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Rise in tension concerning in education

KEC director Robin Delaronde is excited at where Kahnawake’s education system is going despite some discontent from educators who have cited a culture of fear exists in the schools’ halls among staff. (file photo)

The Kahnawake Education Center took out a two full-page ads in The Eastern Door two weeks ago promoting the evolution of education in Kahnawake.

The ads were meant to inform the community about the KEC’s priorities and strategic planning and also included a letter from director of education Robin Delaronde.

Part of the letter read, “recently our staff, schools and system have been negatively affected by many untruths and personal attacks that have been disheartening and discouraging.”

The comments come as a growing level of anxiety has become apparent within the community’s education system.

Delaronde sat down with The Eastern Door Friday to explain some of the negativity, as well as address the tension between the KEC and some of the schools’ staff.

“We’re talking about people stating that we have people in key positions that are not qualified, we hire non-Natives when there are key individuals in the community that could take on those roles,” said Delaronde. “We’ve heard that we’re far from the dream that was put in place for Survival School in terms of it being Indigenous education.”

Multiple educators and support staff at Kateri School, Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ioterihwaienstáhkhwa and Kahnawake Survival School have spoken with The Eastern Door since last year about frustrations including lack of support, a culture of fear, discontent with recent hires, and inadequate pay within the schools.

Every educator and staff contacted insisted on anonymity for fear of reprimand or termination. Many insisted the conversations be off the record.

One educator met The Eastern Door to speak about their concerns.

“Why are staff told, ‘look beside you. Your friends tell me. I know everything.’ Why are we monitored on Facebook if we like something, we’re called into the office,” said one educator.

Facebook monitoring is an issue many staff said was causing teachers and staff to feel like their actions and conversations were being unfairly monitored.

Delaronde spoke about the Facebook issue, and how some staff has used the social media platform irresponsibly.

“There’s a process that they should be following especially as teachers,” said Delaronde. “Once it’s on Facebook, it’s open communication. You can say something to a parent communicating, they can be upset with it, take a screenshot, and then post it, and as an employee, you’re not protected.”

A source in the school asked why teachers are being reprimanded for using Facebook, but members of the Kahnawake Combined Schools Committee are not.

“I’m just questioning why?” they said.

The communications policies and procedures are meant, Delaronde said, to protect students and teachers as well as the reputation of Kahnawake’s education system.

“When there are avenues that you can address your concerns internally, but then you put it out on social media, parents will say, I don’t want to put my kids in school there,” said Delaronde.

Both sides of the divide have told The Eastern Door this week and previously that they do not trust staff on the other side of the argument, and that there the upcoming annual general assembly will involve calls people to step down from their positions.

Delaronde said the personal attacks dissuade the conversation away from the positive direction education is going in the community.

“People need to keep a focus on the work that is being done,” said Delaronde. “If people have an issue or concern about how a person is talking to you or their voice or if they talk too long, then that’s up to you just to talk about the interaction with you, any individual.”

The educator who spoke with The Eastern Door did not object to changes in the system, but said that the methods used to implement changes within the system were not done in a traditional and respectful way.

“It was always collaborative,” they said. “Not when you state that you follow the traditional way of being. How is the way they’re handling it in the traditional way that they claim they follow? It doesn’t match. The whole environment is relationship based. Our culture is based on talking, communicating, consensus. They’re coming in like the Gestapo.”

Delaronde said the changes to the system need to be made, and that means ensuring certain standards are met.

“What’s happening if everyone’s starting to feel the pressures of being accountable,” she said. “We’re all being held accountable now in many different areas.”
The KEC is developing curriculum, implementing it, and training teachers, Delaronde said, and standards and assessments will come with the changes.

“We’re becoming more efficient in providing materials, programs to our teachers, they’re feeling pressured in that way,” she said. “They know they’re being held accountable to implement it.”

The Eastern Door asked Delaronde why she felt the word ‘education’ has become so toxic in Kahnawake.

“It’s growth,” she said. “We’re seeing growth and change. There’s both happening at the same time.”

The educator disagrees.

“I don’t really see the change,” they said. “I see more a dictatorship… I’m speaking out because I have to speak out for the future generations. I have to speak out for future teachers. I have to speak out for nieces, nephews that will one day be in this system and not have a voice.”

With tensions rising at community meetings recently (see story page one), Delaronde is concerned that people will come to the meeting with an agenda to disrupt.

“The only part I’m not nervous, but not feeling good about, is the way messages are relayed,” said Delaronde. “People should be able to ask questions, but it’s with the anger, it’s with yelling, it’s with slander of people that I don’t feel very comfortable with. You could still ask you questions in a respectful manner. You have every right as parents or community, but it’s the manner with which people bring it is the part I feel more uncomfortable with.”

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