General News

New PDSB Director of Education aims to build community through equity

September 2, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Rob Paul

In early August, the Peel District School Board (PDSB) hired Rashmi Swarup as the new Director of Education.

Prior to coming to the PDSB, Rashmi had served as the Vice President of Digital Learning and Educational Partnerships at TVO since 2019 and had previously worked with the York Region District and Toronto District School Boards.

Swarup assumed her role with the PDSB on August 16, 2021, and with the school year arriving, she spoke with the Citizen about what she hopes to accomplish and prioritize in her new role.

“I think the most important thing is about learning and well-being for students and staff because that’s what we’re here for,” she said. “For that, I think it’s important to centre our students, and how do we enhance learning opportunities? Because for me, it’s important that we are preparing our students to be confident leaders, critical thinkers, and caring citizens.

“Another priority is to reach out to families, communities, and staff, because it’s important to build relationships and partnerships — I will listen, learn, and lead. Implementing the ministry directives and addressing and eliminating systemic racism — especially anti-black racism and anti-Indigenous racism — is very important. These are my biggest priorities and I bring a committed resolve to be there for every student, school, and parent in the best way I can.”

What led Swarup to wanting to take on the role as PDSB Director of Education was her motivation to provide leadership to a vast and diverse community by listening to and promoting inclusivity. 

“I believe in education and leadership is about serving students, staff, families, communities, and how can you make a difference? That’s the biggest piece,” she said. “What I’ve found is that Peel District School Board is on a transformative trajectory right now. My education experience has been about working with diverse communities in the province and globally and leading transformational change through an equity and anti-oppression lens. I want to serve the community where I live because I believe we can come together with a common goal, which is about creating equitable and inclusive learning environments so that every student’s identity is valued, and every student can achieve their potential while rebuilding public confidence in public education.”

Having spent time in education abroad prior to coming to Canada 25 years ago, Swarup has spent decades in various roles in the education realm and draws on her experience to succeed in her new role.

“[I’ve been in education] as far back as I remember, more than 30 years,” she said. “I’ve been a teacher and a principal and a curriculum lead in schools in India and a curriculum lead in the Middle East. Then in Canada, I’ve been in the biggest school board (TDSB) for several years leading transformative change and then in York Region as vice-principal, principal, superintendent of education. I really believe as a person in today’s world, you don’t stick to one job; different experiences really help you grow. I’m South Asian, an immigrant woman, English is my second language, and so I’ve navigated in equities, and it’s always been how do I lead change through building relationships. It’s always about commitment to closing the gaps.

“Experience does matter, but you also need to understand the context. Any new place you come to, you first need to observe and see the amazing things happening there. Experience teaches you to assess and then move forward taking the team with you.”

Two weeks into her new role and with school year at the doorstep, Swarup has been focused on building relationships throughout the expansive PDSB by visiting various schools and meeting with their leadership.

“You want to learn so much, it’s a big board,” she said. “It’s interesting because I’ve worked in the first and third largest school board and now, I’m in the second largest school board. I’ve found in the large school boards there’s always a variety of assets and diversity that are there. I’ve found that people are very warm and open and there’s a lot of honest conversations happening. I’m very focused on schools—one of my principles has been how can you lead without seeing what’s happening on the ground? It’s amazing to see the energy and to see that energy is what motivates me.”

Building a relationship with the leadership at each and every school within the PDSB is something Swarup is working towards doing to help empower the community she oversees.

“Principals have a very responsible role to play in their school community and in my introductory message to principals I have said that I will visit each school this year—259 schools. I want to personally thank you and get to know you personally, it’s about telling me what’s happening in your school, but also telling me a bit about yourself—to value people as people. The biggest message to principals is that our youngest learners in schools today will be graduating in 2035, keep that in mind. How are we preparing them for the future?”

Given the circumstances around the school year with the ongoing pandemic, Swarup’s prime concern is to build relationships and ensure students and staff are holding up mentally.

“For any leader, the first thing is to listen and learn the context,” she said. “When you learn the context, you have to use that feedback to feed forward. Also, who am I listening to? Who is missing from the conversation? Listening and engaging communities is a big priority for me. We’re in a pandemic, so the mental health and well-being of students is huge for me. But all these things connect, partnership and making a deep connection is the short-term goal.”



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