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Education concerns erupt at Big Grassy


Sparks flew this week as a member of the Big Grassy River First Nation charged there are problems with the education system there while the Big Grassy River Education Authority said he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

In a letter to the Fort Frances Times, Roy Tom, who holds the education portfolio for the Big Grassy River First Nations band council, expressed concerns over everything from discipline problems to unfair hiring at the Big Grassy elementary school.

“Many people at Big Grassy First Nations are concerned that the students of our community are not getting the best possible education,” Tom wrote.

Tom argued students at the school, which covers junior kindergarten to Grade 8, are being advanced to the next grade level without a grasp of the fundamentals.

When students move to Rainy River High School, they then need teachers aides to help them, he noted.

“This is a small school. We should be able to provide students an average or above average education,” Tom said in an interview Monday.

But Elizabeth Mitchell, director of education for the Big Grassy River Education Authority, stands by the decision to move students ahead to high school.

“Had we not passed some of our students, they would have been drop-outs,” she noted Monday. “For some students because of age and maturity, it is just not correct to hold them back. They’re not going to gain any more.”

In these cases, parents and staff agreed students would drop out if not passed so they’re sent on to Grade 9 with a teaching assistant. There currently are four teaching assistants at RRHS paid for by the education authority.

“They have done extremely well in high school with the assistants,” Mitchell added. “These are students who we expected to have a lot of difficulties with, or that would have a lot of difficulties, and they are the ones coming out with eight credits this year.”

Meanwhile, Tom also was concerned that teachers were, in his opinion, spending too much time disciplining students. `

“Discipline tends to be administered inconsistently, and too much of the task is left to the teachers instead of the administration,” he wrote in his letter.

“When teachers are preoccupied with discipline, they are not able to do their teaching job,” he argued.

The education authority countered it has a clearly established disciplinary policy.

“This policy recognizes that the classroom teacher is the primary disciplinarian,” Vernon Tuesday, chair of the education authority, said in a letter to the Times.

“These disciplinary measures that come to administration are of a more serious nature and require consequences that are deemed appropriate for the action,” he added.

The hiring of staff, especially special education and teaching assistants, was another area Tom had worries.

“Some of the support staff don’t have qualifications,” he charged. “Support staff like special education, they don’t really have the training for certain programs.

“Nepotism and friendships seem to play a greater part than qualifications,” he wrote.

“In our community, nepotism is always going to pose as a problem because of the extended family system in the community,” replied Tuesday.

“In the recruitment process, the BGREA strives to ensure that fair hiring practices are adhered to at all costs,” he stressed.

“Our special ed teaching assistants are trained,” echoed Mitchell. “One has her Early Childhood Education, one has been trained by the speech-language pathologist as a communication assistant.

“The ones at the high school trained at the high school.

“I don’t know how he can say nepotism and friendship because everyone is dealt with on the same wavelength,” Mitchell added. “His wife is a teacher at the school so it can be thrown back in the same direction.”

Finally, Tom felt there was a severe problem with accountability among the educational authority. He said every time he has brought up these issues, he’s been ignored.

“These are real concerns that need to be looked at in a good way,” he wrote. “This means that the Education Authority needs to respectfully hear the voices that are stating these problems. . . .”

The education authority counters it has an open door police, but that Tom hasn’t even attended any of its regular meetings to address his concerns or hear what’s going on at the school.

“I’ve been to a lot of training between November and February as a family service worker. It took me away from the meeting and some of the meetings I wasn’t informed about,” Tom countered.

Both sides said they want to ensure students get the best education possible.

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