divided over some of the issues on the jam-packed agenda, and the meeting promises to be one of the most contentious the board has seen in years.

"Lots of us will be making up our minds based on the arguments that are made on the floor," said trustee Chris Glover. "For a lot of these issues, there's strong arguments to made on both sides."

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The meeting will be held at the board's headquarters at 5050 Yonge St. starting at 7 p.m. The meeting will be open to the public and streamed live through the TDSB's website.

TRUSTEE VACANCIES The 24-member board has two empty seats since last month's provincial election, and it must decide how to fill the spots.

Trustees in Don Valley East and Scarborough-Agincourt were elected to the Ontario Legislature, and the TDSB is stuck with the bill for finding their replacements.

Most trustees feel that a by-election would be the democratic choice, especially given that the new trustees will serve for three more years, until the next municipal election.

"To have those people [in those two wards]go three years without a democratically elected representative is just too long," Mr. Glover said.

The trouble is, in light of a projected $71-million shortfall this year, the solution is not easily affordable. A by-election could cost about $500,000. Having a panel of parents and educators appoint the candidates would be a lot cheaper.

"It's not about the price of democracy at all, it's about spending our resources well," said trustee Shelley Laskin.

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AFRICENTRIC HIGH SCHOOL With the success of the Africentric primary school, which opened in the fall of 2009, supporters are looking to grow the program by opening a secondary school.

The idea for an Africentric high school was introduced last spring. The community attached to the potential host school, Oakwood Collegiate, was so appalled that the idea was quickly dropped.

The elementary school was envisioned as a way to help black students within the TDSB, which are among the most likely to live in poverty. Forty per cent drop out.

The school has beat the provincial average on standardized tests, and has become so popular that a waiting list was started.

But for some trustees, the idea smacks of segregation. Others question whether the school is reaching at-risk students.

"I think the Africentric school has done an excellent job, but I don't think it's necessarily reaching the kids that are in the most trouble," Ms. Laskin said.

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GENDER-BASED AND SPECIALIZED SCHOOLS Trustees will also consider a suite of sports, fitness and choir-focused schools, as well as some all-girls and all-boys academies that would open next fall.

Education director Chris Spence has been trying to launch the schools, known as Elementary Alternative Learning Options, for more than two years. Trustees initially opposed the schools because they felt there hadn't been enough consultation or discussion at the board level.

Although the programs would be housed in under-enrolled schools, where they would help boost student numbers, gender-based schools have become particularly contentious.

"The sports schools and choir schools I'm supportive of, but I don't support segregation by gender," Mr. Glover said. "We live in a diverse society, and people have to learn how to get along together."

CONCUSSIONS The board will also consider requiring staff to conduct an annual review to update their concussion prevention and management strategies.

The motion is largely supported by trustees, but it is unusual. If it passes, the TDSB will become one of the first boards in Ontario to develop a framework for updating its brain-injury policies.

"We're in the brain-building business, that's our job, and if brains of our students are damaged we need to look after them," trustee Howard Goodman said.

"The science of brain injury and trauma is just emerging," he said, and an annual review would help the school board stay abreast of new research and best practices.

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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