Spooner named district's first Indigenous Assistant Superintendent
April 05, 2022
School District 57 now has an Indigenous Assistant Superintendent leading Indigenous education – the first in the province.
Pam Spooner has been the director of SD57's Indigenous Education Department for the past three years and grew naturally into this new role.
"I've never heard of anything like it in the province, with an Indigenous assistant superintendent specifically for Indigenous education, reporting right to the district's superintendent," said Sharel Warrington, chair of the Board of Trustees. "Pam is a strong, compassionate, and humble Indigenous leader. She is well positioned to promote the development of policies and programs for Indigenous learners and to collaborate, and build relationships with local, regional, and provincial organizations on education initiatives."
Spooner is Gitxsan from the wilps Niisto (house of matriarch chief Niisto) of the Laxseel (Frog) Clan. She is also of Wet'suwet'en ancestry. She grew up on reserve in the Hazelton area (born in Kispiox) before moving to Lheidli territory in 1989 where she embarked on a long path of education and raised her five children. These factors all played a role in the Gitxsan name bestowed to her: Guu si wilaaks'm hlgu ganaa'w which means "she is always teaching – Little Frog Teacher."
Warrington said it was Spooner's deep background in the education field and the district, including large leadership roles, she was ideally positioned to be the inaugural Indigenous Assistant Superintendent. She has been a math teacher, elementary teacher, vice-principal at the elementary and secondary level, principal, and spent a year in the Okanagan as principal of their Indigenous education stream before moving back to Lheidli territory to be the director of Indigenous education here – the first holder of that position, also.
Now she will take on an even larger role under that mandate.
"I have never been about hierarchy, it is all about the work," said Spooner. "This is the work of reconciliation, having a stronger Indigenous voice at all the tables, but it's important to know that I was already doing that. That work was already underway because School District 57 made Indigenous education outcomes a priority. They are actually proving that they respect that reconciliation needs to happen, and they respect the nations, the rights-holders, because there is still so much farther to go before we can say things are where they should be for Indigenous students and staff. But this district has just demonstrated again that they are committed at the leadership level to the major changes that have to occur."
"We are on a journey and it's a good journey," said Warrington.
There were already strong signs that the journey was bearing fruit. For example, at the key Grade 4 indicator mark, Indigenous students who are on track or exceeding in literacy went from 50 per cent up to 72 per cent, this year over last. In numeracy the rate went from 38 per cent up to 45 per cent.
"We know there is work to do, but we see the results happening, and we know that having Pam right at the senior management table is going to advance those results even more," said SD57 superintendent Cindy Heitman. "With her background, and coming from a position of Indigenous education leadership already, it's a great track to be on. I am personally committed to Indigenous people overseeing Indigenous education. It is important to do this work alongside the Indigenous communities."
Having an Indigenous Assistant Superintendent was one of the suggestions that came out of the recent Special Advisor's Report released in 2021, commissioned by the Ministry of Education. Acting so quickly to implement is a continuation of the steps already taken by SD57 over the years to improve the clear need of academic reconciliation for Indigenous students and staff.
Prince George is home to BC's first and still only Indigenous-themed choice school (Spooner was once principal of Nusdeh Yoh Elementary School).
There is a newly enacted discussion table comprised of McLeod Lake and Lheidli T'enneh leaders to directly dialogue with SD57 leaders, plus outreach underway to gather the voices of the urban Aboriginal population as well.
This district is home to the largest Indigenous Education Department in the province, with more than 100 staff members who touch every school in the region.
And now Pam Spooner inaugurates the new position of Indigenous Assistant Superintendent.
"This Ministry has shown that it wants actual and meaningful change in the way the education system relates to Indigenous learners and teacher, and that's what this position represents. This government has made it clear, with the implementation of DRIPA, that the people of this province want this to happen," said Spooner, referencing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act legislation enacted in 2019. "I'm excited to be a part of the work that now gets to be done."