Part 2

Above: from a Saskatchewan Education brochure circa 1981.
.

Part 2: “Turning the System on Its Head”

by Taylor Bendig

__________________________

Saying no to tokenism

__________________________

By late October 1980, community involvement in running the community schools was remained a key sticking point. A letter to the Connaught Parents’ Group from the provincial Minister of Education, advising that program go ahead as planned and difficulties be worked out as it grew, didn’t seem to help; the Connaught-area groups were determined that the agreement be acceptable from the moment they signed it.

By this point, of the six Saskatchewan school boards chosen to take part in the 1980 community school program, Regina Public was the only one that hadn’t signed an agreement.

For Beechy, frustration at the deadlock came to a head during an Oct. 21 Board of Education meeting, which she attended on behalf of the Cathedral Area Community Association and the Connaught Parent’s group. Following the meeting, she sent the Board trustees a scathing letter that described the meeting as “dominated by the opinions of a few while the attempts by others at real discussion were stifled.”

The community groups concerned had worked too hard, she wrote, to see the community school program “unwittingly destroyed by uninformed decisions in some comfortable boardroom,” made by out-of-touch Trustees who “have not done (their) homework” and were barely familiar with the program.

Read Gaye’s Oct 24 1980 letter to trustees

__________________________

Deadlock broken

__________________________

Fortunately, the deadlock between the working group and Board of Education did not last much longer. A workable compromise was finally reached and, on November 10, the Community School Program Agreement was formally signed by the Board and the Department of education.

Connaught became a community school in time for the spring semester, a change that included the hiring of a Community School Coordinator and four Native Teaching Associates. The next year, the first community school council – made up of six Connaught parents and three local residents – was elected to oversee the program. Although many struggles lay ahead, the foundation of community schooling had been placed on solid ground.

Read the Commmunity Schools Agreement, 1980

__________________________

“This is what community control means.”

__________________________

Among other things, the SCC’s constitution stated at least three of nine council seats would be reserved for First Nations and Métis parents. As well, the SCC would have input into placing teachers at the school.

“We sat on hiring panels and also had influence over who the principal would be. This is what community control means,” Asikinack says.

“In terms of getting people who were compatible with the school, we never had any difficulty,” he adds. “For the most part, relations with the administration were good. A couple of times we had a principal who didn’t fit, but it was only for a couple of years.”

SCC members poured a new concrete floor in the basement and painted the walls, creating the school’s Community Room, for which they had their own set of keys and unlimited access. When the room was ready, they invited school trustees to a breakfast meeting.

“We arrived early and took the good chairs, so that they would be relegated to the rickety chairs. Soon after, we got new chairs,” laughs Asikinack.

____________________________

 “Turning the school system on its head.”

__________________________

Along with the teaching associates, a new staff position called the community coordinator was to be a cornerstone of the emerging program. The coordinator’s work involved connecting with families and community members and involving them in the life of the school.

Hiring Ads

The more inclusive approach to decision-making was a shake-up for Regina Public. Principal Dumanski recalls that some of the program’s advocates “upset a lot of people. The administrative staff downtown were upset, because they put on so many pressures. They really didn’t know how schools functioned, how they operated, but they insisted on certain things that just didn’t make sense.”

Bev Cardinal agrees that those early years were “very challenging – particularly working with administrators, principals and vice-principals who weren’t quite sure about community schools and what it meant, weren’t really comfortable with the philosophy. And some of the teaching staff weren’t quite comfortable (either.)”

“The notion that you would have a community presence in your school almost daily, I think that was kind of turning the school system on its head.”

 Part Three: No Longer a Sleepy School

The Connaught History Project is funded and supported by the Community Research Unit, Faculty of Arts, University of Regina.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: