Uncertainty over Yellowknife’s YK1 schools resolved – for now

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Yellowknife, NWT – The status quo in YK1 schools will be maintained.

At a board meeting on Tuesday evening, Yellowknife’s YK1 school board confirmed no school will close, and no students will be asked to move between schools.

A motion confirming that decision, “in the best interest of the students and communities we serve”, passed unanimously and ended a year of uncertainty regarding the future of five YK1 schools.

“This has been a very long process,” said Heather Clarke, who chaired the committee which examined the schools’ fate.

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“It was very important for our community to understand the magnitude of this decision.

“I believe that, for now, this is the right decision. We need five schools to be able to continue to offer quality programs for our students.

“We need to continue to closely monitor that we’re using our schools to the best of our ability.”

Trustee Jay Butler criticized the territorial government’s approach, adding: “It is unfortunate that we have lost most of the year on this issue and Junior Kindergarten.

“I feel the ECE [department of education, culture and employment] directorate have gone out of their way to alienate not just YK1 but other boards as well.

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“I hope we can repair the relationship with ECE but it is really up to them. They should do the right thing and go back to working collaboratively and cooperatively.”

Overwhelming preference

Board chair John Stephenson said: “It’s not necessary that a hard decision is one about change. We have a much better-informed community.

“I acknowledge the stress and concern this caused in some households. I am looking forward to turning the page now.”

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In 2012, the territorial government had asked YK1 to look into handing a school to the francophone school board, following a court case between the latter board and the GNWT.

Having initially refused this request, YK1 later agreed to an examination of the way it used its school facilities, conducting its own review before opening out the discussion for parents to comment at a series of meetings in 2014.

On the day of a town hall meeting in November, the territorial government confirmed that any deadline for action had long since passed, and it was no longer asking YK1 to hand over a school. YK1 pressed on, saying the review of its schools remained a useful exercise and should be allowed to conclude.

Board trustee Mira Hall said: “If talking to our stakeholders doesn’t fit your timeline, your timeline is not our problem.”

At that November meeting, parents voiced overwhelming preference for the status quo.

“A lot of parents were resentful of the process,” added Hall, “of feeling forced to give something up that they valued, resentful at the possibility of changes to their school environments. A lot of them wanted to maintain the diversity and quality of our programs.”

Not over

Alternatives – each of them unpopular – included closing French immersion school JH Sissons (where Tuesday’s board meeting was, aptly, held) or moving dozens of children between schools in a reconfiguration of grades.

In late November, the school board announced it would move to keep the status quo at its December board meeting. Wednesday’s approval of that motion brings the process to a close.

There is still no decision regarding the GNWT’s appeal over the court order, in 2012, that it must provide additional facilities for the francophone school board in Yellowknife and Hay River.

“I don’t think this is over,” said Hall, calling on the territorial government to match its budget to its ambition.

“The GNWT needs to start looking at the reality of the NWT. Our population is not growing. They have been very philosophically ambitious while also being fiscally conservative.

“If you have big dreams, and you want those dreams to happen, you need to make sure you have the money to pay for them.

“I hope members of our legislative assembly devote themselves to building a long-term vision for the territory that takes into account our fiscal realities and our philosophical ambitions, and those two things have to match.

“We have one school that’s empty and one hitting the brink of being too full. This isn’t the end. I don’t say that to create anxiety – I want people to really think about things, consider what they value, and how that can be achieved in the best interest of all of our schools.”

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