After standing apart from their administrators, KSS students sat and had a long and emotional discussion with education centre staff many said was much-needed. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)
Just after noon November 30, students from Kahnawake Survival School’s student council left through the front doors, walked across the parking lot and stood atop the hill dividing the campus from Highway 132.
Students held signs reading “#ourfutureourchoice,” and “We have a voice!” while interim principal Earlyn Sharpe and associate principal Wáhiakatste Diome-Deer stood at the bottom of the hill.
“We’re all here as one for the KSS teachers,” said student Kakwité:ne Jacobs at the protest. “They’ve been in a really bad environment, and it’s showing on all the students. Students aren’t coming in because of all the bad energy.”
With Jackie Leclaire on personal leave, Sharpe, as interim principal, came under fire at last week’s Kahnawake Combined Schools Committee Annual General Assembly, and Jacobs echoed concerns of teachers’ fears of speaking out mentioned at the meeting.
“It’s not just because of this principal, but the principal is a part of it,” said Jacobs.
The Kahnawake Education Center announced last week that Leclaire was returning as associate principal of KSS senior school until July. Treena Delisle was also recruited as interim principal/pedagogy officer at KSS until the end of the school year.
Education Center director Robin Delaronde arrived at the school, and the entire group went inside where students spoke to the education centre staff.
“It did have elements where it was productive in terms of the students having an opportunity to release their feelings about the environment in the school, and their opinions in terms of different situations,” said Delaronde.
Student Justin Rice-Douglass said after the meeting that the discussion was emotional, but vital.
“It was needed,” said Rice-Douglass. “We wanted to stick up for our teachers and our family as a school, and as a community. In the end, many people cried and what we had to say was said. I’m happy our voices were finally heard.”
Jacobs agreed with her classmate and came away from the meeting feeling positive.
“People had a lot of good words to say,” she said, adding she felt the conversation between students and the administration was more productive than the AGA, which Jacobs also attended.
Delaronde reiterated her position that there is work to be done in education, and she hopes the students can understand what the administration is trying to accomplish by instituting changes.
“There are a lot of things that still require work,” she said. “A lot things internally within the school that we relayed to them, that’s our role in terms of staff and administration, to address the issues. They’re students, and they need to be students.”
Sharpe admitted the experience was a new one, and that it ended well.
“We have to know, the parents, community members, teachers, why are we here?” said Sharpe, who returned to her role as associate director of education last week.
“The kids have to understand why they’re going to school. What are there roles and responsibilities, and follow that. The teachers have to be clear on their roles and responsibilities, and we have to be clear on our roles and responsibilities, and the parents as well.”
The strategic plan the education centre is trying to implement, she added, came from surveys and reports from parents in the community and the administration is simply trying to implement the plan.
The Eastern Door asked Sharpe directly if she considered leaving her post after the heated meeting last week where she came under fire for around three hours.
“To be honest, the thought has crossed my mind, but I’m not a quitter,” said Sharpe. “I would say I’ve thought of it, but this is my fifth year. When I came in, I worked with Robin and the team and we did a lot of work, and I’m so invested in that. I’m really about children, and I’ve always wanted to make a difference.
“As hard as it is, and as dirty as it is and as murky as it is, I know we’re making a difference because you have to go through the fire and rise from the ashes. But, right now, does it feel good? No.”
Delaronde was happy to speak to the students, and tried to help them understand her job.
“It’s good that they have a voice and expressed certain things, but what we do need to do is make sure that we handle the issues,” said Delaronde.
Director of finance Louie John Diabo will not return
The education centre also announced Friday that director of finance and administration, Louie John Diabo, would not be returning from a leave of absence he recently took.
“He needed time for himself, and then, after reflection, looking at his time during his leave, decided not to return back,” said Delaronde.
“Louie John has worn many hats here for the education system, in terms of finance, operations. We really are feeling the loss of his abilities. It’s another struggle that we’re going through and we really wish him all the best. It is a heavy responsibility to have.”
For the time being, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake executive finance officer Paul Rice will collaborate with the Combined Schools Committee and KEC to implement a system that will tide the centre over while a replacement is found.
“We’ve entered into a collaboration with the MCK,” said Delaronde. “We’ve divvied up the key areas that need to be addressed here right now in terms of our finance.”
In the immediate, Rice will assist in assessing funding options for the next term.
“We have to make a decision at this time in terms of will we be accepting this interim funding as opposed to what we currently receive from INAC?” said Delaronde.
“That’s really huge in terms of an analysis and getting clear guidance and understanding of whether this benefits us to enter into the interim funding, or should we stay in the current funding that we have. Paul is helping us come to that decision.”
The KEC is now actively looking for a qualified candidate to fill the role left by Diabo.