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School’s out, and so the fight continues

A group if around 150 met at Karonhianónhnha Monday night to discuss upcoming changes in the school system, which ultimately led to a group deciding to call for resignations at the top of the community’s education system. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)

A group of students and parents’ final weeks of high school have included more than buying corsages and prom dresses and attending a fancy dinner this year at Kahnawake Survival School. 

Led by former council chief Kenneth McComber and Laurie Deer, a group of around 50 showed up at the Kahnawake Education Center Tuesday and read a letter to Ed. Centre executive director Robin Delaronde saying Delaronde (and associate director Earlyn Sharpe) were in “breach of responsibilities,” “grave breaches of trust,” “insubordination” and other violations.

“We, the students, parents, grandparents, and community members are removing you and Earlyn Sharpe form your positions effective immediately,” read McComber.

Former MCK chief Kenneth McComber read a letter demanding education centre director Robin Delaronde’s resignation along with associate director Earlyn Sharpe. The two administrators remain in their posts. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)

Delaronde accepted the letter, said, “nia:wen,” and went back inside the building while the crowd dispersed.

The Kahnawake Combined Schools Committee, which has the authority to remove Delaronde and Sharpe from their posts, held an emergency meeting Tuesday night and said it would conduct a thorough review of the issues, while both women remain employed by the KEC.

“I think that this issue has been pushed aside for far too long,” said KCSC KSS representative Wayne Delormier Jr. Tuesday morning. “There are a lot of issues that have been pushed and pushed. I’ve always taken the stance that we need to look at the problems when they come in and don’t stop until they’re solved and then move on. We haven’t been doing that.”

Delormier, along with KSS rep Marnie Jacobs and Karonhianónhnha rep Leslie-Anne Stacey, were present Tuesday along with committee elder advisor Joe Deom, but the other seven KCSC members were not.

Deom said he spoke with Delaronde and hopes that positive scholastic change can happen at KSS with all sides able to have a say.

“As a former long-time committee member, I’d like to hear what all the issues are and listen to the school committee and listen to all the sides,” said Deom. “Let’s have a good meeting.”

The confrontation Tuesday came after 10 students held an hour-long session with Delaronde, Sharpe and chief financial officer Paul Nicholas at their office Friday, which ended with the students calling an all-community meeting Monday night at Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa, asking the KEC staff to be there.

At issue: upcoming changes to curriculum, teaching roles and class dynamics, and a perceived lack of consultation with students, parents and teachers.

Friday, Delaronde answered students’ questions and explained that the proposed changes are based on lengthy consultations with parents, teachers, staff and other stakeholders in the past. Changes, Delaronde explained, include more Kanien’kéha infused in certain classes, a new ceremonies and leadership class, and other upgrades to curriculum and standards.

“The main one is that the parents of the community really wanted the Kahnawake Education system to strengthen the core curriculum, which means language arts, math, science – these are the things they really wanted in all of the schools,” said Delaronde. “The change, though, has to be based on our own curriculum, our own beliefs, which today are the tsi niionkwariho:ten.”

The students, and parents Monday night, complained that communicating the plan has been done poorly.

“The way you have planned has caused a lot of miscommunication with the teachers because you haven’t done a great job of telling the teachers,” said one student Friday. 

Delaronde admitted that communication needs improvement, but changes are needed at the school.

“You’re right about communicating,” she said to the students. “It needs to be improved, but one of the things that I would say is that I really do look seven generations ahead.”

Delaronde said similar changes at the elementary schools have been supported, and now it’s time for high school. She said she spoke to the administration at Survival School to explain the changes, and that editing and improvements will happen over time. The plan is not set in stone.

“To finalize the plan, you have to have the voice of the teachers on it,” added Sharpe. “It goes through stages in planning.”

The students present criticized the KEC for making changes without speaking to teachers, with several personally attacking Delaronde.

“You (Robin) have still stayed to your same routine of what you did while making changes,” said one student. “It feels like you guys are in the shadows almost. You are not viewed as a very nice lady for your position.”

Two students returned after the meeting to apologize for emotions getting the best of their classmates.

Grade 11 student Kahionhaténion Cross Jacobs, however, had no apologies for his outburst when he spoke to The Eastern Door Monday.

“I don’t regret anything I said,” said Cross-Jacobs. “I wanted to make it more clear that Robin lied.”

Teachers have spoken about a culture of fear surrounding their job security this year, and one student questioned Delaronde about this Friday.

“Why are they all scared?” asked Grade 10 student Teiosatonteh Diabo.

Delaronde explained that sometimes employees are spoken to about their behaviour, but that none have been fired as a result.

“I wonder why as well because since I’ve been here, there have been no teachers who have lost their jobs,” said Delaronde. “When you’re approached and told these are things you shouldn’t be saying or doing in your job there are other ways to do it, there are different ways other people are affected by it.”

KEC staff did not attend Monday night’s gathering where around 120 people spoke for over two hours, voicing their concerns including teacher workload, using provincial standards as a baseline for curriculum development, and other issues.

Under a week before they graduate, students from Kahnawake Survival School confronted Kahnawake Education Center director Robin Delaronde and her staff over upcoming changes to education at the secondary school. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)

KSS In-School Committee member Layne Myiow read a response to the education centre’s presentation on the changes that criticizes everything from adopting provincial baselines to standardized testing, to workload and pay. 

A KEC news release Monday read that response letters to both the students who were at the office Friday and the in-school committee were forthcoming.

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake issued a news release this week saying though it has no intention of interfering in the education system, and grand chief Joe Norton said he hopes an independent group will form, find common areas of concern and reconcile differences.

“Their (the group) most important task will be to come up with a plan that all can agree with,” said Norton.

“Education is too important to allow disrespect and unreasonable behaviour to cloud our collective judgement.”

Rosie Beauvais was at Survival School at the beginning and was with the crowd outside the KEC Tuesday. She is concerned at the way the plan has been implemented.

“There’s always room for improvement, but you don’t take away the authority of the parents and say, ‘this is what I’m going to do,’” said Beauvais. “They’re not asking the parents. They’re telling the parents. There’s a big difference between asking and telling. That’s what’s the big problem.”

Beauvais’ granddaughter Konwashennòn:ni Stacey met with Delaronde Friday, and said the KEC needs to do a better job of listening to teachers, parents and students.

“That could be the start, actually listening to the positions of the opinions that matter most if they actually push this through,” she said.

A group of parents, teachers and students arrived at the Kahnawake Education Center office looking for answers from the administration June 18. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)

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