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Tammy Shock spoke emotionally when she outlined the concerns of the council to the school board during a regular meeting on Wednesday afternoon. She said the district and the council worked hard on coming up with the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement that was signed back in June, and outlines a new five-year strategy with initiatives and goals for improving outcomes in the areas of graduation rates, literacy and others, but the implementation of which is being stalled by the ongoing labour dispute.
“The new school year came to us a shock when we found out that phase one of the (BC Teachers’ Federation) teachers’ strike was going to threaten all of that hard work that we had worked on over the past two years. We felt it was going to threaten to marginalize our students for another year,” said Shock.
She said, specifically, the job action prevents teachers from taking part in in-service training she believes is necessary to carry out the goals of the Aboriginal Student Achievement Project (ASAP).
“It is essential when the teacher are learning something new, and the ASAP is something new, it is not something the teachers already know,” she said.
Shock said she wrote a letter in October to the Peace River South Teachers’ Association (PRSTA) outlining the concerns of the council, but she was not impressed with the response from president Lorraine Mackay. She said Mackay’s response about teachers fighting for smaller classes and more funding for schools did not address the specific concerns of the council, and she feels she has no choice but to recommend to the council that they request from the school district a complete alternative restructuring of the Aboriginal education department should job action continue into the following school year. She said she would also be requesting that the council make a formal complaint to the province’s Labour Relations Board.
Shock read a letter written by her daughter, Jordan, a Grade 7 student at Ecole Frank Ross, describing her daughter’s struggles with fitting in and finding success in school. She fought back tears as she concluded that she would not let her daughters continue to struggle without doing something about it.
“It is not fair to these students, and it’s not fair to my children, when I have worked so hard to get them to where they are, to watch them fail, and I refuse to stand by and watch them fail,” she said. “I speak on behalf of the council when I say how concerned we are about our students and how sad and disheartening it is to see these children fail and struggle, and we’ve worked so hard …”
Mackay was in attendance at the meeting, and spoke afterwards to Mile 0 City, saying teachers share the concerns of the council and the district about the poor learning outcomes of Aboriginal students, but she does not agree that the job action is affecting those outcomes.
“Teachers are very excited about the proposed changes the district was making with the Aboriginal Student Achievement Project,” said Mackay. “There were 10 teachers hired for the program, and they are very committed and excited about the program. However, as I explained to Mrs. Shock in my letter, the teachers’ strike is about all of the students in the province, and it’s about class size and composition and learning conditions for all students.”
She continued by saying that as an essential service, teachers were very restricted in what kind of job action they could take, and not taking part in in-service training was one avenue available to them. However, she said she doesn’t believe not taking part in that training – which included a proposed one-day workshop on the ASAP specifically, and another one to two-day workshop on improving literacy – prevents those programs from moving forward.
“All of these teachers who have been hired by the school district to work with that program are all very qualified teachers, and they’ve already had training in all of these areas,” said Mackay. “It’s doesn’t mean they are not doing their jobs.”
She added she does believe reduced class sizes would make a difference in the learning outcomes for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students alike.
“There have been international studies that have shown that class size at the primary level – Kindergarten and Grades 1, 2 and 3 – does make a difference. That is when we can develop and devote a lot of time to skills that have been identified as weak in some Aboriginal students – reading, writing and comprehension skills.”
Mackay said she wanted to reassure parents that teachers continue to be committed to teaching children regardless of the ongoing job action.
Tammy Shock, chair of an Aboriginal Education Advisory Council to School District 59, says the council is deeply concerned that the ongoing teacher’s strike is delaying efforts by the district to implement new programs to improve the educational outcomes of Aboriginal students in the South Peace.
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