|Why is the Toronto District School Board discussing this issue?
Improving the success of our students is always our goal and we have a responsibility to explore different strategies to help address these issues and help our Black student succeed.
Data from an April 2006 cohort study shows that 40 per cent of students from the Caribbean have less than 14 secondary credits at the end of Grade 10 and that the drop-out rate of Black students is alarming. Observable evidence also shows disproportionately higher levels of Black student suspensions and expulsions.
Last year, two community members approached the TDSB and requested an Africentric Alternative school under the terms of the Board Alternative Schools Policy and Procedures as a solution to help address these issues. To respond to this request, the Board decided in June 2007 that staff present a report on the feasibility of an Africentric Alternative school.
While conducting research on this – which included extensive community consultation – staff explored other opportunities to improve the success of Black students. Staff prepared four recommendations with their best advice how to address these issues, which were presented to the Board of Trustees at a Special Meeting on January 29, 2008.
Why were these recommendations brought forward?
While many Black students excel in our TDSB schools, there is increasing concern that Black students experience among the lowest rates of school success. Currently, about 40% of Black students do not graduate from TDSB secondary schools and we have the opportunity to do something proactive to address it.
In a recent TDSB student census, 72% of Grade 7 students said they want to learn about their culture; 69% of them said they would enjoy school more if they learned about their culture and 50% said they would feel better about school if they could learn about their history in the classroom.
There is an opportunity – and a need – to explore innovative solutions to address these issues and the report, Improving Black Student Success, offers four recommendations from TDSB staff to help close the achievement gap.
How were the recommendations developed?
We consulted with the community to ask for their feedback, comments and suggestions. We hosted two forums specifically about Africentric schools and we also gleaned information from two forums about Black student success. This proposal is the result of an extremely collaborative community effort and we’re proud of the recommendations that we’ve made.
In keeping with the Board’s Alternative Schools Policy and Procedures we established a Local Feasibility Team of superintendents, planning staff, trustees and representatives of the proposal group. This team researched issues about the viability of such a program including Grade levels, curriculum, enrolment and potential sites.
What is an Alternative school?
Alternative schools offer students and parents something different from mainstream schooling. They usually feature a small student population, a commitment to innovative programs, and volunteer commitment from parents and other community members.
What is an Africentric Alternative School?
An Africentric Alternative school infuses the sources of knowledge and experience of people of African descent as an integral feature of the teaching and learning environment.
The model offers a learning environment that meets the expectations of the Ontario Curriculum while incorporating an Africentric perspective through a curriculum that will engage Black students more effectively in the learning process and help them to be more successful academically and socially. It provides an inclusive environment where students engage in positive learning and consistent and effective guidance by teachers and staff who are specially educated to understand the social and cultural context of Black students in their school communities.
Why is it called Africentric?
Within the Black community, there are people from a diversity of histories, cultures, customs, values and opinions. The term Africentric does not focus on race and instead, reflects the diversity of the community.
Is an Africentric school only for Black students?
No. An Africentric school is not for Black students only. Alternative schools in the TDSB are open to all students and the same is true for an Africentric school.
Is an Africentric school only for Black staff?
No. An Africentric school is open to any teacher or staff member interested in working in such a school. To educate staff on the philosophy of the school and are prepared for the unique needs of its students, an ongoing professional development program will be provided for all teachers, administrators and support staff in anti-racism and inclusive school practices.
Does an Africentric school promote segregation?
No. An Africentric school is open to all students and parents can choose to send their child. The Africentric model is focused on innovative initiatives designed to ensure student learning, success, improved achievement and higher graduation rates. We’ll do this by implementing, monitoring and evaluating culturally relevant curriculum combined with role models and a learning environment that are fully responsive to the social, cultural and educational needs of our students.
This approach engages Black students more effectively in the learning process and helps them to be more successful academically and socially. It is part of a multidimensional approach to improve the success of our students.
How does an Africentric school differ from a regular public school?
The Africentric school’s approach focuses on innovative and culturally relevant curriculum, teaching and learning. The model offers a learning environment that meets the expectations of the Ontario Curriculum while incorporating an Africentric perspective through a curriculum that will, we hope, engage Black students more effectively in the learning process and help them to be more successful academically and socially. It is an opportunity to be innovative and create a concept that can work for all students.
Why is the Africentric school not opening in 2008 as was originally discussed?
We want to ensure the best possible outcome for this school – and our students. Community members have emphasized during the consultation forums that the AS must be set up for success. If we rush to open in September 2008, we are putting the viability and sustainability of this program at risk, so staff is recommending a September 2009 opening to provide sufficient time to setting it up properly from the start.
What are the next steps for the Africentric Alternative school?
A Program Area Review Team (PART) will be established to recommend the program and operational model for the school. Read more about this!
Who will develop the curriculum for the Africentric schools and three pilot programs?
Staff will work with our education partners to develop the curriculum. Draft curriculum units from the summer pilot project as well as a Ministry of Education curriculum resource documents are available. In addition, a Lead principal will be hired. This person will co-ordinate activities with Program staff and our education partners to ensure successful curriculum development and implementation.
How will it be developed?
Through a collaborative process with staff, community members, and external partners.
How will it be different from what students are currently learning in school?
The Ontario Curriculum – Early years to Grade 12 – defines the expectations for learning for every subject and for every grade. An Africentric curriculum infuses the sources of knowledge and experiences of peoples of African descent as an integral feature of the teaching and learning environment.
Integrating an Africentric approach along with other approaches which centres the experience of other groups positively within the whole school environment will be the focus of these pilots. Staff development will be provided to support this initiative.
Why not just push for a change in the curriculum of regular public schools?
One of the recommendations, is in fact, a pilot program to be established in three existing schools to integrate the histories, cultures, experiences and contributions of people of African descent and other racialized groups into the curriculum.
That being said, an Africentric school specifically, is not only about changing the curriculum. It provides an inclusive environment where students engage in positive learning and consistent and effective guidance by teachers and staff who are specially educated to understand the social and cultural context of Black students in their school communities.
Should there be an alternative school for all races and cultures?
All students should have the opportunity to learn about their heritage. We are however, exploring the Africentric approach to address a deeper issue in the underachievement of many of our students and using it as a springboard to further engage them and improve their success.
The establishment of a Black-focused school is based on the pedagogical needs of students. It is a different approach to educating these students, but does not provide a preference to them or a disadvantage to others. Any group coming forward would have to provide a pedagogical basis for their proposed alternative approach. Approval of any alternative school is entirely within the discretion of the Board.
In addition, public school boards may not provide indoctrinated instruction in any religion or religious belief. This would prevent approval of a request for a religious alternative school.