Kugluktuk High School set to lose many teachers

“I’m so sad to see a once-proud school, the home of the legendary Grizzlies, brought to such a sad state”

Kugluktuk High School is about to see a huge turnover in teaching staff next year, as at least five teachers have said they are not coming back. (File photo)

By Jane George

(Updated on May 22 at 2:30 p.m.)

Kugluktuk is facing a big exodus of teachers: five by the Education Department’s tally, seven according to a community head count of which teachers are leaving and which ones are staying.

Most of those who have resigned were new hires at Kugluktuk High School for the 2019-20 school year, according to a concerned parent, who asked to not be named because, as a government employee, they are not authorized to speak to the media, and a teacher, who is also not authorized to speak to the media.

The discrepancy over the number of departing teachers is explained by the department excluding two from their tally, one on parental leave and another who was suspended, these sources told Nunatsiaq News.

But the Education Department disputes that teacher turnover in the community is higher than reported. “The Department of Education only needs to fill five positions for the 2020-21 school year. All other educator positions have been filled by a combination of returning staff and new hires,” the department said in an emailed statement.

The departures will come as yet another blow to Kugluktuk High School, which lost a popular principal last year, they said.

“I’m so sad to see a once-proud school, the home of the legendary Grizzlies, brought to such a sad state,” the concerned parent said. “It’s also been home to the ever-so-recognized and successful pre-trades program.”

“Education in Kugluktuk has surely deteriorated when it was strong and successful in so many ways.”

The school that serves about 220 students in the western Nunavut community was the subject of the acclaimed 2018 sports drama film, The Grizzlies, about its youth lacrosse team that helped combat an epidemic of youth suicide in the community.

But there’s been no lacrosse at the school for many years, and now all the coaches for soccer, hockey and basketball are leaving too, the same parent said. Only coaches for volleyball and table tennis will still be on staff after half the school’s teachers leave.

“With all the grief and hardships this town is going through due to social problems, the school used to be a haven for students,” that parent said.

But that hasn’t been the case since March when it closed down, along with other Nunavut schools, as a COVID-19 prevention measure.

“Morale is down. The only thing that is up is the number of staff leaving,” she said.

The teacher mentioned above, who is one of those leaving Kugluktuk, told Nunatsiaq News that he had decided to resign from his position in early April and book his ticket for southern Canada after a year filled with turmoil.

“The world is changing, and I don’t have [a] job lined up. I don’t know if there is going to be a job for me or places will be hiring, but at the same time we’re still finding it stressful. The North is stressful at the best of times,” he said. “But there’s a been a lot of unnecessary stress.”

He said his decision has nothing to do with the community, where he has worked for several years, or his students, whom he praised for their resiliency.

His decision to leave has everything to do with a series of upheavals during which he said he and other teaching staff received little administrative guidance and lots of mixed messages.

First, there was a fire at the high school on Sept. 3, 2019, that police say was due to arson, and which caused about $100,000 worth of damage.

That meant students were shuttled to temporary classrooms in the community of about 1,500, and teachers struggled to get the supplies and materials they needed for their classes, he said.

Due to concerns about air quality in the high school after repairs were completed, students continued to attend classes in the hamlet’s recreational centre, dubbed the “south campus,” and at the elementary school, known as the “west campus.”

“During that time, massively, you had kids show up the first day or two, then attendance dropped like a stone,” he said.

Everything became better when they moved back into the school on Sept. 23.

But then on Nov. 2 came the ransomware attack that knocked out the entire Government of Nunavut’s computer network.

“We were plunged back to using basic resources,” he said.

Then, in March, just after report cards were handed out, he and the other teachers learned that schools were to close for two weeks to limit the possible spread of COVID-19.

“We were told not to take things [from the school], not to leave the community,” although the principal of the school did leave Kugluktuk, he said.

Schools in Nunavut, which shut on March 17, were initially to remain closed to students until April 7, but that date was pushed back to April 21.

In early April, teachers were told they could get back into the schools, and then, after April 21, teachers were ordered to return to their communities.

“Teachers weren’t given any guidance during that period,” he said. “Everything was pushed to the last minute, but then there’s the trickle-down effect of that and I had to do everything last minute.”

To be back in the school, without students, was “surreal” and “crazy,” he said.

What he found worse, the teacher said, was that he received no guidelines for the work packages that teachers were asked to prepare for students when requested by the students, their parents or their guardians.

“Was it stuff we were going to evaluate? They didn’t give us any sort of guidelines,” he said.

The Education Department disputes this, however. It says that guidelines for preparing work packages were sent to all schools on April 17.

Teachers were also asked to contact students, but the teacher said didn’t feel comfortable doing that.

He said teachers were also told by school administrators to actively encourage students to take work packages.

“It was almost like forcing the work packages down their throats, which didn’t sit well with staff,” he said.

“I was hired to teach, not for sales and to peddle work packages—why are we calling and badgering them about work packages?”

With a little more than two weeks left in Kugluktuk, he’s now looking to his departure with some anxiety because of all the unknowns in the south.

But when asked if he would recommend his job to others, he said, “At this time I would say no.”

“It’s still in many ways a great community, but with regards to education it’s fallen in stature,” he said. “It’s sad. I’m a teacher and I can only do so much. At some point I need a hand from administration.”

Nunavut Teachers’ Association President John Fanjoy told Nunatsiaq News earlier this month that he expected the education system to be short-staffed again this coming September, for the third year in a row, and that “people need to know that it is not due solely to COVID-19.”

The Education Department also maintains the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected teacher turnover.

“At this time last year, Kitikmeot School Operations had 20 educator positions in open competition, five of which were for Kugluktuk schools,” the department said.

“The Department of Education would like to thank those educators who are leaving Nunavut for other opportunities, and wish them the best.

“Their work has been invaluable these past few months as they supported students and communities during these unprecedented times.”

An earlier version of this story stated that Kugluktuk High School had five teacher openings, according to the Department of Education. In fact, the department said those five openings are for both of the community’s schools. This story has also been updated to include the department’s response to suggestions that the number of teacher departures is higher than reported. And it’s been updated to include the department’s response to criticism that teachers did not receive guidance for preparing work packages.

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(38) Comments:

  1. Posted by George on

    The technical difficulties aside, and despite the fact that “it’s still in many ways a great community”, Kugluktuk is not the pleasant and friendly place it once was. Things have gone downhill over the last couple of decades. I would not recommend this place to anyone thinking of moving from the south.

    • Posted by Second Opinion on

      … just to keep things balanced: in this commenter’s opinion, it’s a wonderful place.

  2. Posted by Mike on

    @ Jane: you should also take a look at Kinngait – a number of educators will not be returning to the two schools next year.

  3. Posted by Kugluktuk Teachers in a Bubble on

    As a resident I can say while many of the teachers are nice an pleasant, outside of what happens with the local DEA we do not know what happens with them and administration. What I do see is teachers that stay in their own click. Most do not engage with the rest of the community outside their own role, and outside of the teachers who choose to make their home in Kugluktuk for longer term, there is very little community involvement. Often these teachers even tell other southern hires that they only came up to get full time work and pay off student loans, before taking a job in the south. I understand the teacher is frustrated with the administration but imagine how the community feels when teachers come for 1-3 years and leave all the time. This does not happen in other parts of the country, and the GN should be asking for more commitment from teachers or have incentive for long term service.

    • Posted by We really going to poke at personal lives too on

      While I’m sorry you’re not a part of their “click” as you mention, should we be bringing up their personal lives too. I know every single permanent one in the community has community involvement and thankfully not all are sports as they recognize the needs of their students and work hard to ensure there is something for everyone.

    • Posted by Elsewhere in the Country on

      This (transient nature of educators) does happen in other parts of the country but it feels a bit different bc schools are located closer to one another.
      The nature of the education profession in the current model (that’s been imposed on Nunavummiut to some extent) includes movement and position changes.
      I think what you are hoping for are high quality educators in your town; not necessarily long term but always high quality.

    • Posted by Andy on

      Stating that this situation does not happen anywhere else in the country is simply not correct. People stay where they are comfortable and even if they only come to Nunavut to pay of University loans, what’s wrong with this? Many Canadians have moved to Alberta because their home province had not enough employment or the salaries are too low. In addition, after a day or week of work, there can be no expectation that employees volunteer or connect with a community. I agree that a community involvement benefits all involved, but it cannot be hold against anybody if they don’t

    • Posted by Vince on

      Often these teachers even tell other southern hires that they only came up to get full time work and pay off student loans, before taking a job in the south. I understand the teacher is frustrated with the administration but imagine how the community feels when teachers come for 1-3 years and leave all the time.
      This is the reality in EVERY northern school division and my definition of north is “north of the last major city”. Young teachers today want nothing to do with the north and the truth is, they don’t need to go north, as the job market is so good in the south. Every province is reporting a teacher shortage and some rural school divisions (like mine) can’t get anyone to take maternity leaves…….. zero candidates apply.

      That’s the Canadian reality and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Meanwhile, Nunavut has the highest incidence of violence against teachers in the country and the highest incidence of violence within their communities in the country. Nobody finds that inviting, and nobody goes without doing some research first.

      Don’t blame the teachers that come……. they are the last people anyone should be blaming.

      • Posted by Truth on

        Teachers will go where they feel valued. Judging personal motives as to why people take the decision to move North is immature and none of anyone else’s business. Be grateful that educated people are willing to assist In the education of our kids given all the social challenges, isolation, cost of living etc. The truth is, people are not lining up for any of our jobs, so instead of judging, maybe it’s time to change the mindset and applaud those willing to move here giving all the challenges that come with that. We all know what they are, but no one is willing to admit to talk about it.

  4. Posted by Help Needed on

    Teachers have been threatening to bail for a long time. It’s clear that they are incapable, when they don’t know how to prepare at-home school work. Where is their concern to keep students engaged in any type of learning.
    Why aren’t all parties involved not sitting down to work out a long-term plan? The system is in crisis and too many kids are losing out.

    • Posted by Dowinger Hatt on

      So many informative comments in this thread… and then there is this.

  5. Posted by Another Concerned Parent on

    Two points:
    1. Kugluktuk is not a bad place to live. It is a warm and friendly community that wears its heart on its sleeve.
    2. Sadly, the community is suffering from a lack of leadership. This is most acutely seen in the schools generally and KHS specifically. Many people raised concerns last year when the former principal was let go without explanation, warning that the decision was reckless and foolhardy and now we see the result – high staff turnover for a second year in a row, lower attendance rates resulting in one teacher position being cut, and lower graduation numbers. It would be wonderful to see someone held to account for what has been done to this iconic northern high school, and though I am not one to bash the GN for decisions they have not yet made, the time to act is now, not tomorrow.

    • Posted by KSO on

      Either the DEA needs to learn how to stand up to KSO and follow what the community wants, or KSO needs to face the music for their crappy lacklustre leadership, and crappy decision making skills.

    • Posted by they cowards on

      Principals that left during all of this should be fired for abandonment of position. They have shown their true feelings about being a leader in nunavut, their employer should repay their cowardice.

      • Posted by ? on

        Some were on their scheduled school break. You think the GN can legally declare someone to have abandoned their position if they left their community while the school was on spring break? That’s their vacation time, and it’s up to them what they do with it.

        • Posted by Vince on

          Teachers in my northern division were clearly warned, travel during Easter and you better be able to get back. Don’t expect to get paid otherwise, and we were told what happened to teachers who were fired for playing games when the schools was shut down to wild fires in the past.

          Here’s the rub. For decades there has been a huge surplus of teachers in Canada, and we were easily replaceable. While, that is a very different situation today, our collective agreements were written when there was as surplus. So you may not get a lot of help there, they tend to favour the board, not teachers.

          Question: were stranded teachers paid? Honestly curious.

  6. Posted by Vince on

    And…………. and this is a very good year to get a teaching job in the south. COVID has meant few southern teachers are transferring, so there will be even more available jobs to teachers willing to move, and less competition.

    We’re in the middle of a national teacher shortage right now. I have a daughter who graduated last year and another this year, both have teaching degrees. The job hunt for them is super easy. I can’t believe how many school boards are recruiting them.

    The job market is so good, a high percentage of teachers expect to get a job in their home town! They have no intention of moving. So a small rural town in BC or Alberta, is just as desperate as Nunavut, believe it or not. BC is the best province in Canada to live in and Alberta pays the highest wages……. Nunavut in in tight.

    Begs the question: Does Nunavut even have a recruiting strategy to deal with this type of a job market. It doesn’t seem like it to me???

    • Posted by Plus on

      It appears they also need to review their retention strategy! Just getting rid of people for the sake of it, may be doing more harm than good. A review of who is running those departments should be closely looked at. Time for change before you get to the point you will be unable to fix the mess being created.

  7. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    Whatever the reasons, the DEA, the department, the Hamlet and the parents have a potential crisis on their hands. They had better get together and sort this out NOW. Not in September but NOW! The kids, if I understand it correctly, are seeing a lot of crap going on with parents, families and friends in the community.
    Their sole outlet and area of peace has been from the school and sports at the arena and their church. Don’t screw this up with pointing fingers at each other. Fix it people (if you want to) You cannot allow this to continue for the sake of our children and our community.

  8. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    To the Minister of Education, To the Chairman of the District Education Council, To Mayor of the Hamlet.

    You are the elected leaders for this community. You are expected to lead. What will YOU do NOW to sort this out for the children and our future.

  9. Posted by Northern Guy on

    So according to this teacher the staff in Kugluktuk were given explicit instructions NOT to leave the community after the Covid outbreak first closed the schools. And yet we have had any number of disgruntled teachers posting,for months that they received no guidance or instruction from the DoE as to whether they were to remain in their communities. So which is it … though I suspect I know the answer!

    • Posted by More Nunavut Petty Dictators on

      Explicit instructions. Ha, good luck enforcing those instructions bub.

      Another example of tin pot Nunavummiut ‘leaders’ having no understanding of Canadian law, or what their authorities are – typical.

      No mere employer can prevent your from leaving your community.

      • Posted by David on

        You’re right bub, they can’t stop you from leaving.
        They can however fire you on the spot. It’s called Abandonment of Position and it is just cause for immediate dismissal. The collective agreement won’t protect you from it.

        • Posted by Lord of the Rings on

          Abandonment of post, when people went home for spring break? After the schools were closed indefinitely? What a flaccid argument.

          • Posted by David on

            Well that fits your narrative nicely.
            Schools are closed across the country, you think that means teachers don’t have jobs to report to? That your employer can’t demand you report to your job. Teachers can and do work when schools are closed, that is why they are getting paid. Teacher responsibilities are clear in the collective agreement.

            When you sign your contract, that’s an acceptance of the collective agreement. You know that right?

            • Posted by Pickled Onion on

              David, reducing a complex issue into a bowl of pablum might make for ease of understanding and simple solutions, but you are missing a lot here. Think about mixed messaging and poor communication, travel restrictions and where they were and were not in place. Consider the net benefit versus the multiple costs and risks involved in this situation and you will hopefully get a richer picture of the present moment than you currently seem to have.

              • Posted by David on

                Well it is simple. Most things in life are.
                Consider this:

                The Kugluktuk teachers may be new to Nunavut, but this situation is nothing new to Nunavut. There have literally been thousands upon thousands of people before you who have walked away from their jobs for just as many different reasons.
                This is common to all northern boards and the collective agreements are air tight, because this is not new to the people who do the hiring and firing.
                When the board has an airtight collective agreement, things like :miscommunication and the greater good, quickly take a back seat to……. the board doing whatever they want because …. they can! These teachers put themselves in a very vulnerable position…. and by the looks of it from the outside, were not aware how vulnerable they were. And no amount of verbiage will change that.

                I hope that creates a richer picture for you. Generally speaking, talk and opinions take a distant back seat to the contract you already signed.

          • Posted by Northern Guy on

            the schools were temporarily closed about a week and a half before spring break started (At least in the Qukiqtaaluk). Teachers had no business leaving the territory until they were authorized to do so by their employer to do so. “We were told not to take things [from the school], not to leave the community,”  sounds like pretty definitive direction to stay put to me.

  10. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    Kugluktuk used to be a crazy place then it got better with Alcohol restrictions Committee but now it is bad again with the rise in alcohol abuse making it a crazy place again and suicide rates are climbing. It is not pretty by any means.

    I don’t agree with many of the comments by the teacher above. All staff was sent very clear instructions about the closures, work packages for students, weekly communications etc…. There’re daily briefings and PSA’s sent to all in the GN. He/She is going to get a big surprise when they go back down South and see that things are far more rigid because of COVID-19.

    The farce that went on last year with the DEA and the RSO created a lot of bad feelings among the community and staff and many left. I felt sorry for the new admin walking into that shit storm.

    The RSO needs to bare a lot of the responsibility for what is going on in the Kitikmeot schools because it is not only Kugluktuk experiencing a downturn. Time for some change at the top. We need to see leadership who can work with people in a positive way creating schools that have the best interests of students and community at heart.

    • Posted by Annie on

      Sure wish u were in charge of school system in Nunavut Crystal Clarity. You know lots & know how to fix the teacher issue. I wish mlas and elected dea people would put their egos aside and let someone who knows something (you) fix the problem.

    • Posted by The covid pass results on

      CC, i think you got different access to information than we did, the instructions for the senior high were very very ambiguous and incredibly unclear. Packages were sent out, but not to be returned, final marks were to be based on march 16, unless they werent, but since the kids did not have to return anything, how would that look as real assessment? On top of that, all grade 12s pass everything, as long as they are were registered, unless they didnt. If the semester was not even half finished, how do we say they should recieve full credit for 40 percent of the course? If the seniors are missing more than half the information, how do they go on to the next level, or is it better to just have them repeat the course so they can be confident in their skills and not just covid passes. Senior high is the only place standards of achievement are allowed anyway, until this year not so much. In schools still trying to produce real grade 12’s, the guidelines have been a confusing mess from people who have never taught senior high and wouldnt know a credit if it bit them. The rso gets to take that credit for this mess, and if i could grade them, it would not be a Covid pass.

  11. Posted by Kugluktuk Teacher on

    I just have to say that I dislike how this one teacher is speaking for everyone leaving, this teacher does not speak for me. I’m leaving because I got an opportunity to work near my family. Can you really be mad at someone for wanting to go home?

    • Posted by Phil McPopper on

      Why are you reading this persons comments in a way that suggests they are speaking about you? I don’t see that.

  12. Posted by Former Athlete on

    Quit depending on teacher to be coaches. So many locals in the community can step up and take the role. Just let them educate our children.

    • Posted by Artie on

      Very good point. Eg. Grizzlies program probably doesn’t exist anymore because teachers that organized & ran it left town. Why didn’t someone in the community step up and keep it going?

  13. Posted by unfortunate on

    Officially educators work 7.5 hours in a day. If you really think that is all the time that teachers put in, you’re kidding yourself. Work for classes continues after 5pm, in evenings and on weekends. Additionally, educators devote significant amounts of time to extra curricular activities & sports for students, breakfast programs, but also time spent volunteering within the community. For sure many other Gn employees do work for their jobs after hours. And some of those people are involved in volunteer activities in their communities.

    However, it is educators who are expected to volunteer huge amounts of their time. Be thankful that those individuals give their time & are happy to do so, instead of taking it for granted.

    The crisis within the Department of Education and some of the RSOs are negatively impacting schools and those that work in them (this is before/outside of COVID19 issues). There are a number of schools that have been running in crisis mode the entire school year as a result of tremendous issues with students and communities. This is not sustainable. RSOs have been under-supporting educators in the challenges they face, or not dealing with them at all. What educators are expected to put up with would never be acceptable elsewhere in Canada, yet is goes on and on. People are getting burnt our or they’ve had enough.

    That the Department of Education thinks it’s going to fill teaching positions by touting one of the best salaries for teachers is not going to draw educators to Nunavut. Anyone possibly interested in teaching here who does some Internet research is going to come up with a google search of all of the things that have gone on since March –which in themselves reference a whole lot of other issues.

    • Posted by Doug on

      Nunavut has all the teacher’s it needs. Salary is good and it is very competitive to get a teaching job. You see temporary positions available. All permanent positions are staffed Just telling the truth…

  14. Posted by Just saying on

    A good principal I once knew lead by example and a framework called “tribes”. The school leadership must build ways to include families and elders along with community leaders and businesses to support the students. Principals need to have knowledge of extra funding pools to ensure staff have supports for each student need. No school can grow in isolation. Linking with another sister school can bring depth and mentor ship opportunities for new staff and students who have interests that may be offered in different geographical areas of Nunavut. Any goals of the school needs to start after listening to staff students family and community. When collaboration doesn’t occur then it is an us and them situation. I would encourage the principal to consider looking at “tribes” – it might be a good way to turn over a new leaf and get to know the needs of the students and community. Looking for volunteers to run programs for students after hours? Each new year the parent teacher association at tribes schools call each family and ask what accomplishment they are most proud of and are willing to share with students. We had games club; painting; soccer; yoga; senior visitors; babysitting courses; martial arts … everyone has something to contribute. Good luck next year.

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