Special Report: Education

The Absent Voice of the Silenced

Shannen Koostachin really believed that kids could change the world. I can't think of a better way to name a new school than to honour her memory and legacy.

By Larry Pattison
Published June 22, 2018

"The loudest voice in the room, sometimes, is the absent voice of the silenced."
—Andy Dunn

As I write this, Delta and Sir John A. MacDonald students are thinking about Scott Park, Trillium, Bernie Custis, Nikola Tesla, and Shannen Koostachin as they fall asleep this evening. Why? Because on Friday, they will choose their favourites to formulate a report that will come back to our Board of Trustees in the fall so that once and for all, we can give our new north high school an actual name.

On Monday's board meeting [PDF], I introduced my motion to name the new north school Shannen Koostachin Secondary School, based on the work of the school naming committee.

I suport Shannen Koostachin because of her life's work to bring equitable school funding to all Indigenous children in Canada.

Another Trustee said that part of the reason he sought office was because he was not happy with how the naming process went when a school was being named in his community. Here we are, almost four years into our term, and yet we find ourselves questioning the outcome of a process that stemmed from a policy that was reviewed and modified this term, back in 2016.

What this goes to show is that no matter how many scenarios you imagine when writing a policy, something always seems to come up that sends decision-makers back to the drawing board.

A new group of Trustees will enter our Boardroom come this December, and surely one will have taken up the cause for a similar dissatisfaction with a policy or procedure. That's politics.

This week, a local sports columnist, who had even invited me to speak on his radio show the evening before to discuss the naming of the new north school, wrote this story bashing our board's school naming process. And he did not stop there.

Giving Voice to the Silenced

If we do not listen, how can we truly understand? Those posting angry messages across social media or to my email inbox - especially to leaders in our community who should be promoting positive, constructive conversations, rather than writing articles knocking the process and the work of the committee, have shown that they are not listening. They have chosen not to understand the entire conversation, including the spirit of our Board's policy and procedures as it relates to the naming of a school [PDF].

First of all, there is nothing in either our policy or our procedure that states that the weight of the submissions (not votes) that come through the public consultation have any bearing on the decision-making process. In fact, the committee did take note of the number of submissions for the most popular suggestions, but were eager to review all name suggestions equally.

It was suggested in the opening moments of our first committee meeting that we remove all names with less than 1 percent of the submissions that were similar, but that was not the will of the committee.

Our survey was not a voting system. I believe that is what gets lost here. We did not ask you to vote on your favourite name. We asked for the public to submit a name.

As far as percentages go, I don't believe this should be a popularity contest anyway. This is also no place for local, provincial, or global influential voices, however well-intentioned they might be, to lobby for the name that they would like to be chosen and then get angry with the process or those tasked with choosing a name when decisions don't sway their way.

The quote I chose to start this piece further speaks to my belief that all name suggestions should bear the same weight. If we had removed the bottom 153 names of the list right away, we would have lost out in finding out about so many great people from Hamilton and beyond, or learning more about the lands we live on and some of those who have played a part in building and bettering our country.

The conversations that we had over two meetings and 5.5 hours were remarkable, touching, and inspiring. If we had only looked at the most popular suggestions coming from a self-selected survey, lost would have been those silenced voices hoping we would be inspired by the name and the story behind the suggestion.

If number of submissions is what we are worried about, we should have been forthright in our consultation and stated that in order for a name to be considered, you might want to contact 500 of your closest friends.

A Fitting Choice

I am thankful the committee chose the path it did. I deeply respect all the hard work they put into this. There was no question in my heart from the conversations we had and the stories we shared, that the name Shannen Koostachin was a very fitting suggestion for Hamilton, for the lower city, for students, staff, and our Board.

I've read messages of support. I have had a vice-principal, teachers, and members of the community talk about how much they love the name and feel it's very appropriate for this new school. Even our two student Trustees, which was not mentioned in either article, voted for and spoke in favour of, the name Shannen Koostachin Secondary School.

It also wasn't noted that our committee had student representatives who did have discussions with their peers about the 7 remaining names moving into the second and final night of name deliberations.

The latest article by Scott Radley talks about how great the name Bernie Custis would look as television cameras zoomed over our escarpment, across the lower city, and into the stadium. I don't disagree that it wouldn't look great, but I also think of how an Indigenous name in a time where reconciliation is a big priority for our country - one of a youth education advocate, would inspire a broader discussion beyond football.

Just because we call this the stadium district, that doesn't mean all entities must tie into this theme. Actually, it's really somewhat of an education district with a former historical elementary school building, a newer K-8 school, and soon a new high school all within a ball toss (a Custis lob that is) of the stadium.

The new school will also house a Nya-Weh program (SJAM currently has the largest program of this nature in our Board). Prince of Wales Elementary has a Mohawk language program, and we have an Indian Friendship Centre down the road on Ottawa Street.

If we consider the 'Stadium District' and the names that currently adorn its signature buildings, we have:

No woman, and no person further representing our city's diversity.

From my review of our current school sites across the board, 27 are named after men, 14 after woman, three speak to our city's cultural diversity, and nine do not have a local connection. This new high school will be school number 104 in HWDSB's portfolio.

Bernie Custis does have a lot of history in our City and his feats have also inspired a nation, but it should also be noted that the naming policy does not give any weight to whether or not a school name should have local connotations or not. It states that the name should have local, provincial, OR Canadian significance.

Shannen may have provincial significance given where she lived, but she was fighting for all communities and inspired a nation - including many in our own community, securing her place among Canada's 150 Top Canadians.

Lastly, when I think of who Shannen was, and reflect on the rallies I have attended since getting involved in education back in 2013, from the student-led Parkview rallies in front of their school and at City Hall, to Westmount students protesting standardized testing.

Our board encourages student voice and them standing up for what they believe in. Look at our strong 7-12 student senate and student Trustees who sit around the horseshoe with us and take part in our discussions. Shannen's story is significant and very relevant to our community and to our youth.

Starting Conversations

This is about our students. Our staff. Our communities. About current issues. It's about inspiring today's and tomorrow's youth. Starting conversations.

Above all, this is about building community. Building relationships. Building bridges. Taking down barriers. Finding peace and harmony among the chaos and difficult times of our everyday lives.

This isn't about you or even me or my fellow Trustee colleagues.

All the names on the table are great suggestions. We shouldn't be arguing over this. We should be simply heralding all the names brought forward and being good sports about this.

Nobody wins or loses here unless we continue this childish fighting. If anything, all this anger further speaks to my belief that a name with Indigenous connections is the best way for us to move forward and complete this work, in a good way.

"School is a time for dreams, every kid deserves this."
— Shannen Koostachin

To the students providing their feedback today, thank you for the work you have put into this process all week. I am looking forward to hearing about these discussions and what you have to say to decision makers and the community as a whole.

This will be your school. What is in a name to you?

Larry Pattison is a local blogger, life-long resident of Hamilton, and father to two amazing girls. Larry is a former HWDSB Trustees for Ward 3.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted June 26, 2018 at 12:46:41

It would be nice for the Trustees to focus their attention on material issues affecting our students.

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