Author: Narine, Shari
Date published: February 1, 2010
Steve Noskey calls it "racism;" the Alberta government calls it "address(ing) concerns."
On Jan. 21, Education Minister David Hancock replaced the 23- member school board committee for Northlands School Division with an official trustee. Former NSD superintendent Colin Kelly will run the affairs of the board which operates 23 schools in the northern part of the province.
Former minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and now backbencher Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pearl Calahasen attacked Hancock's decision. On Feb. 8, the first day of the spring session of the Alberta Legislature, Calahasen referred to Hancock's actions as "paternalistic" and "heavy handed."
"I've received a number of phone calls from former trustees and they say this is like racism," said Noskey, who has served as chair for NSD since 1997 and sat on the board since 1985. "We're going back to the early '80s. It's the same old thing. We have to answer to a white society, which is very appalling to me."
NSD operated with an appointed trustee from its time of conception in 1961 until 1983.
Carolyn Stuparyk, spokesperson for Alberta Education, said the minister made the change because of "concerns in several areas" relating to the accountability pillar, which measures students results, teacher and administration retention and school improvements. In a news release issued by the department it is noted that "students in Northland School Division achieve results considerably below those of students elsewhere in the province."
Hancock has also appointed a three-member inquiry team to examine the operations of NSD and to report with recommendations within a sixmonth time frame. The team consists of David van Tamelen, former superintendent of Peace River School Division; Nathan Matthew, B.C. First Nations representative on the Education Advisory Council to B.C.'s Minister of Education; and Keith Wagner, former deputy superintendent with Grande Prairie School District.
"The minister could have set up the same committee without the trustee and worked with the board," said Noskey.
Noskey, vice chair Chris Noskey and East Prairie Métis Settlement committee chair Harry Supernault were told of the board's dissolution when they traveled to Edmonton on Jan. 21 to meet with the minister.
Steve Noskey said the January meeting was scheduled in December and at no time did he have warning that Hancock would take the action he did.
Stuparyk noted that over the years the department has had discussions and correspondence with NSD board over concerns.
Kelly was approached by the department at the end of December to gauge his interest in the position.
"I'm certainly hoping my years with Northlands School Division and Treaty 8 will help as far as having a connection and familiarity with the communities and knowing some of the issues related to the delivery of education," said Kelly.
While NSD's board of trustees was dissolved, the 23 five-member school boards remained in place. However, one of Kelly's first duties was to rescind NSD's Policy 7, which outlined the duties and powers of the smaller school committees. Kelly will work with the committees to determine their new role.
Stuparyk said that the authority delegated to the smaller boards was "a source of concern" for central office.
Noskey challenged Kelly's position as official trustee, questioning what Kelly would be able to accomplish in his new role that he was unable to achieve in 12 years (1990-2002) as superintendent.
"That's a valid question," said Kelly, "and I do have to say that (the issues) are much bigger than one person or a board of trustees."
Kelly said concerns regarding the attendance and performance of Aboriginal students are not restricted to NSD, which records 95 per cent of its 2,885 students as First Nations, Metis or Inuit, but is provincial and national.
"This is not something new and it's not something that has come about overnight and it's not going to be resolved overnight," said Kelly.
He said the findings of the review team, consultations with the communities and education partners and with "the commitment from the minister to do what's necessary to address educational deficits, I'm sincerely hoping (it) will all go a long way in addressing the educational needs of our students."
Options on the table includes passing control of some of the 23 NSD schools to adjacent school divisions as well as dissolving NSD.
"Our people have been oppressed for years and this is just one more way," said Noskey. "Minister Hancock has been... very disrespectful of the right of the local communities and very disrespectful of democracy."
NSD school administration was directed to relay all media calls to central office. Superintendent Pier DePaola did not return phone calls.
BY SHARI NARINE