School District No. 57 (SD57) is now the first in the province to appoint an Assistant Superintendent to lead Indigenous education within the district.
SD57 has announced Pam Spooner, who has been the director of SD57’s Indigenous education department for the past three years, will take on the new position.
An Indigenous Assistant Superintendent was one of the suggestions that came out of the Special Advisor’s Report released in 2021, commissioned by the Ministry of Education.
It was also one of the calls from the Indigenous Education Leadership Table, formed between Lheidli T’enneh First Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band in January, to engage in direct dialogue with the board of education.
“I’ve never heard of anything like it in the province, with an Indigenous superintendent specifically for Indigenous education, reporting right to the district’s superintendent,” said Sharel Warrington, chair of the board of trustees in a release.
“Pam is a strong, compassionate, and humble Indigenous leader. She is well positioned to promote the development of policies and programs for Indigenous learners and to collaborate, and build relationships with local, regional, and provincial organizations on education initiatives.”
Spooner is Gitxsan from the wilps Niisto (house of matriarch chief Niisto) of the Laxseel (Frog) Clan. She is also of Wet’suwet’en ancestry. She grew up on reserve in the Hazelton area (born in Kispiox) before moving to Lheidli territory in 1989 where she embarked on a long path of education and raised her five children.
These factors all played a role in the Gitxsan name bestowed to her: Guu si wilaaks’m hlgu ganaa’w which means “she is always teaching – Little Frog Teacher.”
Spooner has also been a math teacher, elementary teacher, vice-principal at the elementary and secondary level, principal, and spent a year in the Okanagan as principal of their Indigenous education stream before moving back to Lheidli territory to be the director of Indigenous education – the first holder of that position.
“I have never been about hierarchy, it is all about the work,” said Spooner.
“This is the work of reconciliation, having a stronger Indigenous voice at all the tables, but it’s important to know that I was already doing that. That work was already underway because SD57 made Indigenous education outcomes a priority. They are actually proving that they respect that reconciliation needs to happen, and they respect the nations, the rights-holders, because there is still so much farther to go before we can say things are where they should be for Indigenous students and staff. But this district has just demonstrated again that they are committed at the leadership level to the major changes that have to occur.”
SD57 points to Indigenous students at the grade 4 indicator mark who are on track or exceeding in literacy went from 50 per cent up to 72 per cent, this year over last. In numeracy the rate went from 38 per cent up to 45 per cent.
“We know there is work to do, but we see the results happening, and we know that having Pam right at the senior management table is going to advance those results even more,” said SD57 superintendent Cindy Heitman.
“With her background, and coming from a position of Indigenous education leadership already, it’s a great track to be on. I am personally committed to Indigenous people overseeing Indigenous education. It is important to do this work alongside the Indigenous communities.”
Prince George is also home to Nusdeh Yoh Elementary School, which is the province’s first and only Indigenous-themed choice school.
SD57’s Indigenous education department also has more than 100 staff members who are involved with every school in the region.
“This Ministry has shown that it wants actual and meaningful change in the way the education system relates to Indigenous learners and teacher, and that’s what this position represents. This government has made it clear, with the implementation of DRIPA, that the people of this province want this to happen,” said Spooner, referencing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act legislation enacted in 2019.
“I’m excited to be a part of the work that now gets to be done.”