Paul Ambrose’s journey to being named one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals for 2011 began more than three decades ago at Wexford Collegiate Institute.
His interest in teaching started there where as a student he helped his peers out with their homework.
“Some teachers are admired and I wanted to emulate them,” Ambrose said. “For others I thought, ‘Wow, I could do a better job than that.’ ”
Today, Ambrose is principal at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute. He’s also among 32 principals whose contributions to public education were recently recognized by The Learning Partnership, an organization that advocates for strong public education across Canada.
In his 32-year career, Ambrose has taught at West Hill Collegiate Institute, Maplewood Vocational School, and Sir Robert L. Borden Business and Technical Institute, and was vice-principal at Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate Institute.
Since joining Laurier C.I. eight years ago, he has implemented programs focused on leadership and character education, including blood donor clinics, Volunteer Now, Me to We and the Terry Fox Run.
“We took on one major theme for this school, which is character education,” Ambrose said. “All the activities the kids can take part in help them to become more well-rounded individuals. They get a sense of personal and social responsibility and citizenship.”
Laurier C.I. is one of six schools in Toronto to offer the International Baccalaureate in addition to regular TDSB curriculum. Introducing the program at the school has seen the student population increase from 960 to 1,500 students.
“It’s been a nice growth of this school,” Ambrose said. “We used to be getting 47 per cent of the kids within our catchment area. They used to go anywhere but here. Now we’re at about 85 per cent.”
Nicole Magson, a teacher at Laurier C.I., calls Ambrose a visionary who has brought about profound changes at the school.
“When I first started it felt like a place where students and teachers may not have wanted to be at,” she said. “But now both students and teachers take great pride in Laurier.
“What has really changed is the sense of community: a place where people belong, a place where people are accepted and celebrated for who they are.”
Ambrose said he hopes students remember him as someone who has made a difference in their lives.
“When you’ve been working in education for this long, you’re constantly getting feedback from kids who are now adults and they’re saying really nice things,” he said. “That’s how I’d like to be remembered and that’s how I have been remembered — so far.”
The Learning Partnership’s gala award dinner honouring Canada’s Outstanding Principals for 2011 is set for Feb. 8.