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Hearts & Minds: A Public School Miracle

by Sandra Dean

Sandra Dean is an extraordinary person. Appointed principal in 1991 of South Simcoe Public School in Oshawa, Ontario, a troubled, inner-city school plagued by vandalism, absenteeism, and underachievement, she set out to improve conditions any way she could. Over the next eight years she and her staff transformed the school, gaining national recognition in the process.

Dean knew intuitively that while many of the South Simcoe students were victims of parental neglect and/or abuse, she could help them learn if school were a place where they felt encouraged and cared for. She was one of the first educators, for example, to implement snack and breakfast programs for kids who habitually came to school hungry. In Hearts & Minds she tells many heartbreaking stories of troubled children who responded in positive ways to sensitive attention – from her, from the staff, and from the school’s “community partners.”

The first of these community partners were local merchants who’d been plagued by South Simcoe students’ shoplifting and vandalism. Dean invited them into the school to read to and counsel the kids. The program expanded under its own momentum to include representatives from major corporations, such as General Motors, who were impressed with what Dean was doing and wanted to help. She also reached out to parents, most of whom had never had, nor wanted, any contact with the school, and whose lives couldn’t have been more different from her own.

Not only did South Simcoe’s problems lessen significantly, but the school became a vibrant part of its community and a symbol of hope. Various levels of media, business, and government took notice and Dean became a minor celebrity for her accomplishment. That the Harris government closed the school in 1998 is sadly ironic, and will certainly reinforce readers’ cynicism about politics and government. Still, Hearts & Minds is an inspiring story – despite Dean’s workmanlike, somewhat formal writing style – and one that every educator should read.


Reviewer: Anne Francis

Publisher: Viking/Penguin Canada


Price: $33

Page Count: 256 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-670-88982-2

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 2000-10

Categories: Politics & Current Affairs