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Toronto board to open second Africentric high school program

The Toronto District School Board will open a second Africentric high school program this fall in the city's west-end.

Students who sign up for the program at Downsview Secondary School will take four courses – English, geography, math and French – with an Africentric focus. An open-house for potential Grade 9 students will be held Tuesday evening, a spokeswoman for the board said.

A pilot program for the first high school opened this fall at Winston Churchill Collegiate, with just six students enrolled. As a result of the low enrolment, students were integrated into the regular school program but were given an added Africentric component to their studies. More than a dozen students are planning to attend in September.

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The grade school will graduate its first class of Grade 8s – 13 graduates in total – this year. About 200 students are enrolled in the alternative school and come from as far away as Peel Region.

The elementary school was highly controversial when it first opened in the fall of 2009 with close to 115 students in kindergarten through Grade 5. Outside criticism died down after enrolment boomed in the first few months and students posted strong standardized test scores, but internal strife has been a constant for Ontario's first public Africentric school.

Tensions between parents led to arguments over whether the curriculum was Africentric enough. Some parents even complained that students' uniforms, African-print vests over white shirts and navy slacks, should be replaced with a traditional West African dashiki.

Those tensions boiled over in the fall of 2010, when a parent complaint led to the temporary suspension of then-principal Thando Hyman-Aman and an investigation of allegations she had mistreated a student. The complaint was later dismissed, but the dispute revealed parents' deep engagement in how the school was being run.

Jacqueline Spence, sister of the TDSB's disgraced former director, was named principal of the elementary school in September after Ms. Hyman-Aman resigned from the post, which is widely regarded as one of the toughest school administrator jobs within the TDSB.

As the students approached Grade 8, the TDSB started planning an Africentric high school. Controversy plagued the school yet again in the spring of 2011 when the TDSB proposed housing the new alternative high school within Oakwood Collegiate, but the community was deeply opposed to the idea. An alternative location, Winston Churchill Collegiate, was found.

The program lost a key advocate in former education director Chris Spence, who resigned amid allegations of plagiarism.

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