Friday, July 20, 2012

Northland School Division: Re-defining Ineptitude

I admit I'm still trying to wrap my head around the bureaucratic goofiness of it all, so bear with me. Much of the subject of the post is actually explained in the letter below that I wrote a couple weeks ago, but to further flesh out the story... When I bought my house here two years ago it was with the relief that I wouldn't have nearly the amount of housing issues I had was then experiencing while employed by a certain northern Alberta school board.....that would be Northland School Division 61. Well, I certainly did have an "unparalleled wilderness experience" as they mention on their home page, just not quite the way I would have imagined. Anyhow, I digress. Anyhow, the house had certain issues (just read on). Serious ones. Ones that should have been addressed but weren't. In the fall of 2009, I emailed then superintendent Dr. de Paola explaining my concerns. No response. My principal was informed and while we had some sympathy (which came across as rather patronizing I felt), nothing seemed to get done. Certainly, the school board's maintenance department were aware of the issues as I had every possible phone number I could find for them attached to the fridge. Needless to say I was not impressed. In April 2010, I had had enough, I packed up and moved an hour north to Fort McMurray. While I tried to follow up on the housing issue, I got busy. It was my first time living in a city in a dozen years so there were many adjustments. I made mistakes. Life got in the way. Still, the issue did nag at me. How is it possible for people to get away with this kind of incompetence? I mean, I understand they are basically bureaucrats and as such don't live in the same world or occupy the same head space as most normal people. But the fact they still get paid (with public money) to bumble along, burned me. The superintendent that was with Northland has since moved on but I decided late last month to take one more kick at the can. I emailed the new superintendent, that would be Dr. Donna Barrett (phone number 780-624-2060 x6102), and laid out my concerns. Funny how both the former and current superintendent are both "Doctors". Apparently two people with Ph.D's are not enough to respond timely to a simple email. (And people like this teach your kids.) Anyhow, here is the email I sent dated June 30, 2012. Dear Ms. Barrett, I am writing regarding my concern with the board-supplied housing in your school board as I have some concerns I would like to see explained or at least acknowledged. I realize that these events took place prior to you taking over as Superintendent, however, while I have tried to bring them to the attention of Northland, I have received no response or acknowledgement. In August 2009 I moved with my fiancee and 3 children to Janvier and moved into board-supplied housing (205 Northland Dr. Janvier, AB) During my short time in Janvier we experienced no end of issues with the house. The most important of which was the broken sewage system which resulted in raw sewage leaking from the pipes into our basement. Perhaps Northland thinks it is acceptable for a family of 5 to live in these conditions but I certainly don't. This was of great concern because not only did the children have their play area down there but our water pump was also a problem with the result that for a period of 6 weeks we had no water at our house. I had to resort to filling jerry cans at the school for water and we had to pick up a water cooler in Fort McMurray. This was of great concern as our youngest was only 7 months old at the time and obviously still in diapers. We had to resort to using either a neighbor's washer and dryer for laundry rather than our own and had to bathe our 7 month month old in a sink at the school which I find completely ridiculous. While the problem was eventually fixed, I think waiting over a month is a bit extreme. I brought my concerns to my principal at the time, John Proctor, but getting any sort of action or guidance out of this incompetent was impossible. I phoned maintenance countless times and could either never reach them or was told the problem was being looked into. I also emailed then Superintendent Dr. de Paola directly about this issue and never received a response or even acknowledgement of the email. Indeed, during my first week in Janvier, a colleague told me the housing unit had sat vacant for a couple years and she thought it had been condemned. She told me further that at some point the basement had flooded and indeed a watermark was clearly visible on the furnace. My fiancee strongly suspected mold in the basement as a result. The children, whose health had always been excellent seemed to suffer a lot of headaches and nose bleeds after playing in the basement. When my fiancee's mother visited that winter from Ontario we had her set up in the basement on our sectional couch and after a couple of nights she complained regularly of headaches and problems breathing. In February 2010, while at a conference in Edmonton, I received a frantic email and phone call from my fiancee telling me the furnace wasn't working and she was unable to get hold of maintenance or my principal. Fortunately, a friend of my mine was able to use a contact in Fort McMurray to help set up temporary accommodations for them there at his own personal expense. In addition, the dryer also died on us and needed to be replaced and the freezer also went resulting in the spoiling of a good deal of food. All this begs the following questions...Is housing regularly inspected by Northland School Division? Why would the school board provide a house for a family so poorly maintained that I would hesitate to keep a dog in it? When I brought my concerns with the house forward , why were they so slowly addressed? Is Northland so desperate to fill teaching positions that they will put them in any structure so long as it has four walls and a roof? I am writing to you as a last resort, as I am tired of this issue. It has been discussed a great deal in my family and they are concerned about the conditions we experienced there. Why does Ms. Willier [the current assistant superintendent, phone 780-624-2060 x6158] not acknowledge there is a problem here as she was with the board during my time there? Is she incompetent or does she simply not care? While she may want to throw me under the bus, I must firmly draw the line where my family's health and welfare are involved. Your maintenance logs for the property, if indeed they even exist, will clearly show there were many issues with this property. Please, acknowledge there is an issue here an answer some basic questions for me, I beg of you. I'm at the end of my patience with this issue. Frankly, if I don't get some actions on this matter, I have no qualms with posting photos I've taken on my blog. I'm not asking to rebuild a house from the ground up but rather some acknowledgement that a problem exists, that action wasn't taken and that something will actually be done about it so that another individual, couple or young family does not have to suffer through the nightmare we certainly did while working for your school board. Regards, Darcy Steele A couple days went by and I got no response. Then a week. Well, it's summer I figured. I'm sure she was busy with interviews trying fill the positions vacated by fleeing teachers. (Northlands has one of the highest staff turn over rates in the province.) Not to be put off, I emailed the woman again with a gentle reminder, dated July 11. I was pretty steamed but somehow kept it civil. Dear Ms. Barrett, Again, I respectfully submit my last email correspondence to you in hopes that it may have been missed due to a heavy workload. I eagerly await your response. Regards, Darcy Steele And finally success!! A mere three days later, on Saturday, July 14, I got a response back. Wow! And on a Saturday too!....bureaucrats work weekends?! Perhaps there's hope after all.....but no. After a mere 2 and a half years of delays, I received the following one-sentence response....from an IPhone... I have noted your concerns and reviewed them with our housing department. Wow! Thanks. Now, its my experience that such bureaucrats are shy creatures. They loathe the limelight and would much prefer the familiar environs of their offices than the bump and grind of reality. However, I have found if you speak persistently in slow, simple language, it is possible to coax them out. With this in mind, I emailed back a very easy to understand response.... And? Now, I'm hoping to get more than a one-sentence response. Because I'm sure it would be uber-embarrassing for Northlands to have the photos I am in possession of wind up on a lawyers desk or in the media.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I admire your persistance! I have had personal experiences of utter frustration and humiliation in the pursuit of engaging with our Doctor Donna Barrett and as I like to call him, 'Our Last Indian Agent' Dr.Colin Kelly. Numerous emails were ignored as well as countless phone voicemail messages. It wasn't until the media got involved didnthey decide to'engage' with me. As I sat at their board table and read my letter and recalled my experiences I called them on their famous word 'engagement'; for them they use the word as a blanket, it has become their safety word and in their bubble they like to think they engage with local communities to serve the diverse needs of each school and child of Northland. But nothing can be further from the truth; the only engagement I see is a hostile, war on words, fight. They do not come to communities in a respectful manner. They show up unannounced and sneak in with their hidden agenda and with no notice to the local school board. It has been a long 4 years since Hancock disolved the corporate board and silenced each community that it served. Local school boards can only make recommendations and wait for the good doctors' approval. Meanwhile NSD results are poor and Our children failing in this top heavy system.

Jeff said...

If it's any consolation (and I know it's not), this kind of bureaucratic indifference is commonplace in the North, from what I've experienced. I guess most people don't bother complaining, which is also ridiculous. How can these people/corporations not be held accountable for their actions?

Thank goodness we live in an era of social media. Between Twitter and Facebook, it is now much easier to shame a company than it was ten years ago. My wife and I have had issues with organizations before, and a timely post on FB or Twitter can make all the difference. In this case, I would post those photos everywhere you can. Sometimes, public exposure is the only way to make people respond the way they should. Good luck to you on this - I hope it ends positively.

Anonymous said...

Our last Indian Agent, Colin Kelly, what an apt description for someone in over his head.

Anonymous said...

Our last Indian Agent, Colin Kelly, what an apt description for someone in over his head.

enchantedground said...

As a prospective northern teacher with a soon-to-be family, I am so appreciative that you decided to post about this openly and honestly! I have heard so many "horror stories" from people who have taught in northern schools or who have known people who have. However, northern schools are clearly not all the same and I am sure not all boards abuse their teachers like this. The ones that do should absolutely be publicly called out and shamed until something is done.

Way Way Up said...

Hi enchantedground....my pleasure. Teaching in the north can be a wonderful experience but as you say yourself some are better than others. I try to keep up with events at Northland School Division the best I can. I know that the board has been under 3rd party management since January 2010 and continues to be to this day.

Anonymous said...

My husband recently accepted a teaching position with Northland and we were just recently given notice that teacher housing will be available.
We are choosing the housing so he doesn't have to do the commute from our condo in fort mcmurray during the winter months.
Hopefully our experience in teacher housing will be a better one vs the one you went through ��

Way Way Up said...

I hope so too.