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May 01 2017

Principals go back to school to improve education for Indigenous students

Posted by TransCanada
Craig Lindsay is a vice principal at Hillside School in Kettle Point First Nation, Ontario.

Craig Lindsay is a vice principal at Hillside School in Kettle Point First Nation, Ontario. He’s in the process of completing the Martin Family Initiative’s First Nations Principals’ Course.

Despite the intensive time commitment while working a full-time job on a First Nations reserve, vice principal Craig Lindsay didn’t hesitate to sign up when he heard about a new course for principals at First Nations schools offered through the Martin Family Initiative (MFI).

Previously called the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative, the organization founded by former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin is dedicated to improving education for Indigenous students in Canada.

“Working as a principal in a First Nations school is very different than one in a provincial school,” said Lindsay.

“First Nations schools are community-based and the goal of the community is to retain and/or restore language and culture, while meeting expectations in the provincial curriculum,” he continued. “This course gives us the skills and strategies to use in building a culturally rich learning environment.”

Since 2009, Lindsay has worked as the vice principal at Hillside School in Kettle Point First Nation, Ontario. 2009 was also the first year of a five-year revolutionary program, called the Model School project, delivered by MFI at Hillside School.

The goal of MFI’s Model School Project was to improve literacy levels in First Nations students in Ontario, and Hillside was one of two pilot schools. The program transformed the First Nations elementary school.

In 2009, only 13 per cent of Grade 3 students at the two pilot schools met or exceeded Ontario’s reading proficiency target when they took the province’s standardized test. Five years later, that number had climbed to over 80 per cent of Grade 3 students at times in the two schools.

“The success we have seen at our school in literacy is astounding. Most of our students are now at or above provincial standards in literacy scores,” Lindsay said.

“So when I heard that the MFI was putting together a First Nations Schools Principals’ Course, I was all in.”

Teaching the leaders

Research has demonstrated the importance of principals in improving student learning. According to the MFI, on average, a principal accounts for 25 per cent of a school’s total impact on student achievement.

The MFI’s First Nations Principals’ Course was developed by 13 First Nations and Aboriginal education experts of Indigenous backgrounds from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. The course, which is designed to provide training in educational leadership and help improve school practices specifically in First Nations schools, was then offered in September 2015 to a cohort of 20  principals and vice principals of First Nations schools from across Canada who reviewed and provided feedback on the program.

Lindsay is part of the program’s second cohort – comprised of non-Indigenous and Indigenous peers from across the country – and is set to graduate in June after 10 months of face-to-face and online learning.

A 2014 study by the RAND corporation found that principals who participated in leadership training programs and received support experienced larger gains in student achievement than principals who did not participate in the programs.

And Lindsay is determined to be an effective principal at his school.

“My ultimate hope for the children who attend Hillside is for them to believe in themselves and to have positive educational experiences. I would love to see them bring knowledge and skills back into their community, as they are its future,” he said.

“The better we prepare them, the better off they’ll be.”

Supporting Indigenous education

TransCanada’s donation of $100,000 to MFI has helped decrease tuition costs for every participant in the program, improving access to the course.

“As a company that interacts with more than 200 Indigenous communities and groups across North America, TransCanada has learned that education is one of the pillars that contributes to a strong community,” said Penny Favel, TransCanada’s Vice President of Land, Environment and Indigenous Relations. “We are very proud to support this program and help meet a need communities have identified: improvement in the delivery of education at First Nations schools.”

This year, TransCanada has supported a number of other new Indigenous education initiatives in the communities where we live and work.

In celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, our ongoing partnership with Indspire – a leader in Indigenous education – continues with our support of their Youth Laureates Cross-Canada Tour, which features presentations from exceptional Indigenous youth and focuses on inspiring youth to dream big and aim high.

In January, we launched our first-ever in-house scholarship program for students pursuing post-secondary education.

Through our Empower Communities Scholarships program, up to 300 scholarships are awarded every year to students living near our geographical footprint across Canada and the United States.

The Indigenous Legacy Scholarship – one of three scholarships options offered through the program – is worth $5,000 and is annually awarded to up to 50 First Nations, Métis, Inuit or Native American students.

“We hear from Indigenous communities about their specific educational challenges, so our hope is that through our support for these types of educational initiatives, we can help support community goals for long-term and positive change,” said Favel.