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Principally Speaking

December 7th, 2005

By Kelly McKinley, Director, Education and Public Programs at the AGO

How does this sound as a job description? Minimum 12-14 hour work days; responsible for the social, physical, artistic and intellectual development of 225 children under the age of 11; the majority of parents speak English as a second language for whom your bosses provide minimal translation support; no working computers; very limited budget to run the school (everything from library books to trips to PD for your staff to substitute teachers to pencils); plus run an alternative school with an additional 80 students at an entirely different location. You have one secretary, a second in command, plus 12 teachers. Any takers?

This is the outrageous job of Cheryl Howe, principal of Ogden Public School AND Alpha Alternative School, and I recently had the opportunity to step into this job for just one day, as part of the Toronto District School Board’s Principal for A Day program. Ms. Howe is Wonder Woman. She knows the name of every child in her school. She hugs them if they’re having a rough day. Her office door is always open to the children, their families and the teachers. She is passionate about her work – her calling.

Everyone should be a principal for a day at an inner city school to understand the true state of public education in our city and province. It is simply remarkable to see what teachers and principals do with such limited resources, decrepit classrooms, no equipment, nominal training, and too many students. They create rich, happy and productive learning environments for our children. I met two gorgeous little boys who were bursting to tell me how much they loved attending summer art camp at the AGO. They brought all of their artworks in to show Ms. Howe who nominated them for full scholarship through the neighbourhood initiatives being facilitated by Bev Carret, manager of Government and Community Relations.

I now have a better appreciation of why many schools simply cannot find the money or the energy to come to the AGO for visits. The $8 admission is just the beginning. At Ogden, the most they can raise from parents is $2; the rest is raised by staff or comes out of the school’s meager budget. Then there’s the bus, the substitute teachers, the permissions, recruiting parent volunteers. I met every child in the school and most of them had never set foot in the AGO despite the fact that they live within a 5-10 minute walk. Some of them knew of the Gallery through the Treehouse channel show "This is Daniel Cooke".

We believe that a trip to the AGO is an essential part of their Education and we are developing ways to help them do just that. As we move toward 2008 and a transformed educational program, the AGO will be reaching out to the community in new ways. One of the exciting highlights of our plans is the Adopt-A-School program, which will begin in September 2008. Each year we will "adopt" four elementary schools that are chosen in collaboration with the Equity Office at the Toronto District School Board also in keeping with the AGO’s community commitments and initiatives. Each school will be "adopted" for a period of three years, and during this time we will provide many forms of assistance to these schools, including free class visits, assistance for bookings, and free professional development workshops for teachers. In Year 3 of the program, a teacher ambassador will be appointed at each school to serve as our ongoing contact and advocate for visual art programming – which will serve to enhance our relationships with these schools, and extend our resources beyond the program.

It truly will be a great day when public education has all the funds it needs, and the Department of Defense has to hold a bake sale to buy a submarine!

  • http://PrincipallySpeaking Downtown Teacher

    This is the reality of many, many schools downtown, even independent schools; this story is not unique. I am trying to develop an art program at my school (also near the AGO) and look forward to exposing more of my students through your future initiatives. Last year I took some neophytes to the gallery and their excitement spurred me on; it is one of the main reasons I am determined to find the money to renew my AGO membership. Please continue to work towards making access to the arts possible for the schools that don’t attend because they can’t, not because they don’t want to.