Education directors have a passion for teaching and learning

There’s something that drew John Malloy to Hamilton.

The city, he says, reminds him of home.

Malloy, the public school board’s top administrator, was born 50 years ago in Cleveland, Ohio, a community of 400,000 or so, smack-dab in the middle of the steel belt on Lake Erie’s southern shore.

Growing up, he watched the industry start to rust.

“Challenges emerged,” says Malloy, but Cleveland worked through them, reinventing itself as a hub for health, technology and the arts. “Hamilton is very similar.”

But the same could also be said of Malloy’s organization, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. Faced with major challenges, such as declining enrolment, crumbling infrastructure and provincial funding cuts, it, too, is undergoing a renaissance — and he’s on the leading edge.

It’s been close to five years since Malloy succeeded Chris Spence as education director, but it’s clear his passion for education was ingrained long before that.

He always wanted to be a teacher, right from a young age. “I loved everything about school,” he says.

He gravitated toward the profession naturally. Even as a child, he would stay after class just to help the other kids.

After graduation, Malloy studied to become a teacher and guidance counsellor. He took his first job at a high school close to home.

In 1991, he left Ohio to enrol in a master’s program at the University of Toronto. He ended up sticking around, and has bounced around the GTA ever since.

Malloy’s first stint out of school was teaching at the Toronto Catholic school board. He quickly rose through the ranks to vice-principal and principal before leaving for a spot as superintendent at Durham Catholic board, and later, as a superintendent in York.

Then the Hamilton job opened up.

At the time, trustees were looking for someone to work with on a new strategic direction, a plan that would allow each and every student to succeed.

“That was their commitment and that was part of their interview process,” Malloy says. “That’s what they held as a priority, and that drew me.”

It’s been an arduous task.

Since Malloy took the reins in 2009, he’s managed a massive system overhaul, including school closures, programming upheaval and other controversial shifts. By the time it’s over in another five years or so, not a single school will be untouched.

“There’s a lot of change in our system right now,” he says. “Even though the changes are challenging, we do believe that great things will emerge.”

In many ways, Malloy is a typical Type A.

He’s organized, motivated and ambitious. He’s hardworking, even when he’s off the clock.

Take his commitment to learning. Over the last few years, Malloy completed a PhD in education, all the while overseeing one of Ontario’s largest school boards.

“I am somebody who loves to study,” he says. “I love to learn, to take on new ideas. And the reason for that, I believe, is that without taking the opportunity to gain new insights, we become static.”

There’s a similar sentiment at the heart of Malloy’s education philosophy that education is a great opportunity that should not be taken for granted, and that education changes lives.

“I really believe that where we intervene properly, where we support properly, where we partner properly with parents and the community, we can make it a great experience for each and every student,” he says. “I’m not suggesting we have that now, but I do believe that we can keep working towards it.”

John Malloy

Pat Amos: a truly local leader

Pat Amos is one of her board’s success stories.

As a kid, she attended St. Eugene and Bishop Ryan schools. She was hired at St. Martin of Tours right out of teachers’ college, and went on to teach at a handful of other local schools.

She cut her teeth as vice-principal at St. Marguerite d’Youville before being promoted to principal at St. Francis Xavier.

In 1998, she was named superintendent, and then, 11 years later, became director of education for the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board.

Amos, 63, says she was drawn to the profession because she “absolutely wanted to be a teacher.”

“I thought, ‘I’m just going to hang in there and pursue what I believed was my dream for my career.’ It actually worked out very well.”

The Spectator asked Amos if she subscribes to an education philosophy. Here’s what she had to say:

“I really, really believe in seeing the potential within each and every child. I believe that all people, all children can succeed to their level of ability, they can succeed whether it’s one of our children with significant physical challenges, whether it’s significant emotional challenges, behavioural, whether they have learning disabilities, all children can succeed and that’s at the core of my belief.

“I really believe it’s incumbent on us, and it’s been entrusted with education to ensure that happens. I’m not one who believes in excuses, you know. Poverty is not a barrier. It can be an obstacle, but it cannot be a barrier.”

Pat Amos

The people sitting in the board chairs’ chairs

Pat Daly didn’t plan on becoming a Catholic school trustee.

At least not like this.

It was 1985, and Daly was just settling into work at the family business, P.J. Daly Contracting. His father, Pat Sr., was the Ward 7 trustee.

He died suddenly.

“I remember it clearly,” Daly says.

There was an election coming up the next year, so the board decided to fill the vacant seat by appointment. With the support of his mother and Father Kyran Kennedy, a longtime trustee and family friend, Daly threw his hat into the ring.

He has represented Catholic ratepayers ever since.

“I don’t know if I ever filled them,” says Daly, 56. “They were pretty big shoes. But I’ve always tried to do my best.”

Daly was born and raised in Mount Hope, a small, tight-knit community just south of Hamilton. As a kid, he attended Our Lady of the Assumption in Elfrida, and later, Bishop Ryan High School in Stoney Creek.

“All of my years of school were in our system,” he says. “I had outstanding principals, teachers and coaches right throughout.”

Daly enrolled at McMaster University after graduation, but would only stay a year. He felt a calling, he says, to return to the family construction company.

He stayed there until the mid-1990s, when he took over as Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board chair. Around the same time, It was he was named president of the Ontario English Catholic Trustees’ Association.

Between the two, “it was at least a full-time position,” he says. So he reached an agreement with his mother and brothers, and has split his time between Hamilton and Toronto ever since.

The job is different now than it was back then, he admits — the biggest shift, perhaps, coming in 1998, when the province’s Fewer School Boards Act slashed the number of trustees at the board to nine from 21.

“It obviously changed things significantly,” Daly says. “But again, just seeing the commitment and dedication of our teachers and staff at schools and here at the board is something that really inspires me all the time.”

He’s also inspired by the commitment of parents, which he says plays a critical role in any faith-based system.

While Daly has accomplished much in his nearly three decades as a trustee, there have been some bumps along the road. Like Hamilton’s public school board, his board has also had to make difficult decisions around staffing and school closures — decisions that weren’t always popular.

In Daly’s view, however, it’s paid off.

“I don’t say this with any degree of arrogance, but I think our system is second to none in the province,” he says. “I don’t take any claim to that, but I think everyone has worked — trustees, staff and parents — we really work hard and I think we’ve done a good job.”

Pat Daly

Jessica Brennan: a mixture of a life

It’s an understatement to call Jessica Brennan’s resume “varied.”

In her 60 years, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board chair has earned three master’s degrees — in sociology, library and information science, and social policy. She’s served as a manager for the Red Cross and president of the local United Way. She’s run provincially and federally as a card-carrying New Democrat. She’s taught singing, public speaking and music therapy.

And that’s on top of the decade or so she has dedicated to her work as a trustee.

“It is a bit of a mixture of a life,” she says. “But it seems to be the way I’m happiest and most satisfied. I can bring a lot of energy to each of those pieces.”

The Spectator asked Brennan how her life experiences help shape her decisions around the board table. Here’s what she had to say:

“I think I come from an awareness that everyone is different, and therefore whatever we’re doing has to be customized to their individual talents and energies. I very much don’t believe — and I’ve taught at the college level and been guilty of this myself — in standing up at the front of a room of 30 people, just sort of telling them stuff that you think they need to know. Some of it will meet a bunch of people’s needs, some of them, you’ll be over their heads, and some you’ll be boring to tears. Education is far more personalized than that.”

Jessica Brennan