Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Education director puts equity at forefront

  • September 22, 2022

As Tyrone Dowling settles into his new role as director of education with the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, he’s keeping equity front and centre.

In his soon to be decorated office, he sat staring at a departure gift he received from the Wellington Catholic board where he served as superintendent. The gift was a photo of a Black male student from a class project that explored racism through the visual medium of photography. It was a self-portrait encircled by painful words the student had been called at school and in his community as a newcomer to Canada. The image, along with other powerful pieces created by students representing other equity groups, struck a chord with Dowling.

“Every time I look at this picture I not only think about our racialized youth, but I think about every other equity deserving group and how is it that I do my job to make sure that they are feeling supported and loved,” said Dowling, who is no stranger to Waterloo Catholic, where he served as principal for 21 years before moving on to serve as superintendent of education at the Wellington board.

“I’ve purposely tried to put this photo in a spot where I’m going to see it every time I come into my office and I sit down at my desk, so that when I look up and I’m reminded of who I’m working for.”

The significance of being a Black Catholic administrator in the school board and what that might mean to students and families of colour is not lost on Dowling. It’s part of why his own university-aged children, who grew up in the Waterloo Catholic system and never had the opportunity to see themselves reflected at the administrative level, felt so strongly about him applying for the opportunity, he says.

When Waterloo director of education Loretta Notten announced her retirement earlier this year, Dowling considered the opportunity with his wife and children. While he’s thrilled to be back at the board working directly with administrators and the wider school community, understanding the weight of the role, the decision to come back to Waterloo, he says, was a “process of discernment.”

“One of my daughters sat me down and said, ‘Look dad, we need to have a conversation. This is how you’ve raised us (to value public service). We think you’d be good at it, so we fully support you.’ I tried to discern with of course some prayer and really thinking on it. I love working with students so the opportunity to impact students in a positive way is what I’m hoping I’m going to be able to do,” he said.

Dowling recently attended a high school graduation in the Wellington Catholic board where there were a number of diverse students in the graduating class. As he stood beside the bishop personally congratulating students as they received their diplomas, he could feel the moment was particularly meaningful. The positive energy felt from racialized students confirmed for him the importance of the work he does and his presence.

“There were a number of faces who didn’t look like the bishop or the principal who made eye contact with me and smiled,” said Dowling. “It filled me with pride that they were walking across the floor in the basilica to receive their high school diploma and that I could have played a little part, even just being there that night to congratulate them.

“I think that opportunity for our racialized and for other students who maybe don’t look like, or don’t feel like the adult who may have been in front of the (classroom), for them to see someone different there, it might give them a boost. Maybe for some of those students, that interaction might be enough for them to say, ‘Hey, maybe I can be a teacher someday.’ ”

Dowling’s strongest assets in his new role, he says, are the dedicated people he’s been blessed to work and interact with. From administration to teaching staff, students and families, they have worked tirelessly to make sure everyone in the school community feels like they belong. He’s felt nothing but positive energy from the senior team as he’s returned to the board. With Catholic social teaching as a guide, Dowling says the team at Waterloo Catholic is committed to equity, social justice and faith and self-awareness, in support of the school and community.

“I only have my lived experience as a Black male,” said Dowling. “I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent with a child with special education needs, I don’t know what it’s like to be homeless or food insecure, and so many other identifications. I think we have a team in place here that is going to work tirelessly not only to educate ourselves to understand our positionality, but to take time to stop and reflect if we are not understanding something and we need to do some more learning.”

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