Plans for Vancouver school district’s first aboriginal-focused school, slated to begin in September, are well underway.
The kindergarten-to-Grade 3 school is being located at Macdonald elementary on East Hastings Street. A community forum about the school was planned for May 10, after the Courier’s print deadline, to discuss its goals and the nature of the program.
Educators knowledgeable about aboriginal worldviews and cultural practices will staff the school, according to the VSB, and the curriculum will reflect the history and values of aboriginal people with a range of themes including fine arts and the environment.Don Fiddler, the VSB’s new district principal of aboriginal education, is one of the people helping steer the development of the school.
The intent is to hire teachers who are of aboriginal origin although it depends on who applies. The school district, which worked with the teachers’ union on this issue, is in the process of getting an exemption from the B.C. Human Rights Commission to allow for preferential hiring of aboriginal teachers throughout the district.
“The idea is we would like to start a process of creating some equity in terms of the number of aboriginal teachers in the district as compared to the number of students,” explained Fiddler, who noted the district has an exemption in place for CUPE support workers.
“The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has had on its books, for around 20 years, language that allowed for preferential hiring for aboriginal teachers, so it’s not something new on their part,” he added.
The aboriginal-focused school at Macdonald could handle 88 students in the four classes, if each topped out at 22, which would require at least four teachers.
School board spokesperson Kurt Heinrich said there’s no minimum number of students required for the school to go ahead at this point. But he said if there are fewer students than expected, grades could be combined.
Fiddler estimates there are anywhere between 10 and 40 teachers of aboriginal descent in the district.
The VSB doesn’t track such information, so there’s no way of easily confirming figures. There’s at least one administrator of aboriginal descent—Darlene Hughes, vice principal at Point Grey secondary, he added. “We’re not choosing the principal [of the aboriginal-focus] school as of the moment based on whether they’re aboriginal or non-aboriginal. We’re looking at qualifications. We would be delighted if we had a highly qualified principal who was of aboriginal descent,” Fiddler said.
Fiddler, who’s Metis, started work with the VSB mid-February. He’s also spent years working in the Kelowna area and in Ottawa.