Yukon Educational Reform is “moving forward,” but concrete plans and goals are still months away.
Hosted by professional Vancouver moderator Maria LeRose, a panel of multi-governmental educational officials outlined the state of the reform process at a lavish gathering Monday night at Vanier Catholic Secondary School.
The forum was dubbed New Horizons.
Dark blue curtains framed the stage of panelists, who were blindingly well-lit by racks of heavy studio lighting.
A team of technicians buzzed through the crowd, capturing the event on live video.
Audiophone link-ups connected the panel to small gatherings of educators in Dawson City, Old Crow and Faro.
A dinner of gourmet lasagna and spinach salad stood at the ready.
Parents, educators, concerned citizens, school administration and government officials had gathered to discuss recommendations surrounding the Yukon Education Reform Project.
Released in early February, the initial education reform document was drafted more than 2.5 years ago as a review of the existing Yukon Education Act.
Since its release, the document has collected 207 recommendations from educational partners in Whitehorse and the Yukon communities.
Then a technical team reviewed the recommendations and organized them into appropriate themes.
Four members of the team were at the forum to offer their findings.
Three came from the territorial government and one from CYFN.
Since the beginning, technical team officials have sought active community participation in the reform process.
“We didn’t want to see this as only a department of Education initiative where we sat in a dark room and drafted a document,” said Pamela Hine, deputy minister of Education.
“This (forum) is not an event, it’s a journey. We want you to be part of our journey with us,” she said.
“A lot of people have assumed that nothing is being done. This is to show that a lot of work is being done,” said Shandell McCarthy, an education technician for the Council of Yukon First Nations.
Seven themes were distilled from among the myriad of recommendations. Among them: “holistic lifelong learning and teaching” and “collaboration, consultation and partnerships.”
Distilling the recommendations further revealed literacy, numeracy, social responsibility and First Nation language and culture were key issues.
The panel broke for questions from forum attendees.
The moderator asked if there were any questions from Old Crow.
The Old Crow live video feed gave a 4.5-metre-tall image of a roomful of empty chairs.
“We’ve heard a lot of comments related to ‘educational partners’ … who are these partners?” said the Faro delegation.
The current partners are still very broadly defined, said a panelist.
“What is the chemical reaction that powers your body?” asked a man in a toque from one of the microphones in Vanier’s gym.
The question was greeted with stunned silence from the panel. So he launched into a five-minute speech on the benefits of holistic learning.
“Will there be room in New Horizons to hear these enthusiastic, passionate suggestions?” LeRose asked the panel.
A stirring, in-depth commentary on the Yukon’s recent success at a national skills tournament was given by Dan Curtis, Skills Canada Yukon’s executive director.
“Have you given any thought to some real, solid deliverables?” asked a Dawson man, via live feed.
“I like the arrows, the circles and the themes, but I would like to know what the end goal is going to be of all this. It can’t just be an empowering exercise.
“I think you’re going to have more success if you have a target: Can you reduce the number of students that are upgrading at Yukon College? Can we set higher retention rates? Higher grad rates?
“How about setting as a goal that we’re going to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of academic achievement rates in the country?”
“In doing our community dialogues we’ll be trying to determine ‘what is your vision of education,’ and I realize that’s daunting, but it’s something that we really, really need to do,” answered McCarthy.
“We’re hoping to come up with several broad goals,” she said.
After lasagna and salad, Gervase R. Bushe, a professor of management and organization at Simon Fraser University, gave a lengthy presentation on the subject of “appreciative inquiry.”
Appreciative inquiry is a reform technique that builds upon strengths and common goals instead of dwelling on shortcomings and failures, he said.
In story after story, Bushe recounted the critical role appreciative inquiry has played among negotiations by world religious leaders, ecologists and First Nation communities.
“The voyage of discovery starts not with seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” he said.
“It wasn’t really participatory, it was a promotion,” said attendee Suzanne Hale after the forum.
If the panel needed a moderator to interview them, it was clear that some prior agenda was involved, she said.
“Was our role to be passive listeners, or actual participants?” said Hale.
At several points during the forum, the moderator referred to it as a “show,” she noted.
“I don’t know if any of us really know what just happened,” said Joel Macht, another attendee.
“There was a lot of good noises … but actions speak louder than words,” he said.
“I expected to hear some outcomes … that remains to be seen,” said Colleen Wirth.
While different from her expectations, Wirth said that the forum was a good introduction to the reform process and encouraged her to engage more in ongoing educational consultations.
“This is the beginning of a conversation that’s going to be ongoing,” said LeRose.