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Message from the Director of Education

Aanii! Mick Staruck ndizhnikaas. I serve as the Director of Education for the Wiikwemkoong Board of Education. I began my employment with our organization 13 years ago and during my tenure have held positions at the high school principal, the First Nations Student Success Program Lead, the Yaasgaabwitaaget (Systems Principal), and now in my current role as Director. Prior to this, I was the K-12 principal in of Eenchokay Birchstick School in Pikangikum First Nation. I spent the first ten years of my education career in Pikangikum, and it is there where I was fortunate to meet my wife Judy, who teaches Kindergarten at Wiikwemkoong Junior School.
The 2020-2021 school presented unique challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I did start this year as the Yaasgaabwitaaget, then as co-acting Director of Education with our Senior Business Official Ms. Maureen Aiabens, and finally beginning in March as the WBE Director of Education. I have been very fortunate to be a part of a strong administration team at the WBE. Our dedicated and resilient staff and our community partnerships allowed us to be open for onsite learning for all but two weeks this school year, even though provincial and other First Nation school boards spent significant portions of the school year in exclusive in remote online learning. We were fortunate to have our Wiikwemkoong Binoojiinh Gshkiwewziwin Department step up this year and become our remote learning teachers for those students who did choose to learn online during the pandemic. As the year progressed, many of these students felt safer and switched to onsite learning. We maintained stringent health and safety protocols in our schools from the first day of school, and this, coupled with weekly collaboration with Wiikwemkoong’s Pandemic Leads Team lead by WUT Director of Operations Mr. Kevin Wassegijig and the Wiikwemkoong Health Center allowed us to remain open throughout the pandemic. Remaining open allowed us to provide the opportunity for our students to engage in their learning daily and provide additional continuity of services to meet additional needs of students such as special needs programming, mental health support, physical activity, cultural land-based learning, and Anishinaabemowin instruction.

Wiikwemkoong’s Community Comprehensive Plan and Chief and Council’s Strategic Plan priorities will guide our next steps in education programming, particularly around enhancing and cultivating Anishinaabemowin and Community Culturally Responsive and Relevant Learning across all subject areas. We will grow from a Land-Based Learning Coach and two assistants to five Cultural Land-Based Learning instructors. Our Anishinaabemowin Specialist Instructor positions will also expand from 8 positions to 15 positions spanning across the Junior and Pontiac Schools. The Hub Center will also play a foundational role in our expanding Anishinaabemowin human resources, and we will endeavor to hire four Anishinaabemowin Language Mentors to increase daily Anishinaabemowin as well as mentor Early Childhood Educators in enhancing their language capacity. There will also be three Anishinaabemowin speakers hired to staff the Hub Center Binoojiinh Akinomaagegamik Program which will provide a space, time, and resources dedicated to bringing in families with their young children to increase their knowledge and capacity in Anishinaabemowin. The Wiikewmkoong Anishinaabemowin Kinoomaagewin Department will expand and include a teacher to continue to develop and implement a scope and sequence across the Hub Center and elementary grades for Anishinaabemowin, as well as develop lesson plans and school-wide assessments to measure student growth in speaking, reading, and writing in Anishinaabemowin. There will also be two Anishinaabemowin Coaches hired to support our Anishinaabemowin Language Specialists and classroom teachers. The Wiikwemkoong Junior School will implement Anishinaabemowin’daa programming, where all four Kindergarten classrooms will be immersed in Anishinaabemowin and a stream of Grade 1 to 3 classrooms will be predominantly instructed in Anishinaabemowin, using a sandwiching strategy to build understanding and fluency, with the long-term plan in the coming years to have an Anishinaabemowin Immersion stream throughout our education system. The Pontiac School Principal will be working closely with the Junior School Principal to prepare for Anishinaabemowin’daa to continue for the students in this programming this coming year so it will continue when they move on to the Pontiac School the following year. Several of our educators at the Junior School and Hub Center will also be devoting time during their summer to engage and enhance their Anishinaabemowin language capacity by engaging in a course that will be developed and delivered specifically focused on Wiikwemkoong Anishinaabemowin, to be further prepared to support the Anishinaabemowin’daa programming next school year. On top of all these additional supports, we will continue to collaborate with our community partners such as the Wiikwemkoong Heritage Organization, the Wiikwemkoong Lands Department, and our most valuable resources, our community Elders and Knowledge Keepers, to provide additional human resources and traditional cultural knowledge to further strengthen our students’ identity, skills, and proficiency in Anishinaabemowin and Anishinaabe world views and ways of thinking and knowing.

In closing, I want to sincerely thank our staff, educators, parents/caregivers, community members, and most importantly, our students, for the opportunity to be a part of this incredible journey we will continue to embark on. I feel fortunate and blessed to serve Wiikwemkoong and look forward to the significant strides we will continue to make with Kinoomaagewin in our education system.
Kchi-miigwech!
 

Michael Staruck
Director of Education