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Aboriginal school report sets goals

The framework was unveiled on Tuesday night for B.C.'s first choice school with an aboriginal theme.

The framework was unveiled on Tuesday night for B.C.'s first choice school with an aboriginal theme.

The task force dedicated to preparing the school's establishment released their long anticipated report during the public meeting of School District 57 trustees. It listed 22 recommendations.

It has already been determined that the proposed school would, if implemented, be based at Carney Hill elementary. It is slated for opening in September, as long as the district can still afford to do it -- a topic that will be wrestled with at a separate board meeting on Jan. 19.

"There is a common thread that runs through all these recommendations and that is the big C-word: cost," said trustee Roxanne Ricard to the task force contingent that presented the report.

The district's principal of aboriginal education, Charlotte Henay, stressed to her that these recommendations were cognizant of finances and were deliberately designed to be phased in over time, with a cost-neutral startup still attached to the coming fall.

Task force member Ray Gerow said the report's chief challenge would be one of mental paradigm shifts, both for aboriginal people and the non-aboriginal community, because this project was so definitely change-orientated.

"It calls for a radical letting go," he said, and acknowledged that this report was the sum not of merely a year or so of research, but of decades of growing recognition that aboriginal people were being frozen out of life success due to some element within the mainstream education system.

"I need to honour those who have, over the last 30 or 40 years, been bold enough to challenge the status quo," he said. "Now we are on the cusp of an even bolder move. This aboriginal choice school is going to be the flagship of aboriginal education not only in Prince George but in B.C."

The recommendations focused on, but were not limited to, enhancing language skills, engaging elders, peer-team learning, and the nuts and bolts of school administration. Recommendation 17, for example, stressed the need for the school's principal to be of aboriginal heritage and for at least 50 per cent of the school's staff to be of aboriginal ancestry.

A concern raised by the public prior during the building of the report was how the school's surrounding neighbourhood would be affected by the programming transformation of CHES. That was addressed in Recommendation 20 which called for the school's current catchment borders to remain the same. Nobody within the catchment would be turned away from the school (which would still present the standard provincial education curriculum but in a context of aboriginal cultures), but anyone who chose not to attend the school would be free to go to another school in the district. It was pointed out that this is the same model used by other choice schools in the district.

Task force co-chair Marlene Erickson made it clear that the calls for an aboriginal choice school, and change in general in the mainstream education system, was not an indictment of the modern educator. "It is recognition that there is a systemic failure," she said. "We know there have been and are trustees, administrators, teachers and parents who went above and beyond (to support aboriginal students' learning), to no effect."

It has been said by current trustees and those of the recent past that under no circumstances can the overwhelming failures of the current system for aboriginal students be allowed to continue. It is now in the hands of School District 57 trustees to decide if they now have the right model for change.