Tom Rhymes to Retire in December

by Dan Mullins

After a distinguished career in education, Tom Rhymes is retiring from the Lester B. Pearson School Board this month.

“Life is a path you beat as you walk it,” says Rhymes. Though he never expected to work in the field, he ultimately grew to love it. Rhymes has spent over three decades working in the education sector and has made a significant impact on the lives of a great many students.

A native of Cape Breton, Rhymes’ journey into education began when, looking to escape another tough Maritime winter, he landed a job teaching at a private school in Costa Rica. Upon his return, his sister helped him secure a job teaching in northern Quebec as a short-term replacement for someone who was on maternity leave. What was supposed to be a seven-week contract teaching in Kativik turned into a stay of seven years. Rhymes only left after meeting Pary Skarogiannis while in the North, and following his heart to Montreal.

In Montreal, Rhymes was introduced to Giordano Rosa, a mentor and fellow educator who recruited him to work with the now-defunct Baldwin Cartier School Board’s alternative schools. When Quebec began organizing school boards along linguistic lines in 1998, Rhymes joined the newly founded Lester B. Pearson School Board.

After leaving the classroom, Rhymes spent twelve years as principal at Spring Garden Elementary School, Riverdale High School, and Lasalle Community Comprehensive High School. It was during these years that Rhymes’ and Skarogiannis’ children were born. John is now 23, Anna 22, and Julia 19.

In speaking with Rhymes, his first degree in Philosophy and History at King’s College are as much in evidence as his later degrees in education (a B.Ed. from Dalhousie and an M.A. in Educational Leadership from McGill) — he is deeply human in his approach to education. Happy to discuss the Neil Postman books on the shelf in his office, both men assert that the role of educators, and that of the institutional community that surrounds them, goes beyond imparting information. Rather, Rhymes sees them as fostering the development of young people, liberating them, and helping them to hone the tools to more easily navigate and better appreciate life.

Throughout his career, Rhymes has been committed to making a positive impact on the lives of students. He firmly believes in the role schools play in society, even as other institutions such as the church and the family have changed. “Schools are a crucial pillar of society, although they bear increasing pressure,” he says.

Rhymes says that the work of educators is often undervalued. “The public really needs to know what people are doing in the schools, it’s so much more than they see,” he explains.

“I hold people, whoever they may be, who support and educate our youth, who care, in the highest esteem,” says Rhymes.

In his current role as Assistant Director General, Rhymes has continued to work long hours to support students by empowering teachers and administrators.

When Riverdale High School was forced to close in 2019, Rhymes, typically, returned to help his colleagues to navigate the emotional and practical disruptions. In an emotional address, he described both the employees and the building itself, which was transferred to the Marguerite Bourgeoys board, as having continuing missions in education. It was a gesture appreciated both by those who he had worked with closely and newer arrivals.

For Rhymes, as for the Riverdale building, there is a continuing mission. While he is looking forward to a well-deserved break, he says, “there may be more years behind me than ahead of me, but there is still a path to be beaten.”