Profile of Olga Margold, Principal, Prestige School - Toronto Campus
Olga Margold, Principal (since 2003)
Olga Margold is the founding principal of The Prestige School. She opened the school in 2003 alongside her parents, Tatiana and Leon Issaev, both of whom come from a teaching background. In Ukraine, Leon was a professor of math and physics and Tatiana was a teacher and served on the National Board of Education. Margold and her parents emigrated to Canada during the recession in Ukraine in the aftermath of the country’s independence in 1991. In 1993, they began offering an after-school tutoring program that gained popular attention. “Our goal was never to have a big school. Our goal was to give knowledge to kids who want to learn.”
The initial focus of the tutoring program was math. Leon was convinced that the Ontario curriculum was lacking a true sense of numerical literacy. He created a curriculum that is still used by Prestige School today. The curriculum also included an approach to instruction. Leon felt that spark and passion for math was missing from the Ontario curriculum. In many ways, his approach to instruction is even more valuable than the math content itself. Leon felt that students who had trouble grasping a concept simply needed a different approach to find the way into the material that was right for them. “The amount of patience that he had, that’s what he taught me. … Explain the question. If you don’t get it, I can explain it differently. If you still don’t get it, then, let’s try it another way.”
That willingness to explain things differently, to trust the intellect of the students and understand that not everyone learns in the same way became a hallmark of the tutoring program and the backbone of The Prestige School and is what Margold credits for its success. “That’s what he taught me, and that’s what I try to do.” If a student fails a test, for example, the teacher might say that the student didn’t study or didn’t pay enough attention in class. At The Prestige School, the assumption is given that all students are capable and it’s the job of the teacher to capitalize on that capability. This approach completely transforms the student-teacher relationship.
Another aspect of Leon’s curriculum, which remains in place at Prestige, is the belief that skills and competencies in one discipline can be applied to all disciplines. While we all have calculators and apps on our phones these days, learning long division can seem an antiquated skill, but Prestige School doesn’t forego teaching long division because a calculator can do it for the student. Margold believes that learning long division, for example, teaches skills that can be utilized in other aspects of life.
“The reason why the students need math is because math gives you logical skills for dealing with everyday issues. It could be anything in life. How do you deal with it? You break it down into little things … to breath smoothly … how do you cope with that … break it down, make it smaller.”
As a result of this philosophy, math is strongly integrated into the culture at The Prestige School. The math program is a key draw for any parents, as are the school’s high academic standards.
Margold has a commerce degree from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and believes in offering students a chance to study at a higher level than what is often expected of them. It’s typical at Prestige for students to work a year ahead.
“Once you give this information to students at an earlier age, sometimes you will be surprised by what they are capable of.”
“I find that kids can do so much more. Our Grade 1 is using the science textbook that typically will be used in Grade 3. But kids are capable of learning at that age. If you look at the development, what they can understand and learn at a certain age, that’s what we’ll look at. Can they learn this curriculum? Will it excite them?”
The Prestige School’s academic culture reflects the European roots of its founders. With desks in rows facing the teacher at the front of the room, the school follows a more Socratic method of instruction. Classrooms have a studious tone and an emphasis on self-discipline. “Whatever worked for hundreds of years—and we had good scientists, good mathematicians, good writers—just because there are new developments in education doesn’t mean that they were taught incorrectly and now we have to change everything.”
Leon and Tatiana Issaev remain involved in the school, creating a ‘family school’ dynamic. Tatiana helps with the daily operations of the Richmond Hill campus while Leon helps out in the tutoring centre and provides a touchstone for the academic approach that defines the school.