Africentric school plan expands

Trustees to vote on proposal to add high school by 2010 to fight dropout rate among black students
Toronto Star  May 8, 2008  Louise Brown

Toronto school board trustees will vote on a plan later this month to open an Africentric alternative high school in 2010.

The motion was approved last night by a school board committee as an extension of a proposal to open an Africentric alternative school from kindergarten to Grade 5 in September 2009. The high school program could be located in an unused part of an underenrolled high school.

The new blueprint will go before the full board May 21.

The proposed school from kindergarten to Grade 5 is slated to be housed in an unused wing of Sheppard Public School on Sheppard Ave. W. near Keele St.

But that would be "just half a school," said Owen Leach of the Organization of Black Parents. "We need a whole school; it's absolutely essential" for fighting the 40 per cent dropout rate among black students.

He was one of a parade of community leaders who urged the Toronto District School Board's Program and School Services Committee last night to expand the proposal.

Board staff would be required to come up with a site for the proposed high school by this October.

"We certainly hear about the 40 per cent dropout rate at secondary school," said Trustee Chris Bolton, "so it's incumbent upon us to go forward very clearly to a model at secondary school."

The alternative school proposed at Sheppard would open in September 2009 as long as it had enough students for at least one class of 22 students in each of two consecutive grades, with room to grow to Grade 5, and if demand warrants over time, to Grade 8 in Sheppard School. The school would accept students of any background from across Toronto.

Trustees have suggested staff would be largely, but not necessarily all, black to provide role models, and curriculum would include lessons that reach beyond the European tradition to draw on more global and particularly African thought.

Ryerson Professor Grace-Edward Galabuzi said adding an alternative Africentric high school is crucial for providing a "holistic" continuous experience for students often overlooked in textbooks and often underestimated by staff.

He said while critics say Africentric schooling smacks of segregation, "it would be a way to actually integrate them – substantively – by providing an education that reflects their social and cultural realities."

Trustee James Pasternak, who represents Sheppard Public School, warned against adding a high school program so soon after the elementary pilot project would begin, because it will overload staff as they are trying to nurture the new grade school program. He proposed delaying it until 2011, an idea that was turned down.

Three students from The Elms Junior Middle School urged the committee to approve an Africentric elementary school.

"I think I might like to go to this kind of school, so I could learn about my heritage," said Donique Phillips, 12. "Right now we only learn about Martin Luther King, but did you know the stoplight was invented by a black person?"

Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, president of the Jamaican-Canadian Association, called the Africentric grade school program "a bold decision," but stopping at Grade 5 would be "short-sighted. "