In less than a decade, Ontario’s public education system has dramatically lowered the high-school dropout rate, and improved student equity and outcomes. The mastermind behind the transformation is Avis Glaze, who became the province’s first Chief Student Achievement Officer and founding CEO of the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat in 2004. Soon after, her battle cry – “Every child must reach their potential, there can be no throwaway kids” – echoed through the corridors of the most troubled schools.
To fight for the kids at the bottom of the class, Glaze inspired teachers with accounts of what other educators had done to raise the reading level of faltering students. She asserted that academic success hinges on the ability to read, and to read well.
Growing up in Jamaica, Glaze was a voracious reader. Her favourite books chronicled injustices around the globe – from apartheid in South Africa, to the plight of Aboriginal Peoples in North America. As a teacher, she came to believe that democracy depends on an effective public school system. In 1974, Glaze enrolled at OISE and by 1980 she had completed two master’s programs and earned a doctorate in education.
As Glaze rose from teacher to such roles as superintendent and director of education in Peterborough, she created a unique program to impart the values – such as respect, integrity and hope – that students need to become responsible citizens. “Values are taught and modelled,” says Glaze. “You don’t absorb them through osmosis.” In 2007, her character education program caught the eye of Premier Dalton McGuinty and began to be implemented in all Ontario public schools – from JK to Grade 12.
Glaze’s equity work is now centre stage, and she travels the world working with educators. She also recently co-wrote the book, Breaking Barriers.