Over the past several months, there has been a lot of public and media attention paid to Vanier Catholic Secondary School.
This attention has not been focused on the fact that Vanier is Yukon’s top performing high school from an academic perspective, or that it has the highest graduation rate by a margin of 12 per cent over the Whitehorse average.
This attention has largely been focused on some of the challenges that Vanier has faced as a school community.
It was in the interest of bringing clarity to these issues, both for our school and for the community at large, that Vanier’s school council opened its March 27 meeting to the wider public and held it in the school’s gym.
For several hours we listened to what parents, teachers, students and interested parties had to say. We heard both dismay at the type of media coverage the school was receiving, as well as genuine concern regarding some outstanding issues at the school that need addressing.
At the March 27 meeting, the school community asked its school council for action and/or clarity on the following issues:
1. Clarity around a policy focusing on same-sex attraction among students and how such a policy is or would be developed and implemented;
2. Clarification and communication of the roles and responsibilities arising out of the 1962 agreement governing the relationship between the Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Whitehorse and the Government of Yukon regarding the operation of separate schools in the territory;
3. Review of the hiring policy for the Catholic schools with respect to teaching and senior administrative staff.
While the school council is not operationally responsible for these areas, it has encouraged movement on the action items identified at the March meeting and been monitoring progress.
Here are the updates that have been provided to the Vanier council:
Policy work by the Department of Education and the episcopal corporation related to a faith-based same-sex attraction policy is still ongoing and the process will require more time due to the issue’s complexity. The workshop planned for the school community to review the policy will be scheduled for a later date.
The Department of Education and the episcopal corporation continue to work on clarifying their roles and responsibilities – who is specifically responsible for what – as they relate to the 1962 agreement and other legislation.
Work is ongoing regarding the hiring policy for the Catholic schools in Whitehorse. While this work is not yet finished, Catholic teachers will continue to receive hiring priority in the separate school system. Non-Catholic teachers will be eligible for full-time employment provided they are deemed the best candidate and have the appropriate amount of experience as a temporary teacher at their respective schools.
While policy related work in the Department of Education and the episcopal corporation is not yet finished, there has been a lot going on at Vanier itself since the March 27 meeting.
As suggested at the public meeting, an independent facilitator has been engaged to work with the staff and administration of Vanier. The facilitator has begun to meet with staff members to collect their views on the school’s working environment and is expected to provide recommendations on any improvements that can be made in the operations of the school in the very near future.
Students and staff also participated in their own awareness exercises through participation in a series of “End Homophobia Now” events at Vanier during Education Week. In addition, a student group is being formed to address equality and inclusivity for all students.
By all accounts, Vanier is a very special school that is appreciated by all who work there, attend school there, or send their children there and has achieved academic excellence as displayed by its B.C. provincial test scores and graduation rates. Are there issues to work on? Yes. Is there room for improvement? Of course there is.
While the attention Vanier has received over the past several months has been hard on those who are so invested in our school’s well-being, the Vanier Catholic Secondary School community will address these challenges through its strength, perseverance and faith.
Paul Flaherty is chair of the Vanier Catholic Secondary School Council