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Tlicho opt out of junior kindergarten
At least nine NWT communities dropping out of controversial program for four-year-olds

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Monday, January 19, 2015

Almost all of the Sahtu and Deh Cho schools are sticking with the territorial government's controversial junior kindergarten program, but it's a different story in the Tlicho.

News/North reached out to every school district in the territory and determined at least nine communities won't be involved with the junior kindergarten at the start of the new school year this fall.

The Tlicho government will be cancelling junior kindergarten in its four community schools with elementary students because the GNWT isn't offering any additional funding.

"It really came down to the lack of sustainable funding guaranteed trough the education department at the GNWT," said Shannon Barnett-Aikman, director of education for the Tlicho community services agency. "Without a sustainable funding source it wasn't something we could support in addition."

Each community in the Tlicho region currently provides pre-school and daycare, added Barnett-Aikman.

Stephen Lee, spokesperson for the South Slave Divisional Education Council, said Fort Resolution has terminated its program as of now and Chief Sunrise School on the Hay River Reserve will complete the current school year but will not continue with the program for 2015-2016. Lutsel K'e will continue to stay in the program and has no plans to opt out.

Fort Providence is the lone community in the Deh Cho that has opted out. The program ended before the commencement of classes in 2015. In the Beaufort-Delta region, Aklavik and Fort McPherson have opted out of the program while the remaining communities that currently offer junior kindergarten will remain on board, said David Reid, supervisor of schools.

"Every community looked at their needs and in the case of Fort McPherson, they were running a very successful Aboriginal Head Start and felt it was working well for them," Reid said.

Renee Closs, assistant superintendent for the Sahtu Divisional Education Council, said all five schools in the Sahtu will complete the current school year and will continue offering the program into the foreseeable future. She would not comment on how the education council came to that decision.

In the Deh Cho, parents are supportive of the program because it brings child care and educational opportunities the communities don't currently have, said Terry Jaffray, superintendent of Dehcho Divisional Education Council.

"The children are showing progress in the program," Jaffray told News/North.

"We don't have daycares or other programs and this is a good opportunity for the younger children to interact with other kids and to have some attention to their developmental skills."

The deadline for communities to opt out of the junior kindergarten program was Dec. 15. However, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) was unable to provide final numbers by press time.

"We did receive that information from our communities just before the break, but we are currently waiting to be able to provide an internal briefing on it," said ECE spokesperson Jacqueline McKinnon, manager of public affairs and communication. "So (we) cannot release any info until we've done that."

Last year, the territorial government notified school districts across the NWT that it would be rolling out a junior kindergarten program incrementally over three years at a projected cost of $7 million. The program faced severe backlash from school boards and education authorities when they were told to find the money within their already existing budgets.

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