The principal of Canada's only public Africentric elementary school is leaving her post.
After three years in one of the most demanding and high-profile school administrator jobs in the country, Thando Hyman has requested a re-assignment to a new school within the Toronto District School Board.
The school community was rocked by the news, and some of Ms. Hyman's supporters raised concerns that she was being pushed out or had become too worn down to continue.
"It's no secret that she has been under lots of pressure," said Trustee Howard Kaplan, who represents the northwest Toronto ward where the school is located. "I am sad to see her go, but this is her choice and her choice alone."
Even before the school opened its doors in the fall of 2009 it was controversial, and some critics said it amounted to segregation. But booming enrolment numbers and strong standardized test scores convinced many critics that the integration of African arts, history and culture into the curriculum made for better engagement amongst this at-risk student demographic.
The elementary school has been such a success that trustees have approved plans for an Africentric high school.
The school will expand next fall to includes all elementary grades, kindergarten through Grade 8, and has one of the most engaged parent populations in the country.
"The parents at the school are a very committed bunch," said Mr. Kaplan. "When they come to school council meetings, it's so huge they have to meet in the gym."
A small group, however, have remained critical of Ms. Hyman. Some parents questioned whether the school was Africentric enough, or whether discipline practices were too stern, and in the fall of 2010 Ms. Hyman was suspended following a parent complaint. (She was soon cleared by a TDSB investigation.)
An editorial in Share, an ethnic newspaper, raised concerns about who will be Ms. Hyman's successor – she was replaced by a white male during her suspension nearly two years ago.
It also expresses support for her tenure as principal.
"...[T]he school, under her leadership, has excelled academically, with better than average scores compared to most elementary schools across the Greater Toronto Area and, indeed, all of Ontario," the editorial reads. "That's not too bad a record to go out on."
The board will vote on transfer requests, including Ms. Hyman's, at a meeting Wednesday night. Parents have started a petition to have her stay, but Mr. Kaplan said the decision is hers, not the board's.