Hiring loopholes make a mockery of our schools

Exciting news! Yukon's Department of Education, always on the cutting edge of things, may improve its hiring policies by using a newfangled technology called the Internet.

Exciting news! Yukon’s Department of Education, always on the cutting edge of things, may improve its hiring policies by using a newfangled technology called the Internet.

Officials believe that a one-year period may be a sufficient time for them to type a new hire’s name into something called Google to see if anything scary pops up. Because this process is so wildly time-consuming and terrifyingly complicated – heck, it could only be performed by your typical elementary student in only a moment – it has not been common practice until now.

And it shows. Consider the string of recent hiring embarrassments, now out in the open for all to see.

Most recently, it has come to light that Brendan Kelly, who was until recently principal of Porter Creek High School, had previously been convicted of theft while working as a school principal at Sioux Mountain in northwestern Ontario. He used the school’s credit card for a personal real-estate transaction, among other unauthorized purposes.

You would think this would be important to consider by the officials who were hiring the guy who would run Whitehorse’s largest high school.

Department staff won’t actually say whether they were aware of Kelly’s theft conviction, citing privacy rules in the gormless way that bureaucrats tend to do when they want to duck something embarrassing. But surely this detail would have weighed heavily against an applicant competing for a job that entails so much responsibility. And departmental officials admit that checking for information that is readily available online is not part of the usual hiring process.

At this point it’s worth giving a hat tip to Christopher Reynolds, the Whitehorse Star reporter who dug this and several related stories. Porter Creek’s school council hasn’t spoken to us, but they told Reynolds they had spent some time trying to oust Kelly, for reasons unrelated to the theft charge, and are in the process of hiring a new principal. Kelly, who served as principal for five years up until this fall, is presently on leave.

Kelly’s past comes to light shortly after the dismissal of a man who briefly taught at Takhini Elementary School, who had previously been fired from a school in Ontario over a professional misconduct case involving him inviting adolescent boys over for a sleep-over and offering one alcoholic drinks. This case, as well, is easily found online by searching the teacher’s name.

Department staff, presumably with a shrug, say they depend on other jurisdictions to enforce their teaching credentials. In other words, it seems neither Kelly nor this teacher lost their Ontario teaching certifications, so Yukon officials didn’t bother to look any further.

Of course, these two cases bring to mind another recent story, involving an assistant deputy minister of education who not long ago insisted upon being referred to as a “Dr.”, despite having received this degree from an unaccredited U.S. bible college that bears many of the telltale signs of being a degree mill.

When the flimsy nature of Albert Trask’s PhD came to light, the Department of Education noted, rightfully, that the senior bureaucrat also had real degrees, from real universities. Less truthfully, the department made it sound as if it never considered Trask’s PhD as being relevant to his job when he was hired.

An access-to-information request by the News shows otherwise. Papers from the hiring committee do, in fact, list Trasks’ PhD as if it were a credential relevant to his position. Similarly, an introductory email the deputy minister sent to staff sent also mentions the degree as if it were relevant to the job.

If an inquiring mind had bothered to visit the website of the college that granted Trask’s doctorate before hiring him, a warning light probably would have gone off upon seeing the institution’s home page declares it is “One of America’s Best Seminary Bible Colleges!” – which does not exactly strike the sober, restrained tone expected from credible post-secondary institutions.

Further reading of the website would show that to complete a Newburgh course, you are simply expected to read a single book and summarize its contents – or, for an additional fee, in some cases you may simply watch a videotaped lecture and write an even shorter paper. Needless to say, these standards fall far short of what you would expect while completing a real doctorate program. Yet, incredibly, the Education Department’s top bureaucrat long insisted that it was no concern that Trask used the “Dr.” honorific while at work.

It appears some positive changes are underway, after Premier Darrell Pasloski hit the panic button earlier this year and shuffled all his ministers, putting Doug Graham in charge of the Education Department.

It turns out that a teacher certification board, which was supposed to review the credentials of recent hires, had not met in five years, up until this March. Well, maybe that explains a few things. Graham, to his credit, has ordered the board back to work. But the Yukon Party still hasn’t provided an explanation why the board was not meeting for such a long time, under the leadership of Elaine Taylor and Scott Kent.

The public deserves answers about this, and so far we aren’t getting them. Is this the kind of behaviour we should expect from people who claim to be acting in the best interests of students?

Some senior staff have also abruptly departed since Graham took charge, including Trask and the deputy minister who defended him.

And it seems the department is overhauling its hiring practices, although departmental officials have noted some complications involving Internet searches. Are you aware that not everything on the Internet is true? Or that search results may not present an accurate portrayal of someone’s personal and professional life?

Why, to navigate such minefields, you would need to possess some sort of critical reasoning. You know, the sort of skills that our education system is supposed to be inculcating in our youth, but are not necessarily being practised by those running the show.

(JT)