Toronto will have a second Africentric school as early as next fall after trustees voted in favour of the controversial initiative.
In a 14 to 6 vote, the “concept of continuing an elementary-to-secondary Africentric school pathway for students” was approved to loud applause from supporters in the public gallery.
The Toronto District School Board opened an elementary black-focused school in 2009, in part to help stem the 40 per cent dropout rate among black youth.
It now has 185 students, a small waiting list and seen student success on provincial standardized tests — although it has weathered some internal strife.
Director of Education Chris Spence said depending on the outcome of community consultations, the school could open in September 2012 or 2013.
Speaking with reporters after the vote, he called it a “great opportunity to serve our students . . . (And) support students in the best way we can.”
He addressed concerns raised by Trustee Chris Tonks that the board is headed down a slippery slope with the potential for more demands for schools based on ethnicity, saying there will be different solutions for each community considered at-risk.
He also said he believes the school is reaching at-risk black youth, even though some critics have said the school has attracted high achieving students who would succeed anyway.
The secondary school would allow students to continue learning in a supportive environment that celebrates and teaches their heritage, Trustee Shaun Chen told the standing-room only crowd at the monthly board meeting.
Trustee Cathy Dandy said she supported the school because of the close relationships between staff, students and families, which she called the key to success — rather than any specific program or modified curriculum.
However, Trustee Mari Rutka said she worried about separating students. “When do we learn to get along with those who are different from us?”
Trustee Maria Rodrigues caused some controversy when she said she considered voting against an Africentric high school, an act of discrimination.
No site has been named as yet. Earlier, Oakwood Collegiate was chosen as a location for the Africentric high school but quickly quashed after an outcry from the community.