Yukon school hiring oversights exposed

A rash of hiring embarrassments over at the Department of Education followed a five-year dormancy of the certification board that was supposed to look into the credentials of new hires.

A rash of hiring embarrassments over at the Department of Education followed a five-year dormancy of the certification board that was supposed to look into the credentials of new hires.

A former longtime educator and current member of the Yukon Teacher Certification Board says she questioned senior government staff why the board wasn’t meeting as early as 2011, but her queries fell on deaf ears. The group finally met for the first time in five years on March 3.

“I believe the HR department felt like they didn’t need to have the board meet because they felt like they were very capable of reviewing candidates’ applications and deciding whether or not they should be awarded a certificate,” said Sandra Henderson.

She said the board should be reviewing applicants who apply for teacher certification in the territory, “and it (HR) should have nothing to do with the people who hire and fire at the department.”

As it stands, the human resources branch of the Department of Education fulfills all three capacities.

Henderson, who taught for 52 years and holds teaching licences from Newfoundland, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon, said she’d like to see a system where certificates aren’t given to teachers until their applications have been completely evaluated and vetted.

“I believe in a high quality of education, and I believe we need to have leaders whom we can trust and have integrity and credibility,” she said.

The board reconvened around the same time that a teacher from Takhini Elementary School was let go because his past of professional misconduct was revealed to the Department of Education.

The man, who worked as a part-time learning assistant, is accused of lying on his application for teaching certification.

According to Professionally Speaking, a magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers, he’d been reprimanded in 2007 for inviting boys he knew through the community for parent-approved sleepovers and offering them alcohol.

But his teaching credentials were still in good standing when he applied to teach in the territory.

Last week, the Whitehorse Star reported that Brendan Kelly, principal at Porter Creek Secondary School since 2009, had once been found guilty of theft under $5,000 when he was working in a small Ontario community.

The money was used towards a personal real estate transaction, according to the website of a radio station in Dryden, Ont.

Kelly received a conditional discharge, was ordered to write a letter of apology and had to report to a probation officer for nine months.

Applicants for school jobs are expected to disclose whether they’ve ever been given a conditional discharge on a criminal offence. The News was unable to reach Kelly, who is currently on leave, for comment.

In early 2010, Henderson said she advised the superintendent of the school board of Kelly’s past, but that fell on deaf ears, too.

Yukon Education Minister Doug Graham said he plans on getting more help from the teacher certification board members, to “avoid situations like we’ve seen in the past.”

“Maybe we say, after interviews are all over and we select a candidate, maybe that candidate has to be vetted by the teacher certification board,” he said.

“We’ve tightened up things at the HR department, too. We’re doing more background checks.

“In the past, there was too much trust in all these folks who were applying for teacher jobs that they were upstanding citizens.”

More diligent checks would be carried out in the future, he added.

A spokesperson for the department said recent improvements to the application process also include increasing the number of questions related to past criminal charges from one to eight.

“The branch continues to examine disciplinary action in our jurisdictions as well as undertake reference checks and criminal record checks for all potential candidates,” said Ronuk Modha.

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver, a former teacher, said that “less than scrupulous” teachers have been allowed to work in the territory because the teacher certification board didn’t meet for so long.

“They’re having more of a chance of getting through to the classrooms,” he said.

“With board meetings, and the opportunity to review the lies on these applications, that is an automatic call for dismission,” he said. “Without that board, that mechanism doesn’t happen.”

Silver also said he was “extremely troubled” to find out that teacher certification board members were not given the minutes of its previous meeting, as it requested. The former chair of the board, Albert Trask, argued he had to get a legal opinion before he could make those minutes available.

Trask, the former assistant deputy minister of education, whose questionable credentials caused a firestorm last year, is no longer working for the department.

In November, the department claimed that his religious credentials – a PhD in biblical studies from an online school – had no bearing on his hiring for the position.

But documents obtained by the News through an access to information request show the department considered his PhD as a qualification during the hiring process.

The screening board’s report for Trask mentioned “Ph.D. Philosophy”

in addition to a Master of Education under the heading “Masters degree or doctorate degree in an education-related field.”

NDP education critic Jim Tredger said he wants to see more decentralization when it comes to hiring and staff allocation.

School administrators need to work in conjunction with the HR department, he added.

“We end up with people hired for positions they’re not qualified for,” he said.

“It sends a message to teachers, students and parents that their safety, their concerns and their best interests aren’t being looked after.”

It would also give administrators the opportunity to choose staff that better meet the needs of the school, he said.

In March, when the News first inquired about the former Takhini Elementary School teacher’s past, it was told that any teacher who has a valid teaching certificate from another jurisdiction – in good standing – would be granted a certificate of qualification to teach in the Yukon.

“Any past disciplinary action would usually consider to have been dealt with by that previous jurisdiction that issued the teaching certificate,” said Lake Apted, both the registrar for Yukon teacher certification and the director of human resources.

Graham said the teacher certification board is scheduled to meet later this month.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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