Saying it wasn't a reflection on the Board of Trustees, Alberta's Education Minister took the radical step of firing the 23 Trustees who composed the Northland School Division Board of Education Thursday.
Alberta - Education Minister Dave Hancock fired a Board of 23 education trustees from Alberta's Northland School Division because of falling student attendance, poor staff retention and low student performance scores. The radical and rare move has generated controversy in Alberta. The Northland area is home to 23 First Nations and approximately 2,885 students. Hancock appointed Dr. Colin Kelly as the Official Trustee to replace the Board. Kelly will have the same powers as the 23 member Board did. Hancock said“My number one priority is that students are successful in school, so I’m taking action now to ensure positive changes occur for students today and in the future. My goal is to help set the stage for new beginnings to build a more effective learning environment.”
Hancock also appointed a 3-person team to conduct an inquiry into the daily operations of the Northland Division Board. The inquiry is expected to take up to six months, and will focus on "... student achievement, governance, and instructional and administrative leadership." Hancock said “I have given this course of action careful and serious consideration, and am disappointed at having to enforce this section of the School Act. The bottom line is that the education of students is suffering and we can’t risk losing a generation of young people.”
According to Hancock, less than 20% of students ever finish grade 12 in the Northland district. But Jeff Winsor, speaking for Fort McKay First Nation said the problem wasn't so much to do with the trustees, but with funding. Winsor said that since his band began pumping money into local education, they had seen an improvement. Sinking money into teacher housing, he said, meant better retention of teachers. The community has also been sinking their own money into hiring more teachers and support staff, and this has made a difference for their students.
Teachers from the Northland School Division have said that attendance is a tricky issue, and every school has its own factors that make attendance issues unique.
Former Chairman of the Board, Steve Noskey, told Alberta media the problem was largely rooted in the apathy of the northern communities, not with the Board. "... lack of parental involvement, discipline, and socio-economic issues ..." he said, were major contributing issues. However, this fails to explain how, according to the Edmonton Sun, a brand new school sits closed and empty while students continue to study in unhealthy and unsuitable conditions. That closed new school, the Bishop Routhier School, built on the Peavine Metis Settlement cost $12.5 million. The construction of the new school was supposed to cost $11 million and be completed by 2008. The community is frustrated over the delay, which is linked to an unexpected complication over land ownership.
Hancock sees education as being key to getting aboriginal youth out of poverty. While the trend has been a widening of the gap between Canada's richest and poores, most aboriginal populations suffer deeper poverty than any other Canadian.
Canada has been losing its rank on the U.N. list primarily because of the living conditions of First Nation communities. The poor quality of housing and health care mean a higher infant mortality rate.
Canada ranked as the 4th best country to live in in 2009, according to the United Nations Human Development Index.