'Principal of the parking lot'

[attach]5349[/attach]Tucked away in a sparsely decorated office in Thorncliffe Park Public School, Catherine Ure’s desk is covered with blueprints and architect’s renderings.

Hardly what one would expect to find in a school principal’s office, but Ure’s no ordinary principal.

The 23-year veteran of Toronto’s public education system is entering uncharted territory as lead administrator of Canada’s first all-kindergarten school.

Of course, right now that means Ure is principal of a school that doesn’t exist.

In June 2010, after years of planning, the Toronto District School Board approved plans for the construction of a $16 million junior and senior kindergarten school, to be sandwiched between Thorncliffe Park PS and East York Town Centre.

Shovels are expected to be in the ground early this year, with a completion date set for January 2013.

“I’m the principal of the parking lot right now,” Ure quips.

[attach]5350[/attach]The board appointed Ure school principal to get her in on the planning stage of such a large endeavor — building and transitioning students into a brand new school.

With almost 2,000 students, Thorncliffe Park is currently the largest JK-grade 5 school in North America.

The new kindergarten school is expected to serve about 700 students, while effectively eliminating the need for the 20 portables that are currently used as classrooms.

With full-day kindergarten currently rolling out across Ontario, the new school will also be a hub of professional development for early learning practices.

“We’re looking at this as the possible model for what full-day kindergarten should look like,” Ure says.

Figuring out logistics falls squarely on Ure’s shoulders, as she works to complement programming with the school layout. Since her September start, Ure has been working regularly with architects, school administrators and teachers, both at Thorncliffe and at other public and private schools across the city.

“With respect to the building, what I’m trying to do is put together my knowledge about early years and how we want to program for the school, and then defining the structure … to honour the program,” she says. “It’s all connected.”

Beyond bricks and mortar, Ure is also familiarizing herself with one of the city’s most distinct neighbourhoods. Thorncliffe Park is a densely populated area of highrise buildings, populated by many newcomers to Canada.

According to Ure, about 75 percent of students currently attending Thorncliffe Park are from Pakistan, while smaller segments hail from India and parts of Eastern Europe.

Helping families adapt to Canada while retaining their cultural heritage and language is a huge part of the education program at Thorncliffe Park, and will remain so at the new school, Ure says.

“Something that I’ll be working more on in the New Year is the parents’ perception of education and where we go with their perception of education, especially with early years.”

She has more time to adapt than was originally planned. The school was expected to be built and open for students by September 2012, but budget matters and land-use issues with the adjacent mall increased red tape, requiring a revised plan to include rooftop parking at the school.

Despite planning setbacks, Ure says she’s determined to be ahead of the game, and has the experience to implement her vision.

This time last year, she was principal at Park Lane Public School, and has worked at a variety of area schools, both as teacher and administrator.

Ure, who currently has a daughter in kindergarten, went to teacher’s college to become a high school teacher, but when she entered the workforce, there were more job vacancies in junior and elementary grades.

Though she didn’t set out to teach younger students, Ure says it’s the best thing that could have happened.

“It just makes so much sense now to me, if you can influence the beginning for children then they’ve got that strong foundation,” she says. “It’s just so exciting to be going out at the very beginning.”