Ariel: You began your career as a teacher. Was there anything in that role that influenced your later work as a change agent?
Dale: Not so much my role as a teacher, but what I was studying. I started out right out of teachers’ college—I hadn’t gone to university as such—so I was doing my Bachelor’s work in the evening and the summer. I was majoring in Sociology, so I was influenced by some of the things that were happening in that field. One of the instructors there was Wilson Head, who was originally from the United States. He was working as Director of Research at the United Appeal, and he spoke about the role of the School Community Agent, part of the War on Poverty. I think it was U.S. President Lyndon Johnson’s time. I had never heard of this—we didn’t have these kinds of people, we didn’t even have social workers—I came from Windsor. Lo and behold, in the Globe & Mail there was an advert for what they called a “teacher counsellor.” I’d taken one course in Guidance. I thought, “Oh, this sounds interesting.” They wanted the person to be involved with the community.
I applied, and I ended up getting the job, so I had to move with my wife and my young child to North York. I spent six years at Flemington Road Public School in Lawrence Heights, where we created—along with the Principal Whit Morris, and residents, and agency people—the Flemington Road Community School, which was one of the first schools of its kind. I was very much influenced by John Dewey and Edward Olson. Olson in particular described the community school as an extension of the community it serves. The focus isn’t on the institutional school, but on the community of learners that are around the school. Lawrence Heights, if you don’t know, is a public housing area and has about 5,000 people living in it. I was working with students at the school, and also with parents and agencies that came in and provided services.
We developed what was called the Community School Advisory Council. It was made up of parents and community people and service people. The parents, who were residents, took the ownership. They always chaired the meetings. I was there as a scribe. That was a great learning experience for me and got me more into the idea of focusing on the community, as opposed to focusing on traditional schooling.
Also, about that time the Hall-Dennis Report came out, and it spoke about broadening the learning environment and freeing things up. It was, by and large, tolerated. Some people didn’t agree with the rationale. It certainly was an alternative to what had been the tradition. When I started teaching, you had to follow the grey Course of Study, and when the inspector came in, if you weren’t teaching, say, South America in March, then you weren’t following the grey Course of Study. It was very rigid, and that was how you were evaluated.
After Hall-Dennis there was a change in the use of space. Instead of putting up walls, you had open areas. In those days every teacher had their classroom, and they closed the door. That was your domain. People would come in and inspect your work and see what you were doing, and you had to keep copious records on attendance and all this kind of stuff. So taking down walls was a bit of a revolution.
I came to Flemington Road Community School]in ’66, and I left in about ’71 when I went into the doctoral program at OISE [Ontario Institute for Studies in Education]. Community education and development within adult ed was my area. That made me open to the kinds of changes that were going on. At Flemington I was part of that. Then what happened was that I’d had some interest and notoriety in what I was doing. The original principal Whit Morris who hired me, got promoted to inspector, and they brought in another fellow. He was very much against what we were doing. It was an extended day: we were going from 9 in the morning to 10 at night with our programs. We involved school-age kids, of course, and then we started to do programs with parents, and then youth said, “What about us?” It was at least four days a week, and then there was a community centre down the road where some of the programs would happen on the weekends. A drop-in centre for youth was a big part of what we were doing.
I got recruited by the City of Toronto because I’d been part of an inner-city group at Metro School Board. In those days there was something called compensatory education, which was to compensate for people who didn’t have [any] cultural enrichment. I had been involved with that, and they got to know me, so the Director of Education, Ron Jones, reached out through Bill Quinn, who was someone I knew from the compensatory education committee. The Toronto Board established a task force on inner city education, because they were being criticized by community interests. You had community involvement, but there were some people who wanted community control. There was This Magazine Is About Schools and they were very critical.
The trustees in their wisdom set up this task force [on inner city education]. I came on as the assistant chair; Bill Quinn was the chair. We had a mandate that covered everything but the kitchen sink, including alternatives in education, because that was something that was coming up, and SEED had already been established as a summer program and became a day program in 1970 or ‘71. Part of the mandate of the task force was to look at these matters [of alternative education] along with multicultural education and daycare in the schools and a whole bunch of different things on the agenda. When we finished, the final report was delivered to the Board, Bill Quinn ended up being named—I guess they were calling them superintendents in those days—up in North Toronto. I was left to implement the recommendations of the task force. I was getting involved in all kinds of change-oriented things.
Now, I was not well accepted coming in, because I had been brought in as a principal, and the way you usually got to be a principal in Toronto, you had to go through the chairs. You were a teacher, then a vice-principal, and eventually you paid your dues and became principal. I came in as a principal, and a group of trustees called the reform caucus—some of them had started in 1969, I think Gordon Cressy was one of them, and Fiona Nelson, she had been the one who initially conceived the idea of SEED—I don’t know where they stood on it, but Ron Jones said, “I am the director, and Dale is going to come and work for us.” I had to compete with what I’d call institutional schooling interests. A lot of the administrators and teachers were feeling threatened by the idea of community involvement, and certainly of community control, that the community should hire the teachers and set the curriculum, the whole deal. As a task force, we tried to find some middle ground to bring together various interests. I don’t know how successful we were in doing that, but one thing that I learned was that it was very much a political situation in terms of how decisions were made and whether programs ever got off the ground. Fortunately, Bill Quinn was very enlightened, and we worked with trustees to get programs off the ground. We ran into problems with that, because senior administration said, “The only time you ever talk to a trustee is across the board table.”
I was assigned as Special Assistant to the Director, which eventually became Coordinator of Alternative and Community Programs, and then I became part of the curriculum division in the Board. So I was involved in working with SEED from that standpoint, and then ALPHA was the first elementary alternative. I was very much involved in working with parents as they came forward to ask about starting their own alternative schools.
Ariel: Tell me about the genesis of ALPHA. It sounds to me from what you say in your book that you were ALPHA’s man on the inside—
Dale: I would hope so. I tried to be.
Ariel: But in some ways the parents were initially distrustful of you.
Dale: Maybe they thought I was a spy or something. During those early formative days, you know we were up on the third floor of the YMCA on Broadview [starting in 1972]—
Ariel: I went there starting in 1974.
Dale: Well I would have been there at the same time as you were there as a student. I started out when they were doing the formulation, working out the governance model and how it related to the institutional policies, and what the ALPHA parents stood for. They met every week. It would be like a town hall meeting, and I always remember keeping my back to the wall [laughs] because I was the outsider. I had to gain trust among the parents. Many very close friends in later days were originally parents at ALPHA.
Ariel: How did you gain their trust?
Dale: I guess in some respects I was the apologist. Because of course they wanted to hire the teachers, but they couldn’t under the Education Act, so we had to work out a compromise. They wanted it to be ungraded. One of the things that came up as a bit of a controversy was the fact that some parents thought that they should be working there as volunteers. That was part of the Task Force mandate, but it wasn’t yet allowed to happen in schools. Some parents had the time, and they wanted to be there all day. That was threatening to some of the teachers because then they had to deal with the parents as well as the kids, so we had to work through that, and the parents were understanding.
Part of the difficulty with the beginning of ALPHA was that we had to have a hundred to open, and there weren’t enough children, so they had to go out and beat the bushes and find more kids. And so they ended up with a real mixed group of parents having all different ideologies—the one thing they had in common was that they all hated regular school. So then there was some controversy among the parents about how things should be done and how much flexibility there should be. I was in the middle, because I was the acting principal in those days—you had to have a principal. A number of parents, about a third, left, and they were going to start BETA, Better Education Than ALPHA [smiles.] ALPHA was able to find more parents, because as time went on, they saw that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and eventually we got it up to the numbers that were required.
The space was interesting because they didn’t want to be in a regular school building, so you had to rent space. It was an open space that hadn’t been used that much, so the parents were involved in the design. We had a couple of architects, and they did a lot of the work in preparing the site. It was a very energizing experience for me because I believed in the idea of community involvement, certainly, but I was also criticized by the community control people who saw me as an interloper. They didn’t want somebody else in between. They would write articles in This Magazine saying that the Board was selling out the alternatives. Eventually, we got through that, and we went on.
The one thing that happened about three years in: I wrote the original policy for how you got to be an alternative school, and they established an Alternatives in Education Committee which eventually became the Alternative and Community Programs Committee. That was where you went for the first step, and eventually to the whole Board. I was involved with helping to develop the applications for most of those schools. I think there were about twenty of them by the time I left in 1980. Now, of course, there’s more. There were schools that had been started as initiatives of students—SEED was sort of like that—they knew what they wanted; by parents; and by teachers. There were teachers like Harry Smaller at CONTACT. You were working with diverse interests, and it was an exciting time to be in the schooling business.
Ariel: You had a hand in starting most of the schools that we’ve documented for this project. I remember Rob and Bob from Inglenook saying exactly the same thing: it was an exciting time to be working in education.
Dale: Definitely. Because of the Hall-Dennis report, the seventies was an exciting time to be in education. There was a lot of debate and discussion in the media. The fact that most of [those schools] survived, like ALPHA—forty years plus—I think is a testament to the strength of the original concepts. The one that didn’t survive was Laneway, and they wanted more structure than other alternative schools. Eventually they ran out of kids. But most of the schools were more involved with flexibility, with shared governance, with the idea of use of community resources—something that certainly was part of SEED with its catalyst program under Murray Shukyn. The idea of going outside of the school building to learn, what I called community resource learning, was part of most of the schools. Then we got into the intermediate learning. It was a time of great change and learning.
One of the projects that came out of the task force was a work group on cooperative education. We put together committees of people from the community, from schooling, and from the Ministry of Education. The one on cooperative education had a number of business people on it, and we came up with something called the Learning Exchange System, which was partly to develop a resource called the LEARNXS Directory. It was a book listing different sources of learning in the community—nonprofits and agencies and so on—and if you wanted to study something you could look it up in the book and go to the person listed and they’d be open to that. We couldn’t computerize it in those days because that didn’t exist, but we worked out a retrieval system. As a pilot project, the directories were given out to schools. The other initiative that came out of that work group became Subway Academy. At that time there was the Parkway Program in the U.S. The idea was learning contracts developed through alternatives in education—students at Subway could go and search out a teacher anywhere that they could get to on the subway, in any school, if the teacher was willing, for an independent study program, so that they could get their credits. So there wasn’t any actual teaching as such going on [in the school itself], it was administrative stuff, and Murray Shukyn, who had been coordinator at SEED originally, I was able to get him assigned to Subway.
Ariel: Did the idea for Subway come out of the Learning Exchange?
Dale: It was part of the Learning Exchange System original proposal that was approved by the Cooperative Education Work Group. I know people say it was Board-initiated, but it was basically an interest group which was also talking about cooperative education, and that hadn’t really gotten off the ground. They used to call it work-study. There was the Riverdale Youth Project run by a fellow named Harry McKay that wanted to establish this program separate from the schools. He was focused at Riverdale Collegiate and causing great problems. The principal had a heart attack or something, and we were able to bring in a policy that would make a cooperative education program easier. Subway was based at Eastern Commerce, and there was a second branch on the west side—the founder and executive director of the private Three Schools of Art was a former parent at ALPHA, John Sime. He became a close friend. We established some space there, because he had a bookstore across from the Brunswick House, Other Books. Those were exciting times in terms of breaking new ground. There was always something on the horizon. I had to be the integrator. That’s what I was expected to do. That sometimes worked out well, but not always. It was a very political environment.
Ariel: What was it about Toronto that put it in the forefront of alternative and community education in the 1970s?
Dale: It was sort of a bottom-up situation where the initiative came from a disparate group—students, parents, teachers, sometimes community activists. That was different from alternative education as I knew it in the U.S., where they were following the free school model to some extent, but a lot of it, like the Parkway Program, was school board-initiated, and it had to do with desegregation. They wanted to get the kids who’d moved out to the suburbs back down to the centre of the city. I think that in Toronto, having that kind of origin, not being programmed from the top, was unique.
Ariel: What was it that made that bottom-up organization possible?
Dale: I think a number of the people at ALPHA originally were war resisters, because it was at the time of the Vietnam War, and they came to Canada and to Toronto with anticipation of being able to have a different kind of environment than they’d had in the States. They’d been influenced by what was happening in U.S. elementary schools. That took a lot of leadership. Roger Simon, who was eventually at OISE, and others who were part of that cohort of people came to Toronto, and some of them got to be school board trustees. There was a sense that there were no easy answers, that things had to be worked out. There had to be consultation, you had to find the middle ground. You still had the Education Act, and people could throw that at you and say, “Well, you can’t do this, and you can’t do that.” They had tried to hire John Bremer, from the Parkway Program, as Director of Education. The Ministry came in and blocked it; they said, “Well, he doesn’t have a supervisory officer’s certificate, and you must have that to be a director.” They ended up with Ron Jones.
Ariel: You talk about this in your book, but you were essentially a diplomat, right? Tell me what that was like.
Dale: I had to be a diplomat as much as possible, but I was always walking both sides of the street, because if I totally lost my credibility among the senior administration, then I wouldn’t be doing the job. And if the community didn’t think I was their advocate, then they wouldn’t trust me. Art Eggleton [later Mayor of Toronto] was a councillor in those days. Mary Fraser was a trustee, and I can remember sitting in Mary Fraser’s kitchen talking about what we were going to do with Art Eggleton. You got involved very heavily with the big-P politics as well as the informal stuff.
Ariel: Art Eggleton was fairly conservative?
Dale: Well, he became Mayor. He was fairly middle-of-the-road, right-centre. Mary, she’s not with us anymore, but she was progressive. There were some trustees who really wanted to support a different way of doing things, and there were some who were very much against that. Within the Board you had strife.
Ariel: How did you mediate that?
Dale: You tried as much as possible to count the votes so that you knew if you had support for a certain program. In my book I talk about Spectrum Alternative School, which was a teacher-initiated senior school that had been housed in Deer Park Public School. It got to the point where there wasn’t enough room at Deer Park, and they were going to close the program down. The teachers spoke to parents—this was all on the QT—and they got a group of them who supported keeping Spectrum open, but they would have to find a new location. Now the Superintendent was very much against the idea of Spectrum. The Alternative Programs Committee, which was the step before you went to the full Board to get a new school approved, and they would meet in the committee room. All the parents from Spectrum came down, and a guy from CBC comes in with a videographer and starts going around. And so the trustees and even some of the officials were thrown off because that didn’t normally happen—they didn’t televise Board meetings. They approved the school. The Superintendent wasn’t pleased. As it turned out, it was all guerilla theatre.
Ariel: There was no tape in the camera?
Dale: There was no tape in the camera. The guy from the CBC was one of the parents.
Ariel: You’ve had a long—and I’m sure often fascinating—career in education. What would you say were your most satisfying moments, and what would you go back and do differently if you could?
Dale: I worked for three Boards. A lot of what I learned in North York, at Lawrence Heights, around community development and educational development, I was able to transfer to Toronto in terms of the alternatives. Since I had community programs as part of my mandate there, I was building upon those previous experiences. Then when I became a supervisory officer and was hired by the Borough of York, I was able to replicate some of the programs that we had had in Toronto and work with a group called Parents for Cherrywood, which ended up getting space at Humewood Public School, except that there ended up being more students at Cherrywood than there were at Humewood, and that became a threat. When the Director of Education, John Phillips, who’d been a great supporter of the kinds of things I was doing, retired, a new director came in, and they closed Cherrywood. Humewood felt threatened from the parents’ side, but also from the administration’s side. I was kept out of the whole thing. I wasn’t allowed to participate in the bloodletting.
Ariel: Do you have a favourite alternative school that you had a hand in starting?
Dale: Well, I’d have to say Subway, in terms of being involved in that process from the beginning. I had some real interest in that. They still have two locations.
I guess the other one that was of great interest was the Wandering Spirit Survival School. That was two families that withdrew their kids from regular school and tried to set up a program at the Native Friendship Centre on Spadina. They couldn’t make a go of it because there was no money. So then they went to the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry said, “Well, we don’t establish schools, but there’s this crazy guy down on College St. You can go down and see him.” They came down and made a presentation. I worked with Vern Harper and Pauline Shirt in getting the proposal off the ground. It was very controversial. They wanted to have a Native Way school, which meant that culture and religion would overlap, and that was threatening to people. The Toronto Star had an editorial against the idea of religion in the schools. That school was very exciting, and it’s still around. They’ve changed the name to First Nations School.
The ones where I was involved in the formulation, the application, which included ALPHA, Subway, and Wandering Spirit, they had to come forward with a proposal. Contact took off on its own, because they had lots of strength there; they had some students from OISE and so on. And then you had a number of ones that were influenced by ALPHA, like Downtown and Beaches, and there was one in the west end after I was gone—that saw ALPHA as their model.
Ariel: Which ALPHA parents are you still friends with?
Dale: Well, unfortunately John Sime’s gone, and Roger Simon’s gone. I’ve been away for such a long time, thirty years.
Ariel: It’s interesting that you were seen as an interloper and then you established friendships with those people.
Dale: Yeah. And also because there was a reform group of trustees, some of them didn’t appreciate that I came from afar. I was an outlier. Having to gain some confidence with those people was a challenge. There are some I was never friends with, George Martell and people who were part of that group, that were originally the Trefann Court Mothers, people who tolerated the fact that I was there. I was seen as the outsider. Even when I went to York, some of them were saying, “You’re not going to bring all that stuff they do in Toronto to our fair!” But then I was very fortunate to have the leadership of Ron Jones and Bill Quinn in Toronto, and then in York it was definitely John Phillips, who’s just passed away very recently. They supported me in getting the Adult Day School in York, which became huge: we ended up with 2400 students in thirty locations. It was completely decentralized; there was no one space where it was housed. Unfortunately, when Premier Harris came in, he put the brakes on a lot of the adult ed stuff. We used to have regular teachers teaching in adult education, and they changed it all to continuing ed. Those jobs were much less secure, and they didn’t get paid as well.
Ariel: Did those programs serve primarily new immigrants, or were they for a whole mix of people?
Dale: A lot of new immigrants, a lot of English as a Second Language, a lot of adult literacy, adult basic education. A lot of people in business education, too, because they went out and started placing adults in cooperative education settings, which ended up getting them hired. If it’s an adult, and they meet somebody, and they’re able to demonstrate their abilities, then oftentimes they were hired. That became a major source of economic development; another field I’ve been very interested in is community economic development, which is again working both sides, getting the employers involved.
Ariel: Along those lines, you’ve consulted with the government of Germany about community education for new immigrants. As the world’s population shifts to a substantially migratory one, what are some of the elements of both alternative and community education that can be applied to education for newcomers?
Dale: Well, I think that the Germans were interested in multiculturalism because of the beginning of the rise of the hard right. What we were trying to do was to say that Canada has been a reception place for people from all over the world, and the newcomers found a way of being able to access services and become productive members of society. That was to try to get around the idea that these people should be isolated, and of course in Germany there’s a lot of Turkish people and a lot of Roma. They were kept in quarters and sectors. When I was in Germany, in Berlin particularly, it was the Roma they were most concerned about. I did some work in the UK as well: at one point I was on the BBC, and in the Times Educational Supplement. I learned a lot from what they were doing, and I was able to bring it back.
Ariel: What kind of things did you learn there?
Dale: In the UK they had a trailer that they’d move to a site, and the teachers would go there and learn how to use a computer. At the Learning Enrichment Foundation in York, which I was involved in establishing, we got an old million-miler school bus from Humber College and converted it into a lab. We called it the Microtron Bus; it had eight computer stations. It was a beautiful bus; we took it to a shipbuilding place in the off-season to have it converted. We had money from the Federal side to train people as technicians to be able to service the equipment, creating job opportunities. A lot of newcomers were in that group.
You build on what you know. A lot of it is networking. I’ve always tried to be a receptor for initiatives that come from outside, and to be a connecting person when it comes to the institutional schooling establishment. John Phillips and I got the Adult Day School off the ground over March Break. My colleagues were all off but I was working and so was John Phillips, and I went in and pitched him. I said, “We need to develop this program, we need to do something with adult basic education.” He supported it, and it became very successful. We created 160 teaching jobs [at a time when there was a teacher surplus], and some of those teachers went on to be leaders and principals.
I’ve been more than twenty years out of the school system with The Training Renewal Foundation, but we’re losing people that were involved in those times, and if there isn’t some kind of a record kept, then we don’t learn from it. It’s unfortunate that politics rules. A lot of what we accomplished was wiped out by the Harris regime. In the City of York we used to do before and after school care programs—the other thing I was involved in was setting up daycares—we opened about seventy of them in Toronto and York. They were all parent-led. We encouraged them to incorporate so that they could get charitable contributions. In York, we were able to get money for kids to attend before and after school. Again, Mr. Harris took care of that. But that was really important for the population in the City of York, which at that time had the lowest rates of income and large numbers of newcomers.
Ariel: Very important for women, too.
Dale: Very important for women. In the Training Renewal Foundation the majority of our directors are women born outside Canada. I’ve always felt very strongly about equality and rights.
Did you read about Interact? It was a program that one of the parents at Hawthorne II Bilingual School, Michele LaRue, established. I got to know her husband John McIninch, he was a partner at Torys law firm. I got a call from him—he had taken the family to Ireland, and [his daughter] fell in love with the horses—she was fourteen, and she decided that she was not going to go back to school, she was going to be a horse person. And she did. She went on to ride and win ribbons. She said she wanted to leave school, and she’d muck out the stables. John and Michele were threatened. He said, “What can I do?” I’d always thought there was a place for students who had a life other than schooling, who were in the arts and athletics. We came up with the proposal for Interact, which allowed students through independent study and flexibility to go and pursue their work. Drake, Ryan Gosling, and Allison Pill went to Interact, figure skaters and all sorts of people. Elaine Vine, she had been at Arlington, we recruited her to come and start Interact. That’s been a really interesting program. At the beginning we didn’t have computers, and students had to fax in assignments. We had someone at the Kirov and someone at the Mickey Mouse Club faxing in their homework.
Ariel: Let’s circle back around to ALPHA. How long were you acting principal there?
Dale: I think probably a couple of years. Certainly the first year. They wanted a principal in a regular school, which I’d never been. Mike Lennox, who was the Superintendent of Curriculum, and I went searching for space for ALPHA and found the third floor of the YMCA on Broadview Ave.
Ariel: I have to thank you, because I loved that building.
Dale: It was good, because there were all kinds of other things happening. There was a pool.
Ariel: You could take tap dance lessons and swimming lessons. It was set in a big field—we used to have the ALPHA Olympics back there.
Dale: We really lucked out with that one.
I’ve had some unbelievable mentors and people who supported things I was doing. I’m so grateful. Otherwise I’d still be in Windsor doing I don’t know what. I couldn’t be more satisfied in the sense of having had the Bill Quinns of the world, and Whit Morris, was the guy who was the principal at Flemington originally, John Phillips, and trustees I’ve been very close to. I feel very, very fortunate.