In looking to improve the Cree School Board’s low student success rates, the CSB recently announced that it would be improving the curriculum board wide, which has caused a stir in the community.

“The school board, through the council of commissioners, have, by way of resolution, passed a plan that we had to make improvement in our schools,” explained CSB Director Abraham Jolly.

Jolly approached the Nation to address this issue after he heard rumours in regards to the CSB’s plan and wished to clarify the issue. He said there had been particular concern over the consultancy firm that the board has hired.

He explained that the CSB is looking to change and improve the curriculum to make it more effective and have this improved curriculum functioning in all of the CSB schools.

“We are looking to develop a curriculum that will be board wide and also what we call a guaranteed, viable curriculum which means that whatever way we set up our curriculum, from it we will want our students to succeed with it,” said Jolly.

According to Joe MacNeil, the Interim Deputy Director-General of the CSB, there will be no new curriculum developed by any outside entity. Though the CSB is working in partnership with Mid-Continent Research for Evaluation and Learning (McREL) to get help in developing the curriculum, the Denver, Colorado-based company will be not contributing to its content.

“The Cree curriculum will be developed by Cree teachers and Cree consultants using Cree content and Cree knowledge. It will identify the Cree core knowledge and learnings that all Cree children need to have as an educational foundation upon which to build later learning,” said MacNeil.

MacNeil said the CSB team that is working with the curriculum design experts includes a Cree vice-principal, a Cree elementary consultant, a Cree Professional Development consultant, a Cree Programs consultant and a Cree secondary consultant.

The CSB is well aware of its low graduation rates and has frequently attributed this to low reading rates amongst its students, and after examining the situation, focusing on improving the curriculum is where it believes it will have the most success in changing the situation.

MacNeil explained that while the CSB has had resources and textbooks for its teachers, it has not really had a formal curriculum to follow over the past 25-30 years.

“A program is not a curriculum, nor is a textbook a curriculum. Curriculum is the description and elaboration of educational standards, educational strategies, course content, learning outcomes, learning experiences, assessments and related resources. Curriculum takes content and shapes it into a plan for directing effective teaching and learning. Standards, by the way, tell everyone specifically what a student should know, understand, and be able to do as a result of the course or level of learning.

“The province of Quebec does provide us with a program of study for all courses and levels. The problem has been that we assumed that this program of study was the curriculum. Unfortunately, that’s like mistaking a map for the territory,” said MacNeil.

According to MacNeil, a school can change everything that makes the institution ineffective but if it fails to implement a guaranteed and viable curriculum the school will still most likely under perform. At the same time, this is also one of the hardest things to change about a school and so the CSB has gone to the foremost experts in the field to get the best help available so that Cree students can start succeeding as soon as possible.

The priority right now for the CSB is to focus on language, and develop and implement Cree, English and French language curricula. This will begin at the Pre-K and elementary grades and then the focus will be to move up through all grades. Once the language work is underway, the focus will then turn to the math curriculum and from there on to all subjects.

“Our experts will help us to determine what knowledge and performance levels we should expect in terms of grade-level benchmarks. They’ll guide us to develop our own formative and summative assessments of the curriculum. These will be standardized across grade levels and across all schools,” said MacNeil.

MacNeil also wished to acknowledge that within the CSB, the majority of its teachers were actually quite skilled but that they have simply been lacking a quality curriculum at this time.

The CSB is planning to work with McREL over the next 18 months and is expected to spend $1.2 million on the help it will receive.