Trustees with the Toronto District School Board have unanimously approved funding to create a new TDSB Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement. It is the first of its kind in public education in Canada. It is one of TDSB’s responses to dismantle anti-Black racism within the school board and improve both experiences and outcomes for Black students. The creation of the Centre is also responsive to the voices of the Black communities who consistently advocated for deeper systemic change from the TDSB.
Anti-Black racism is deeply entrenched in Canadian institutions, including TDSB schools, and many attempts to address it have fallen short of the expectations of students, staff, families and communities. Systemic and individual acts of anti-Black racism have become normalized and are therefore difficult to identify, address and prevent solely through policy changes.
The concept of a Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement was first proposed in TDSB over two years ago by the Enhancing Equity Task Force. This work involved extensive community consultation which surfaced systemic barriers that are experienced by many TDSB students and disproportionately impeded the academic success of Black students. The Task Force’s recommendations led to a number of action plans in the Board’s Multi-Year Strategic Plan focussed on specific ways to support Black students. These action plans have the goal of removing practises that stream students and decrease the educational opportunities of underserved groups of students, especially Black students.
While significant work has been done across the Board to support Black students, the report notes the “current rate of improvement in closing the achievement gap and enhancing school climate is ultimately insufficient. For Black families, present initiatives and newly developed policies and procedures need to promote faster positive change for the benefit of their children and all children to live in a more just world where everyone’s human rights are respected.”
The Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement will build on community voices as well as past and present efforts through a direct, multi-faceted strategy for meaningful and sustained change. The Centre will focus proactively on academic success and experiences of belonging of Black students. It will provide a more coordinated and well-resourced approach leading to systemic transformation. There will be enhanced support for impacted individuals and a forum to develop solutions that are authentic and relevant for Black students, families and staff.
The mandate of the Centre is to:
- Provide support to Black students in TDSB schools to combat racism, navigate complaint processes, identify barriers to success and access appropriate resources (e.g., scholarships, networking, mentoring);
- Use evidence to highlight promising practices and engage in meaningful research on topics relevant to Black students that are then integrated across schools and at the system level within the TDSB;
- Create professional learning in anti-Black racism and collaborate with other staff in facilitating learning in decolonization, Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression & human rights recognizing the similarities and intersections of various forms of oppression;
- Identify, develop and facilitate culturally responsive and relevant healing practices for groups of students;
- Inform changes to policies and procedures so that all students may benefit from the learning and innovative practices developed by the Centre;
- Establish effective mechanisms for monitoring improvement in the achievement of Black students;
- Provide annual accountability reports and recommendations to the Board of Trustees and staff;
- Support meaningful engagement and advocacy of caregivers for their children in TDSB schools and programs and improve communication to them about Black student success, system navigation and complaint processes; and
- Engage in strategic community partnerships related to education within the annually identified approved budget for this purpose.
- The Centre for Excellence in Black Student Achievement would be supported by 20.5 staff positions, including a social worker, child and youth counsellor and five graduation coaches all focused on supports for Black students, improving students’ experiences and identifying the ways in which anti-Black racism is operating in TDSB and offering possible solutions to eradicate it.
- Five action plans in the Multi-Year Strategic Plan titled Toward the Excellence in the Education of Black Students: Transforming Learning, Achievement and Well-Being currently support this work.
“The TDSB has a number of supports and initiatives across the system focused on supporting Black students, however the existing efforts are not enough. We must continually reassess our progress toward the eradication of anti-Black racism and hold ourselves accountable for meaningful change.”
- Robin Pilkey, Chair, TDSB
“It is critical that the Centre hold a mirror up to us as leaders about the ways in which anti-Black racism manifests itself in TDSB so we can become more responsive to and accountable for dismantling it while simultaneously providing a space of hope, agency and change for Black students and their families.”
- Colleen Russell-Rawlins, Associate Director, Equity, Well-Being and School Improvement
“Though we have made changes in our structures, processes and system, it has clearly not been enough and we need to do more to support the achievement and well-being of Black students in TDSB. The new Centre of Excellence will provide another way for us to not only confront anti-Black racism, but to be more accountable to Black students and their families.”
- John Malloy, Director, TDSB