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ET Kenney School in background of new portables next to Clarence Michel School
COMMENTARY · 22nd April 2010
Merv Ritchie
Today at the Suwilaawks Community School, the combination of ET Kenney and Clarence Michel primary schools, crews are leveling new outdoor portables. These have been brought in from Kitimat to be used for additional teaching space due to the decision of the School Board to close the ET Kenney Campus building.

It is an odd sight; a great school, within a few meters of the flimsy portables, being closed to young students. One can imagine the children attempting to emulate this logic in the future. It is not a stretch to imagine a future of children showing even more disrespect to society and elders when such disrespect is shown to them. Burning down a School building in Old Kitselas may be an omen.

What was at the foundation of this decision; was it to find the best way to provide an educational environment for our children? What was the premise, what is the objective?

In 2007, the Make Children First organization along with many others concerned with the education and health of our kids, worked tirelessly to ensure the ET building did not close. A Community School concept was born and the entire complex was called Suwilaawk. It is interesting the School Board Chairman Barry Pankhurst cannot pronounce this word even though the complex has had the name for 3 full years. The region is populated by a high percentage of native communities and families all with aboriginal names. It is an embarrassment the Chair of the School Board has not even taken the time to work out how to pronounce it. Suwilaawk – Sue Will Axe (Su wil aawk) How difficult was that? Yet at the Board meeting on March 17 Pankhurst fumbled the word over 5 times never once getting it correct. (see video at end of article.)

This is not an attack on Pankhurst, it is an expose’ on the inability of those in charge, those elected to represent the interests of the community, to diligently carry out their assigned duties. Trustee Lynne Newberry, from the Hazeltons, expressed the situation clearly when she succumbed to the pressures of the Executive and fellow Board members of Coast Mountains School District #82 to close a School in her area, making reference to a sign on the wall behind her.

“We’re charged with student achievement and yet with this motion we’re being asked to close, in fact, our highest functioning school, the one with the best achievement, and that just sits uncomfortably with me, given what our purpose is.” she stated, “[You’ve all read] the statistics we’ve been supplied with from Northern Health that claim 70% of our students are not graduating from high school. So when we have a pocket of success it’s hard to think about breaking that apart. I know the hope is that those students who are doing well where they are in South Hazelton will continue to do well in the other School, but that is a gamble.”

But this isn’t a gamble it is sabotage. Nothing being done points to anything related to the duty these members are charged with.

The duty isn’t to save the Provincial Government money. The duty is to provide education and the environment for education for our children. And nothing in these decisions points to anything close to their duty.

Portables have always been used. They have always been used when a school grows too much for the space in the building and the portables are brought in as a temporary measure while a proper structure is constructed. To close one school and overcrowd another to force portables to be brought in, well, there is only one conclusion possible; a complete lack of regard for the children.

Yet another odd thing has taken place. The School, which had been built and never occupied in the Mountainview Subdivision is being opened to accommodate the French Emersion School from Kiti K’Shan (Pankhurst could pronounce this word).

One might easily be able to consider the race card in these decisions as well. The Suwilaawk campus of students has a very high percentage of First Nations Children. The ET Kenney was kept open with the Community School Concept to help provide food, nourishment and earlier educational advantages to these impoverished families. The Clarence Michel building then underwent interior renovations to accommodate a First Nations Learning and resource center. Next a classroom was set aside and designated as a literacy center for all ages. Many older residents, first nations and others, never learnt how to read and write and this room just celebrated the grand opening on January 13 of this year. Not even 3 months later they were facing the news this too will be moved into the portables. Who writes this script?

No, there is no logic, no reason (: the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking especially in orderly rational way.) for these decisions except money; nothing to do with education, caring or compassion.

The residents of South Hazelton have witnessed their school population, the school being closed, lift the overall ability of the entire student population, first nations included, such that, in the BC School District with the lowest rated educational assessment values, this was the highest rated school. Other than the Nass Valley, the Hazeltons have the highest Native population, 70%. The Sukilaawk Community School is the heart of the Terrace Native learning center. One must consider the underlying cause or determination for these closures.

Who began these discussions? Did it come from the Trustees themselves or did the discussion begin with the administration of the School Board. If it was the administration where did their discussions begin; within the Administration or direct from the Provincial Government Ministry? If it was to save money, why did the successful First Nations Schools become their first and primary target? Why is it that the First Nations Communities seem to be suffering the greatest upheaval and impacts? The brand new School on Mountainview is opened for the French Emersion campus, to retain the maintenance fund which, according to School Board Secretary Linda Brown, is a one time payment of $217,000, while Suwilaawks gets portables and South Hazelton faces a closure.

None of it makes any logical sense and an infuriated South Hazelton resident, Don Intermela, wrote a lengthy article about the details and the actual impacts they will be facing by closing the School to save a measly $177,000 per year. Even the Trustees acknowledged how little this amount was in relationship to their overall budget, $54 million.

There are very few conclusions to draw from this educational embarrassment. Bigotry? Stupidity? Or simply that education is not the primary concern. After all, an educated public causes some serious concerns for a government wishing to fool or control people.

Every militaristic, dictatorial regime on the planet understands it is the children that are the future. Steal them, abduct them when they are young then teach them to be murderous and hateful and you will have your army. Same goes for what should be advanced ‘civilizations’. Teach them to be compassionate and intelligent and you will have an advanced compassionate society. Teach them about disrespect, teach them they simply do not matter, and you will have children that smash windows and burn down buildings. Just what is the result of our actions, you decide.

Watch Video of Pankhurst struggle and School closure discussions HERE.

Letter to Editor from Don Intermelia HERE.

Article on debate at School Board HERE.
Leveling the new portables from Kitimat.
Leveling the new portables from Kitimat.