Meet the school board’s new first-ever Jewish equity coach

Brian Kom, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board’s (OCDSB) new Jewish equity coach officially began his work on June 8, 2023. He sat down with Jodi Green, the Communications and Advocacy Specialist at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa for a chat about his new role, his vision, and his potential challenges.

JG: What is an equity coach?

BK: The equity department exists to make sure that students of all racial, religious, gender, or other identities feel supported and safe in school. The equity coaches are there to offer tools and educational opportunities to administrators and teachers to help them understand the unique needs and sensitivities that might exist for students with diverse identities. We want to ensure that our classrooms are safe and inclusive spaces for all students. 

JG: What attracted you to this role?

BK: I’ve been a classroom teacher since 2010 including a supply teacher at OCDSB, an English teacher in Tokyo, a special education and general studies teacher at the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS), and most recently, a gifted classroom teacher at an OCDSB elementary school.  I have always prioritized equity in my classroom, my department, and my school. Accordingly, in the classroom, I make sure that students are supported to be whoever they are. Access to education is a right and they should feel good and safe while in school. My goal is to make sure they never feel excluded or “othered” or marginalized in any way.

In one role, I was working with children with learning differences, and it was my job to make sure they could access the supports and services they needed. It was a defining moment for me when my job was to bring equity to a group of students every day, elevating equity from an ideal to a mission. My job was to bring greater inclusion to the school and to help kids access their right to an education. It has defined my work since then.

JG: What do you see as the most immediate priorities?

BK: This is a really hard question. Since it is only Week 1, I think my biggest priority is to listen. Listen to the families, listen to the teachers, listen to my fellow equity coaches, and then formulate what my priorities should be. The stories are coming in and I’m learning how hard it is to seek equality and fairness and not find it. I will hold those stories and use them inform my role and priorities.

In addition, I’m looking at doing a needs analysis or assessment, and getting a broad view of the landscape. And then, I will have a sense of the task ahead of me.

JG: How will you educate or coach the administration about antisemitism and help them understand that it is as serious as any other form of racism?

BK: I can tell you that within the equity department there is no hierarchy of bigotry. We take all instances of hate very seriously regardless of the individual or group’s identity. Hate is hate.

I know the equity team is continuously engaged in anti-oppression and anti-hate work by sharing frameworks, education, and procedures to combat it. Antisemitism is part of that work alongside all other forms of hate. I know members of the Jewish community haven’t always felt that to be the case. But I think the creation and staffing of my role is the start of the acknowledgment that antisemitism, as with any other form of hate, is not acceptable and the school board is ready to make that clear to its staff and student community.

JG: How will the revisions to the Ontario curriculum help you in your work?

BK: I think it's important and helpful that the Ontario curriculum is adding this piece about Holocaust education in Grade 6. It is starting tolerance education even younger and giving students tools to better understand each other’s history and world view. 

As an educator, when a new curriculum, that is unfamiliar to me, is introduced, it’s an opportunity to learn. In my new role, it’s a great starting point for teacher education that the Holocaust is in the formalized curriculum. That said, it also presents its own unique challenges. As an educator presented with new, unfamiliar material, it can be hard to do it justice when teaching it for the first time. This is where we are fortunate to have wonderful Jewish and non-Jewish educators already offering support on teaching Holocaust education. The Jewish Educators Group and Holocaust Working Group are great resources for teachers working in the OCDSB to gain the confidence to teach the Holocaust in ways that brings greater understanding across the student body.

JG: What challenges do you perceive as you get started?

BK: I think the biggest challenge will be setting expectations. I know what expectations I have set for myself, but I will lean on my equity team to help set expectations for the role, for staff, and for students and families. There are also expectations from the broader Ottawa Jewish community. It will take some time to clarify exactly what my responsibility is to each community and to solidify my plan. Part of that process will be meeting with each community I serve and listening.

Another challenge will be to anticipate challenges in the first place. And when things do pop up, being ready to manage them and support the Jewish students, teachers, and school administrators to bring resolution and to diminish hate.

The conversation finished with a short chat about how important this role is to Brian. As the parent of an OCDSB student, this role is not just a job, but it’s personal too.

--Brian Kom is an employee of the OCDSB and can be reached at