The union representing Cree School Board teachers has called into question the board’s five-year plan, stating they were not properly consulted in the drafting of the plan.
“The teachers are the main people in charge of the success of the kids,” said Patrick D’Astous, president of the Association of Employees of Northern Quebec. “They are the best people to see if education is going in the right or wrong direction. If [the CSB doesn’t] want to listen to what they have to say, we have a little problem here.”
The CSB presented their five-year action plan at a mini-conference on May 26 in Montreal. It outlined the board’s plans to improve the educational issues in their schools. It is broken in to 19 categories, including plans to improve the curriculum, teacher effectiveness, literacy and student engagement.
But the union says they were not consulted in the drafting plan, and as a result the plan reflects a vision not in tune with what teachers see in their workplace.
“Things were being decided by people who weren’t on the ground, and many of the strategies have been tried in the past but didn’t work,” said Kyla Nadeau, a teacher at Waapihtiiwewan School in Oujé-Bougoumou. “No one was asking the people actually working with the students what needed to be done. It may look one way on paper, and be completely different on the ground.”
The union released an evaluation of the plan which outlined their grievances with the lack of consultation, as well as with the contempt they feel the board was treating teachers with. It was written after a consultation period with the union’s members in which 41% responded, 86% of whom supported the document, according to Sector Director Tarek Khazen.
But after the mini-conference in Montreal, where CSB Deputy Director Joe MacNeil recognized and thanked the union representatives, D’Astous was far more encouraged.
“There was a message of openness, and we’re pleased to see the board taking the union’s comments and the teachers recommendations into consideration,” he said at the conference, held at the Sheraton Centre downtown.
D’Astous was adamant that disagreements not get in the way of improving the curriculum for the students. But while he was pleased with changes made to the CSB’s plan after the union’s criticism, he maintained his position that the plan still needed to better reflect the teachers’ view.
“What we’re looking for is consistency,” he said. “There’s a huge lack of substitute teachers in the board. When your teacher is sick and you don’t have a substitute, you end up just watching television and wasting the day.”
The union says this, coupled with a lack of resources in certain communities, has contributed to the CSB’s remarkably high student absentee rate. According to the CSB’s Education Review, the average attendance across the school board is just 77%. This means each student misses about 43 days of school annually. D’Astous painted this with broader strokes.
“After a few years of missing this much school, many Cree are an entire year behind in schooling,” he said, shaking his head while acknowledging that though they disagree on specifics, the board is working towards improving this. “I’ve recommended that the union avoid systematic fighting over grey zones because we all have to be committed to the kids. We need to use our time and energy in discussion to ensure corners are not cut with their education.”
Meanwhile, Nadeau says that from the teachers’ perspective, a crucial issue needing attention isn’t a specific policy, but communication and access to information.
“People feel blindsided by decisions that they never knew were coming,” she said. “This leads either to an atmosphere of apprehension, because you don’t know what’s happening next, or of discontentment, because something happens that you aren’t happy about and you weren’t able to prepare for.”
This goal was, in D’Astous’ opinion, closer to realization after the mini-conference, which he described as a positive experience. The two parties are planning to meet in late June to further discuss the plan.