Toronto’s Africentric Alternative School has hit a rough patch with enrolment but experts and officials caution that the concept is “an incubator of ideas” and participation will “ebb and flow”.
While some parents are dissatisfied, students generally praise the school for its teaching which they say gives them a sense of African-Canadian identity. Enrolment stands at 130, down from 208 three years ago.
Amid initial controversy, the Sheppard Ave. W. public school which accepts students from JK to Grade 8 began operating in September 2009 in response to an initial community request for such a school in June 2007 to address a high dropout rate and achievement gap affecting students of African descent.
A report in January 2008 titled Improving Success for Black Students was presented to Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustees, leading to creation of the school. Dr. George Dei said then “the current school system looks at the world through European eyes. We’re talking about looking at the world through the eyes of African peoples – their experiences, their cultural knowledge and their history.”
Today, controversy still stalks the halls as some parents are complaining after a recent report made an attempt to explain problems at the school, including falling enrolment and test scores.
Jackie Spence, a TDSB, superintendent who was the school’s second principal, insisted it’s not unusual for the alternative school enrolments to “ebb and flow.”
A report by York University Prof. Carl James, who looked at the school from 2011 to 2014, noted that “a lot of good things are going on at the school but everyone has their own ideas of what an Africentric education is, and that’s not unusual because it’s new.
“It’s a very fluid concept and the school is forging this new vision. It’s an experiment, an incubator of ideas,” James said.
However, that did not appease some parents at the school who at a recent meeting yelled “The principal must go.” Those parents are demanding the curriculum be more deeply rooted in African thought.
When the school opened, the first principal Thando Hyman – the 2013 Black Business and Professional Association Woman of Honour – said then, “I definitely want to nurture a sense of belonging and community but we also want to make sure that our standards are very high.
“There will be scrutiny, to be sure – the school is meant to give students more choices – but I’m passionate about students succeeding and sometimes success looks different for different children,” Hyman said then as she was about to lead the school. Now, the school has its third principal in six years.