LEVY: Good riddance to TDSB education director
LEVY: Good riddance to TDSB education director

Colleen Russell-Rawlins is leaving the building.

In a note to all staff Tuesday – one that sounded hastily written and more like she was not leaving of her own accord – the controversial Toronto District school board education director announced her intention to retire this fall.

She earned $306,990 last year along with an $18,804 car allowance.

In her five-paragraph note, she called it a “privilege of a lifetime” to witness the “remarkable brilliance, achievements and impact of students, staff and educators.

“Without your efforts, it would not have been possible to close achievement gaps, improve graduation rates, invest in feelings of well-being and safety, engage families and community members, modernize services and educate young people against the scourge of hate and racism,” she told staff.

The letter from TDSB chair Rachel Chernos Lin said the director – who spent 30 years mostly with the North York Board of Education and the TDSB – was instrumental in the development of the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement and modernization in the People and Culture department. 

Chernos LIn said her leadership was also critical in the development of the board’s Multi-Year Strategic Plan, one that focuses more on DEI than the basics.

The board has been mired in controversy over the past nearly three years with Russell-Rawlins at the helm, an activist who critics claim only cares about black and Indigenous students.

Violence in Toronto schools is at an all-time high and since the atrocities of Oct. 7, antisemitic acts have been left unchecked.

Pro-Palestinian students have been permitted to sign themselves out to protest and a mother recently reported to True North that the board did nothing when her daughter was terrorized by protesters in her downtown schoolyard.

Just over a week ago, a young Israeli boy was escorted to class at North York’s Faywood Arts-Based Curriculum school by dozens of members of the Jewish community after he and a sibling had experienced repeated bullying and death threats.

Despite several complaints, mom Adi Cohen said the school failed to create a safe environment for Jewish students.

Similar complaints have been registered across the board by both students and Jewish teachers.

Last July, the much beloved principal Richard Bilkszto took his own life after suffering immense stress and anxiety after being humiliated in front of 200 of his peers and board administrators by DEI trainer, Kike Ojo-Thompson.

Ojo-Thompson, who was repeatedly hired by Russell-Rawlins on sole-sourced contracts with no oversight, was targeted by the KOJO Institute director as a “white supremacist.” Following those sessions, Bilkszto was ostracized and shut out of several part-time contracts by a series of activist superintendents operating under Russell-Rawlins’ leadership.

Russell-Rawlins announced a review of the tragedy last July by the King International Group, an outside consultant, but to date nothing has been completed and it appears to be all smoke and mirrors.

Last year, four TDSB principals, speaking to True North on the condition of anonymity, said they face a “culture of terror” under Russell-Rawlins and that they have often been left “frozen in fear” at the thought of being called out for some unsubstantiated act of racism or microaggression.

They described a board culture where staff are often treated to gaslighting, where incestuousness is rampant, hiring and promotions are based on skin colour and whether one is woke enough and where white principals are often left hung out to dry.

They talked of principals and vice-principals sent home under Russell-Rawlins’ leadership for “ridiculous accusations of racism” – often left without communication from the board for months or years.

One principal said they’ve never seen anything like what’s occurred under the embattled education director.

“Colleen Russell-Rawlins has made the system so divisive,” the principal said.

“They’re like Mean Girls,” the principal said of the racialized administrators who’ve been hired in the past three years and support Russell-Rawlins.

They told True North they do their best to help their kids despite the board’s toxic culture.

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