Tears, frustration and anger sparked demands for answers around the school district’s reassignment of three beloved administrators this fall.
After hours of questions and testimony, Coast Mountains School District superintendent and board trustees refused to consider postponing the decision until a recently hired independent consultant, Dianne Turner, completes her review in the fall.
“No, the board will not consider rescinding the decision that was already made,” said board chair Shar McCrory. “Shame on you!” yelled someone from the crowd.
The administrators will be leaving for teaching positions at different schools Aug. 1.
More than 70 teachers, parents, students and officials flooded the school board office on Wednesday, June 20. High turnout forced many to stand or sit on the floor and tables.
Three district directors, including Janet Meyer, Agnes Casgrain and Julia Nieckarz, were absent from the meeting.
It began with three presentations in defence of current administrators Pam Kawinsky, Phillip Barron and Cory Killoran.
Cal Albright, executive director of Kermode Friendship Society, highlighted the lack of Indigenous consultation in a matter impacting Indigenous student education, while parents Mallory Glustien and Lori Janzen demanded answers to several other key questions over the lack of transparency, consultation and the board’s knowledge of potential impacts.
These are the issues at the forefront of several protests since the school district announced the administrative reassignments on April 25 without consulting parents, teachers, students or other stakeholders.
“We came together, and a synergy developed. We spent hours in timely meetings, sent endless emails asking, writing letters, petitions…Since April 25, we have initiated more than 30 activities in some nature to raise awareness,” Albright said.
Terrace and District Teacher’s Union president Mike Wen asked why the board has not met with the teacher’s union after four requests to discuss 13 identified issues within the district, including a 99 per cent non-confidence vote in the superintendent.
“It’s not just one issue. You’ve heard the angst, the anger and you’ve heard about dysfunction and distrust. You’ve heard statements that clearly indicate that our district is ill,” Wen said.
BC Teachers Federation president Glenn Hansman was also present at the meeting.
During the question period after the regular meeting, for more than an hour board members listened to questions and emotional outpouring of support for the current administrators. Points and questions were applauded, some statements recognized with a standing ovation.
McCrory, who fielded the board’s unified response, said she was unable to answer most of their questions. The trustees were mostly silent throughout the meeting.
“Part of the reason, and you guys can not like it or like it, I don’t — it is what it is,” McCrory said. “It’s a privacy issue and when you’re dealing with personnel, we are very limited to what we can say. The reason why we haven’t said very much is because we can’t.”
One resident questioned why their elected trustees have not answered letters, calls or questions directly, but only through the board chair. A 13-year-old student asked why her principal was being reassigned. Another person with 30 years teaching experience called for a public vote of non-confidence in the board.
Nisga’a elder Josephine Casey stood and calmed the room, but admonished the school district’s silence in response to the public’s questions.
“It doesn’t look good to sit there and shut people out…these little kids, they’re going to remember this day. They’re going to be sitting up here one day and they’re going to remember what happened here,” Casey said. “Don’t do this.”
The public’s final question, whether the district would consider postponing their decision until the consultant’s review was complete, was declined by the board.
“I am not comfortable putting anything forward that is a personnel matter in a public meeting,” said trustee Margaret Warcup.
Then, a Skeena Middle School staff member said all school staff are afraid for their jobs, and the administrators will not feel safe to speak openly with the consultant.
“I’m going to tell you — we’re terrified. As a staff, we’re terrified. Our administrators are terrified. My fear is you’re not going to get an answer out of those two [administrators], because they’re terrified.
But if they know that their future is on hold until after this [consultant] can gain the truth, then maybe they will feel they can speak honestly on this issue. That’s why all of these people are here. We just want things to be transparent.”
Before the meeting was adjourned, Glustien handed McCrory a petition with more than 1,300 signatures from students and community members gathered over the last month.