School board buys into aboriginal achievement program

  • Jun. 2, 2010 5:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret–The school board is going ahead with an aboriginal student achievement program from New Zealand that will cost an estimated $470,000 over the next three years. Trustees voted last Tuesday (May 25) to approve the program in principle, pending agreement from the Old Massett and Skidegate band councils. The Te Kotahtahitanga program is headed by Dr. Russell Bishop of the University of Waikato in New Zealand, who has had great success in improving the school experience for aboriginal students in that country. Dr. Bishop and his colleague Dr. Mere Berryman visited Haida Gwaii last fall and spoke to schools and communities about the program and how it works. The total cost of bringing the Te Kotahtahitanga program to BC is almost $1.2-million, but the costs are being shared between the Haida Gwaii school district, the Peace River South school district, and the First Nations Education Steering Committee. The Gold Trail school district was initially involved but has now withdrawn from the project. Superintendent Angus Wilson told school trustees that the money could come from the “early leavers fund” (controlled jointly by Old Massett, Skidegate and the school district), from the targeted funds the school district receives for aboriginal education, and possibly from other sources like the Gwaii Trust. The $470,000 cost to this district includes $250,000 for licensing fees, $100,000 for travel and accommodation, and $120,000 for district staff (to pay for two 0.2 teaching positions over the next three years). Since these teachers would be working in the district in any case, the total extra money the district needs is $350,000. “Ultimately, if we are committed to it, we are going to have to find the money,” Mr. Wilson told trustees. Haida Gwaii Teachers’ Association president Evelyn von Almassy questioned trustees about some of the project expenses, including the demand that the school districts pay business class airfare for Dr. Bishop when he flies to Canada from New Zealand once a year, at $9,000 a trip. “What kind of message is that?” Ms von Almassy asked, noting that regular airfare would cost $3,000 less per trip. “That’s $3,000 that could be spent on students… $3,000 extra for a first class seat, I have a problem with that.” Mr. Wilson said that Dr. Bishop had discussed his need to sit in business class with the participating school districts. “His comment was, he is old and stiff and it’s a very long trip,” Mr. Wilson told Ms von Almassy. “I don’t disagree with you, but I guess it’s one of those realities if you want this program… For what it’s worth, there’s no first class on Air Canada Jazz to Sandspit.”