A pair of East End principals have joined an exclusive list, after being named by The Learning Partnership as two of Canada’s Outstanding Principals.
Tammy Ross, principal of Crescent Town Elementary School, and Thelma Sambrook, principal of Bowmore Road Junior and Senior Public School, are two of 51 principals from across Canada honoured for their achievements this year. They join a group of 260 previously named principals, known as The Learning Partnership’s National Academy of Canada’s Outstanding Principals.
Akela Peoples, President and CEO of The Learning Partnership, said she believes principals in Canada are not recognized enough for the often impressive work they do.
“Principals have a very complex job. They are not just the CEO and CFO of the physical plant of their school. There’s so many more things involved in being an outstanding principal, and many things that go, quite frankly, above and beyond the job description,” she said.
Ross has been the principal at Crescent Town for 14 years. In that time, the school has become “a school of choice,” according to Peoples. “It takes a very special kind of leader to be able to create that kind of school in a vulnerable community.”
Ross said she was quite surprised, and incredibly honoured, to be recognized with the award.
“My mother is proud, to say the least,” she laughed.
Along with being proud, Ross’ 86-year-old mother is directly involved in the school’s inter-generational program, and also volunteers every Friday, preparing a snack for the kindergarten students, along with the mother of a former vice-principal.
Although the school has a network of successful partnerships in the surrounding community, Crescent Town is not without its challenges. The school is so crowded that Grade 5 students have been moved to George Webster Elementary School, near Dawes Road and Gower Street.
“Every spot in the building is used,” said Ross. “Full-day kindergarten has impacted us, because we’ve had to move our older students out of the school.”
The vast majority of students speak a language other than English at home, leaving every classroom acting as an ESL class while teachers teach the normal curriculum. Despite these challenges, Ross said the school has adapted, to the point where teachers want to join the dedicated staff at Crescent Town.
“Our students do quite well academically, even though 92 per cent of them are newcomers,” said Ross.
That combination of student and staff dedication is what has earned the school its strong reputation, both in Toronto and abroad: Crescent Town has been featured in an American education magazine, and parents have spread the word throughout their own networks as well.
“We’re known in Bangladesh apparently,” said Ross, noting the high concentration of newcomers from that country living in the Crescent Town community.
Sambrook, meanwhile, is already making an impact in her first year at Bowmore. She spent the last four years at Summit Heights Public School in North York, where she worked on implementing technology in the classroom that is now being expanded at Bowmore. She believes schools need to mirror the rest of the world, where technology is almost an indispensable aspect of life.
“We use technology as an enhancement tool, without taking away from the other academics,” she said. “That’s really important, that the learning environment in the school reflects the environment outside the school.”
Bowmore is a unique school in its hosting of a recreation centre, daycare and programs for parents of young babies.
“If you move into this community and you’re having a positive experience, your child is having a positive experience until almost the age of 14. It’s sort of a principal’s dream come true,” said Sambrook.
Common to both principals in conversation is a tendency to highlight their staff when asked about their own accomplishments as principals.
“As a teacher I focused on my students and helping them shine and do well and succeed, and as an administrator I shine a light on the success teachers are having with their students,” said Sambrook. “In this school, and in my last school as well, I’ve got a lot to highlight…there’s a lot of talent in the building.”
Ross also emphasized the dedication of the teachers at Crescent Town.
“We have a really strong teaching staff,” she said. “’I have to give kudos to my staff, because really they’re the ones that are doing the work, they make me look good.”
Both principals, along with 49 of their colleagues from across Canada, will be honoured by The Learning Partnership at a gala dinner and awards ceremony downtown on Feb. 26. For five days, they will also take part in a leadership training program run by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
“We see it as quite a powerful way to invest in our current leaders and talent in education,” said Peoples of the training program. “It strengthens their ability to be a leader in their school, through quite a different experience than they would get in other professional development experiences.”
She said Canadians need to celebrate and support our great education leaders.
“I don’t think we hear enough about the great things that happen in the education system.”