Aboriginal report card puts spotlight on Nanaimo schools

Nanaimo's Bayview Elementary School and John Barsby Secondary School are targeted for representing different ends of the achievement spectrum in the Fraser Institute's latest report card ranking schools.

Nanaimo’s Bayview Elementary School and John Barsby Secondary School are targeted for representing different ends of the achievement spectrum in the Fraser Institute’s latest report card ranking schools.

The organization recently released the 2011 Report Card on Aboriginal Education in B.C., which ranks 52 elementary schools and 63 secondary schools across B.C. based on average exam results and transition and graduation rates. This is the third time the institute has done an aboriginal report card, but the first since 2006.

Only four Nanaimo schools are included in the report – Bayview and Georgia Avenue elementary schools and John Barsby and Dover Bay secondary schools – because the institute requires data from a minimum of 10 self-identified aboriginal students in each area used in the ranking.

A press release puts the spotlight on Bayview for improving its ranking significantly from 2006 and John Barsby for landing in the bottom 10 ranked schools.

Peter Cowley, the Fraser Institute’s director of school performance studies and co-author of the report, said highlighting schools like Bayview is meant to encourage similar improvements at other schools.

“We found that just like in the other report cards, some schools are doing a better job of serving their aboriginal students than others,” he said.

Educators need to find out what the high-ranked schools are doing and see if there are learning strategies that can be adapted for the lower-performing schools, Cowley said.

He said there continues to be a gap between the educational achievement of aboriginal students and other learners and the gap has not changed since the first report card was published in 2004.

Chris Southwick, assistant superintendent of Nanaimo school district, said while there is still a gap, the district works hard to support its more than 2,000 aboriginal students. And in recognition of the gap, the district developed an Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement several years ago.

“We’re certainly paying more attention to our aboriginal population,” she said. “I think we’re communicating more with the aboriginal communities and working with them.”

A couple of years ago, the district developed an aboriginal outreach program that tracks down students who left the system prematurely and helps them finish their schooling, while Hul’qumi’num language instruction is offered at several elementary and secondary schools.

The district has First Nations support teachers in each secondary school and aboriginal education assistants in all elementary schools, said Southwick.

And it has just developed a course, in conjunction with Vancouver Island University, that aims to educate staff about aboriginal culture, which the district hopes to make a requirement for all employees.

Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said the report does not reflect all  the incredible teaching and learning going on in schools and doesn’t take into account some of the challenges faced by individual communities.

“We’ve got one of the highest child poverty rates in the province,” he said.

The teachers’ union is discussing ways to recruit and retain aboriginal teachers with district officials, said DeGear, because having people in the system that these students identify with and can use as mentors is important to student success.