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Principal Bruno Berto

Downsview Secondary School School

Toronto District School Board 


I have been an educator for 27 years the last 10 at the TDSB. As a child of the city I wanted to work at the TDSB because I was inspired by the vision of director Chris Spence whose work focused on the systemic barriers faced by racialized students and leaders  but he did it in a way that brought him into schools face to face with students and staff to hear, learn and be inspired by their journey. This is the type of leadership which I attempt to emulate. My journey has truly been blessed with mentors who have guided me to appreciate and understand how systemic barriers begin as early as Junior Kindergarten and even earlier within societal institutional structures and that the WORK we are called to do as leaders is about dismantling these barriers and supporting those communities directly affected.

Navigating leadership within an educational institution which is connected to a colonial legacy requires a great degree of reflective practice bringing together critical friends/mentors to challenge one’s thinking. This is an critical component of my personal leadership style. These mentors (who it is important to state have been predominantly racialized female leaders) have pushed my thinking and leadership along the path of what President Obama in paraphrasing MLK stated, the long arc of history bends towards justice. My leadership attempts to push/bend that arc whether it is in support of our call to action in our commitment to Truth and Reconciliation of our Indigenous First Nations or in simply being a visible leader who supports creating solid foundations of Learning for All. The focus is on institutional change and not on a student’s grit, growth mindset, over-coming etc which positions the responsibility on the student rather than the institution.

Working at Central Technical School, Westview Secondary and currently Downsview has provided me with learning through the lived experiences of students from the community and has served as a powerful reminder of the critical work that we must engage in, specifically in addressing anti-black racism and ensuring that those of us who come from privilege see this as our ethical calling and moral compass as educators. As a leader at Central Tech we committed to utilizing race based data to challenge institutional barriers and create unique programs in support of racialized students. We also supported boys learning with a model program utilized throughout the board. I was supported in this work by Jim Spyropoulos who has been a constant mentor to me.

As an administrator at Westview we have responded to this calling by ensuring that we were one of the first schools (Principal Gala at CWJ being the first) to engage in ending streaming which has severely limited options specifically for racialized students for multiple generations. We were supported by strong committed leaders (Principal Cherilyn Scobie, Ramon San Vincente, Jason To, Rosalie Griffith, Saraya Elwin, and Alison Gaymes San Vincente). Westview also was a leader in developing Africentric courses for the community, work which I have been fortunate enough to continue at Downsview where we are one of two schools in the TDSB with an Africentric Program thanks to Superintendent Jackie Spence and initiated under (Principal Maria Palermo and Keith Johnson) with courses from Grade 9-12. The students within this program have been so inspiring as they created a Black Brilliance Conference now in its 5th year after a trip to Harvard led by Toni Morgan, all done by and for students throughout the diaspora addressing issues important to their experiences and calling on our educational institution to dismantle barriers which have stood in the way of their full engagement in their education.

The program has drawn the attention of schools such as Auburn Drive High School, Nova Scotia whose Principal Karen Hudson  led a delegation to learn about our program and then initiated the first Africentic Program in Nova Scotia and is now part of the Downsview family. This year we have been blessed by the addition of our VP Michelle Forde who has brought both her passion, lived experiences and strong leadership in support of all students but particularly in her work around anti-black racism she has inspired me to continue listening more deeply and intensely for things I may miss as a leader of European descent and together we developed the first Africentric Leadership Course which is specifically designed to support students from the diaspora to engage in leadership skill development in a manner which involves active mentorship from within their own community and also incorporates their lived experiences.

The visioning and leadership is not possible without being able to see ahead of oneself and this can only be done by sitting on strong shoulders, these belong to my mother who has led through love for her family and the whole of creation. One must feel, be passionate  and have well developed emotional intelligence filtered through an equity lens to support all students in a way which makes their lives and thinking visible. It is that sense of deep personal engagement with communities which sustains and gives life to my leadership as I continue to grow and hopefully set conditions ideal for any individual from anywhere in the world to feel at home in schools which I lead.

I leave with this quote from Bob Marley which perfectly sums up my leadership, Bob Marley stated, some people FEEL the rain, others just get wet.



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