Toronto school principal eyes other challenges with her PhD
March 8, 2018
It took a long time, but it was worth the wait.
Nearly eight years after embarking on a doctorate, Belinda Longe reached the finish line last year.
The journey wasn’t easy either.
Just as she was about to start, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) principal gave birth to the first of her two children.
“I was never a full-time student and I didn’t take breaks,” said Longe who is married. “There were moments when it was very tough and I could have dropped out, but that wasn’t an option.”
She had a very compelling reason to stay the course.
“I am the first in my immediate family to obtain a doctorate and that means a lot,” said Longe. “It also tells my children that if they start something, you should complete it despite the obstacles you are going to face. It was an important lesson for them too.”
Longe’s research investigated the practices of six literacy teacher educators and explored the influences on their teaching practices in their literacy courses. The qualitative case study involved two interviews with each participant and classroom observations for some of the participants over a three-year period.
The dissertation was dedicated to older sister Nicole Longe who succumbed to cancer in 1992 and her aunt, Marcelle Longe, who came to Canada in 1963 under the West Indian Domestic Scheme program. She died four years ago.
“They both influenced my life in profound ways and my desire for continuing to pursue higher education,” the educator noted.
Though not exposed to Black teachers in St. Catherines where she was raised, there were educators who recognized Longe’s potential and encouraged her to strive for excellence.
She singled out Grade Four teacher Joanne Gallagher who taught at Michael J. Brennan Catholic Elementary School that closed four years ago.
Longe and her late sister were the school’s only Black students.
“Ms. Gallagher instilled the belief in me that I was bright and I could do anything I wanted to,” she recalled. “She let me know that curiosity was a good thing and that I should never be afraid to ask questions. I felt valued.”
Completing her undergraduate studies in 1994 at Queen’s University, Longe graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Education degree the following year.
“While in university in Kingston, I volunteered working with children as I did when I was in high school and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” she pointed out. “At first, it seemed like something exciting to do and accumulate community hours. But as time passed on, I realized teaching could be something I could do to make a great impact.”
Longe’s first teaching assignment was at Gordon A. Brown Middle School in East York in 1995.
With a Master’s of Education degree that she finished in 2002, she was promoted to vice-principal three years later at Nelson Mandela Park Public School.
Being assigned to that school was significant.
Formerly Park Public, the school was named after Mandela in November 2001 at a dedication ceremony attended by the late South African president and his wife, Graca Machel.
“I was in the crowd that Saturday morning standing behind police bars when he came to the school,” she said. “It was important for me to be there because he was someone I looked up to for inspiration. To have the opportunity to teach at that school has certainly been one of the highlights of my professional career.”
While at the school, Longe joined the Daily Bread Food Bank board.
“A lot of students came to school hungry,” she said. “That is where I became aware of some of the issues around poverty and hunger and having to choose between rent and groceries. I saw an advertisement in one of the local newspapers for board positions and I applied because I felt I could add a lens from working in the community with families who used food banks and having an understanding of the impact it has on children in the classroom.”
Longe served on the nominating & governance, policy and fundraising committees during her eight-year term that ended in 2014.
“I think I was able to provide a perspective as a Black woman and an educator,” she added.
Also a vice-principal for 31 months at Brookview Middle School whose principal then was Karl Subban, the father of National Hockey League Norris Trophy winning defenceman Pernell Karl (PK) Subban, Longe was promoted to principal in December 2012 while at Corvette Junior Public School in Scarborough.
She joined Winona Drive Senior Public School in September 2015.
“This is a school for Grades seven and eight students with a population of 425 and five different streams, including French Immersion and Extended French,” said Longe who was an Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) co-ordinator and instructor. “Kids from 15 feeder schools come here because of the programming and catchment area.”
Independent education management professional Dr. Joel Ien said Longe is an outstanding educator who works tirelessly and tactfully to ensure the success of all her students.
“She understands that parents, guardians and the community are vital partners in the education of children,” noted Ien, the father of Canadian broadcast journalist Marci Ien. “People rely heavily on Belinda for her exemplary leadership and mentoring skills.”
With her doctorate, Longe is plotting her next move.
“Working with the board as a teaching and learning principal leader around curriculum which is one of my areas of expertise is something that interests me,” she said. “I am also thinking about writing non-fiction and fiction novels. As educators and parents, how can we support children to be successful is something I am interested in delving into. I also want to write about some interesting things that have shaped my life and who I am.”
Longe’s parents, Winfield and Anita Longe, have been integral in her growth and development.
“They advocated for me and my sister and gave us everything we needed to succeed,” she added.
Her father, who migrated from Guyana in 1964, is Canada’s first Black sea captain.