by Randy Curr, Director of Instruction – Human Resources, SD28 (Quesnel),
and Patty Kimpton, District Principal of Aboriginal Education, SD28 (Quesnel)
Approximately 25 per cent of the student population of the Quesnel School District are of Aboriginal ancestry.
Like many boards of education in the province, Quesnel trustees consider the improvement of Aboriginal student graduation rates to be one of their highest priorities. After consulting with the District Aboriginal Education Council, the Quesnel District Teachers’ Association, CUPE Local 4990 and the Quesnel Principal and Vice-Principals’ Association, it was determined that one of the most important resources required to improve Aboriginal student learning was the hiring of staff with Aboriginal ancestry.
The hiring of staff with Aboriginal ancestry improves the educational experience of Aboriginal students by providing Aboriginal students with cultural support and role models within their schools. Aboriginal staff are able to provide cultural relevance and a sense of belonging and inclusion. They also serve as a safe link to the parent community and they are able to help ensure that lessons are culturally sensitive.
Employers in BC who have a bona fide reason to hire employees based on ancestry should apply to the BC Human Rights Tribunal for a Special Program that will permit the employer to hire an individual from a specific group who have experienced a historical disadvantage. The objective of the Special Program is to address the historical discrimination. Should a school district hire staff based on their Aboriginal ancestry without a BC Human Rights Special Program, the district could face a discrimination challenge by an unsuccessful candidate who is not Aboriginal. (For more information regarding the BC Human Rights Special Program please see: http://www.bchrt.bc.ca/special_programs/index.htm )
The Quesnel School District has had two Special Programs in place since 2008. One program is for support staff positions and the other program is for teachers. In the case of the teachers, Letter of Understanding Number 4 in the Provincial Collective Agreement, encourages Districts and Locals to seek a Special Program and offers the assistance of BCPSEA and the BCTF in completing the application process. A staff member from both BCPSEA and BCTF came to Quesnel and worked with a group of stakeholders that consisted of members of the Aboriginal community, trustees, teachers, support staff, principals, and senior administration.
The CUPE support staff Special Program applies to all Aboriginal Education Support staff. Applicants must have Grade 12 graduation, at least one year of post-secondary education, and knowledge of Aboriginal culture. Currently the district employs twenty-two Aboriginal Education Support staff, some of whom are certified Education Assistants which increases the value they are able to provide to the district. The CUPE membership supports the Special Program even though it means that the majority of the union membership would not be eligible to work in this department.
The teachers approved a Special Program that requires Aboriginal ancestry for all positions that are assigned to the Aboriginal Education Department. Additionally, every year the district and the local association meet to select one continuing full-time teaching position that must be filled by an applicant who is of Aboriginal ancestry. At a time when the district is experiencing declining enrolment, and therefore fewer teaching jobs, the willingness of the union to approve the requirement that one position from the general pool of teaching jobs must have Aboriginal ancestry demonstrates the teachers’ commitment to improving the Aboriginal student graduation rate.
School District #28 has an Aboriginal Education council that consists of representatives from the four local bands; Kluskus, Nazko, Lhtako, ?Esdilagh, as well as the local Metis Association and Quesnel Tillicum Society Friendship Centre. This council participated in the initial development of the Special Program as well as the renewal process. They were able to share what they believe are both the strengths and weaknesses of the Quesnel School District in terms of how their children were served. They also saw how committed all district stakeholders were in their desire to improve the service to Aboriginal students.
In late 2013, the stakeholders met again, this time without BCPSEA and BCTF support, as the 2008 five year Special Program was about to expire. The group was unanimous that the Special Program had contributed to improving Aboriginal student success. In 2006/07 Aboriginal student graduation rates were 53 per cent (female 62 per cent – male 41 per cent) compared to 63 per cent (75 per cent female – male 52 per cent) in 2014/15. Based on the 2014/15 year-end data, there were 8,972 instances of enhanced service to students and increased contacts from the home and community to school and vice versa. The development of the Special Program has served to bring the Quesnel education partners together. It has led to a shared understanding that all groups must continue to work together to improve the opportunities for Aboriginal student success. Over time it is hoped that Aboriginal graduation rates will be equal to that of non-Aboriginal students and that the percentage of district employees that are of Aboriginal ancestry will be similar to the percentage of the students who are of Aboriginal ancestry.
The Quesnel Board of Education has identified Aboriginal education as one of their priorities. This is reflected in both budget decisions, professional development funding, and the ongoing support for the BC Human Rights Special Program. As British Columbia and SD28 roll out the revised 21st Century curriculum, with First Peoples Principles of Learning underpinnings, there is much hope and optimism that we will reach our goals of equity in the workplace and the schoolhouse.