Paul Ash's grandmother, Hattie Ash, was the principal of the last segregated school for black students to close its doors in Canada. The Mary E. Cornish Memorial School in Lincolnville, N.S., closed in 1983.
Now Ash himself is making history as the first school board superintendent of African descent in Nova Scotia.
"It's an interesting connection in terms of her grandson now being able to step into a position of a superintendent of schools in Nova Scotia," Ash said Thursday.
"She passed a number of years ago. But as I have conversations with family about this opportunity, it makes us smile to think that she is actually up there watching what's happening right now."
Now director of the Department of Education's African Canadian Services Division, Ash begins his new job as superintendent of the Tri-County School Board in southwest Nova Scotia on March 31.
Diversity needed in education
Ash said it's important for all students to see diversity within the education system.
"It creates a healthy work environment, it creates healthy learning spaces for our kids," he said.
A native of the tiny rural community of Upper Big Tracadie in Guysborough County, Ash has been an educator for more than 27 years.
"I always tell people regardless of the role I'm in: First and foremost I'm a teacher. I love children, love teaching, I think it's actually a calling," Ash said.
Addressing poor test scores
In recent years, Tri-County Regional School Board students had the lowest math and literacy scores in the province.
The board also led the province in the number of students on Individual Program Plans, or IPPs, which are designed to help struggling students.
Ash said he will address these issues by working with staff to get their ideas on how to improve the results.
"I've always been a big believer that parents need to be a part of the conversation and solutions, as well as having conversations with the community," he said.
Best person for the job
Michael Drew, chair of the 11-member Tri-County Regional School Board, said the board hired Ash because he was the best-qualified person to provide high-quality education for students and to address the poor assessment results.
"And it just so happens that the person we selected is of African descent, however that was not a consideration during the selection process," Drew said.
"He has a great diversity of educational leadership experiences at the school board [and] department level."
There are more than 6,000 students attending the board's 23 schools located in the Tri-County area, which stretches from Digby to Yarmouth to Lockeport.
'It's been a long time coming'
Retired educator Brad Barton mentored Ash. Barton, who retired in 1997 after a 32-year career, says Ash's appointment is significant.
"It's been a long time coming and I'm glad to see we finally got to that point that we have a person who's qualified and able to do the job and given the opportunity to assume that role," he said.
Ash takes over from Jim Gunn, the interim Tri-County superintendent of schools.