The territorial government’s education department is taking a hard look at the current kindergarten-to-Grade-12 school system with an eventual goal of an overhaul to fix issues like low standardized test scores and graduation rates.
Although in the very early stages of developing a long-term plan to do so, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment held a public meeting in Hay River last week to discuss its plans.
Sophie Call, former principal and teacher at Ecole Boreale and now director of the GNWT’s Education Renewal and Innovation Plan, spoke of the clear and mounting need for change, including indicators like graduation rates and standardized test scores in Grades 3, 6 and 9 during a June 11 meeting at Princess Alexandra School. Both fall well below acceptable levels across the territory, but the problem gets worse the smaller the community, she said.
Additionally, Call pointed to early data from kindergarten surveys indicating 36 per cent of students enter the school system with a measurable developmental delay in at least one area of study, compared to 25 per cent nationally.
“I don’t mean to be a downer this evening, but I need to present systemic results,” Call told the people gathered. “The biggest risk we have is doing nothing … How do we expect change in our students if we don’t change ourselves?”
The plan for renewal would only be implemented slowly in specific areas, according to Call, with nothing coming fast and heavy at teachers. She said changes so far, such as Fort Resolution getting more support for e-learning programs, have been at the behest of the schools themselves and will only be expanded to other communities if they volunteer for them.
Call stressed that while all shifts to the education system would be slow and very gradual, there is no guarantee as of yet that they will happen at all.
“This is all pending approval,” she said. “We can put together the best proposal, the best research, the best presentation, but it needs to be approved and adopted by our legislative assembly.”
Although the meeting was open to all members of the public, the majority of the 25 who turned up were educators.
Terrence Courtoreille, chair of the local District Education Authority, said he remains apprehensive about any changes coming to the school system if they’re not supported by the proper resources.
“We’re a little bit gun-shy,” he said, at the meeting.
“Everything that has been done so far has been done on top of what’s already in place, but without any more resources.”
He cited the plans for junior kindergarten as a prime example of that.
Teachers present were eager for change and improvements in the system for both themselves and their students, but, beyond being concerned with where the money and work-hours needed for those changes would come from, also balked at the assessment of current failure.
“As an educator and a mum, I love the fact that we’re talking about long-term change,” said Lynne Beck, vice-principal of Diamond Jenness Secondary School. “But we have muffins in the classroom right now, and I would hate to see a disservice done to what we’re doing now.”
She listed the good things the school has going for it, namely the leadership and resiliency program, trades programs, and hosting the annual NWT Track and Field Championships.
“It’s tough hearing only the negative when there’s so much positive,” said Beck.