School district remains firm on reassignments

Community calling for halt of decision

The decision to move three school administrators to classroom positions was made using a “team approach” with senior officials and school trustees, say Superintendent Katherine McIntosh and School Board Chair Shar McCrory. 

The two officials made the statement in a lengthy telephone interview with the Terrace Standard following the escalating protest of community members over the lack of transparency in the removal of popular administrators.

There have been no allegations of wrongdoing against the administrators from the district.

On April 25, CMSD 82 said current Skeena Middle School principal Phillip Barron and vice-principal Cory Killoran would be leaving their administrative positions for teaching positions this fall, along with Suwilaawks principal Pam Kawinsky.

What has resulted has been an outpouring of confusion and anger from students, teachers and parents.

READ MORE: Kermode Friendship Society, parents taking principal demotions to province

McIntosh explained conversations about personnel changes were made in-camera with the superintendent and senior officials including directors of instruction and human resources department to create a district staffing plan, which happens each spring. The plan is then shared with the board trustees for feedback and support.

“Even though we have a variety of communities we have to ensure that there is equity and consideration for all the communities, all the schools and all our students,” McIntosh says.

Officials first consider what they believe to be best for all students in all of the schools within the district, and then look at the successes and areas of improvement for individual schools. From there, officials look at the district’s pool of administrators to try and recognize where their strengths would be of value. Reassigning administrators to different schools also expands their own portfolio, McIntosh says.

Discussions with the board were made internally and are confidential because of privacy concerns, as the matter deals with individual administrators, McCrory says. McCrory declined to describe what questions, if any, the school board trustees had about the changes.

“We do vote on various issues, but not personnel,” she says.

In the five years since McIntosh became the district superintendent, nine administrators have been reassigned to different schools. Succession plans fall under the responsibility of the superintendent.

Principals and vice-principals can refuse the reassignment and instead opt to return to the classroom, McIntosh says.

It’s believed the administrators affected by the latest change opted for teaching positions in order to stay in their home community.

Replacing them with administrators with fewer years of experience is not as important as the unique characteristics and skill sets they can bring to the school, McIntosh says.

“School districts are different in terms of how frequent they do it… regardless, other school districts do it when there is a need.”

There is no recollection of another instance where the district would be losing three administrators at one time.

READ MORE: CMSD82 trustees not listening to their communities

Along with a vice-principal vacancy in Cassie Hall, the district is also now conducting Canada-wide searches for specialized staff, such as speech-language pathologists and school psychologists.

A community meeting held June 5 at the Cedar River Physiotherapy office in Terrace drew approximately 30 parents, teachers, and residents concerned about the lack of transparency in the administrative changes.

They believe neither the superintendent or school board considered how these changes will affect students, parents, teachers and families. Mallory Glustien says at the Suwilaawks meeting at the Kermode Friendship Society, families were grieving.

“These parents, one after the other, were going around the room and telling these stories… they desperately don’t want to lose Pam,” Glustien says.

Indigenous children make up 82 per cent of the Suwillaawks’ student body, 14 per cent of whom have special needs. Parents say Kawinksy has introduced key special needs programming, daily physical activity and food programs over her eight years at the school, creating a close-knit and safe family environment for their children.

“The kids are crying, ‘Why, why is she leaving?’ and they don’t know what to say.”

Kermode Friendship Society and BC Aboriginal Association of Friendship Centres have written letters to the Ministry of Education condemning the decision without any consultation with Indigenous families, which they say is a violation of their signed Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement with SD82.

When asked about the lack of consultation, McIntosh her office is not required to consult because the reassignment involves existing district administrators, not new hires.

McIntosh says the district is “more than willing” to sit down with KFS and review their concerns and suggestions.

READ MORE: BC First Nation organization wants province to intervene at SD82

However, parents, teachers and community members have said they believe the current administrators are the best ones for their students.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” Karleen Lemiski remarked during the community meeting.

Other parents worried that senior officials, administrators and teachers as scared to speak out of fear of losing their jobs.

But McIntosh says while the consultation around reassignment is confidential, individual employees are “free to share their professional decisions and choices they’ve made.”

Because of the emotional reaction from the community, McIntosh says “in light of the feedback, we are committing to reviewing our process.”

But parents, teachers and community members are already taking the fight to the next level.

“It is wrong. It is absolutely wrong,” says parent Lori Jansen. “These administrators are the best in the district. They need to know they are supported.”

Parents are planning to protest the decisions by walking into Skeena Middle School and Suwilaawks Community School between 12:15-12:30 p.m. on June 12. Parents will meet with their students wearing either red, pink or green shirts during the school’s lunchbreak. Afterwards, students will return to their classes. A parent-led petition has also gained 800 signatures to date.

On June 5 and 6 the members of the Kitimat District Teachers’ Association, the Terrace District Teachers’ Union and the Upper Skeena Teachers also voted 99 per cent in favour of a declaration of non-confidence in McIntosh. At press time they had submitted a request to meet with the Board of Education to discuss the vote and their concerns.

READ MORE: Teachers pass 99-per-cent vote of non-confidence against SD82 superintendent

Prior to the release of the vote results, the school district superintendent and board chair both said they are not considering halting or reversing their decision.

In turn, parents say they will appeal under the BC School Act on grounds the decision “significantly affects the education, health or safety” of the child.

“Prove to me that this is in the best interests of my child,” Jansen says.

“The superintendent has these powers to do whatever she wants for apparently no reason that makes any logical sense,” says Glustien. “We have lost confidence in the board, and we need to make that very clear in numbers.”

The Ministry of Education says they are aware of the issue, but there are currently no plans to send a representative to the district. A spokesperson says they expect SD82 to meet with KFS to discuss the issue.

CORRECTION – Students will not be leaving school for the rest of the afternoon for the protest on June 12 as previously stated in the article. Instead, they will be gathering for a demonstration on the school lawns and returning back to class afterwards.

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