Grades 5-9 in the works at FDFN

by Derek Cornet

Plans are in the works for an expansion of Kopahawakenum Elementary School on Flying Dust First Nation.

The band will receive close to $4.1 million from the federal government to build six new classrooms at the school. The money comes after a 2014 budget promise to spend $500 million at on-reserve schools over seven years. Flying Dust, along with 12 other First Nations, will benefit from the fund.

Councillor Richard Derocher has taken the lead on the project and said no timeline is in place yet because the process has just begun. He noted, adding five more grades to the pre-existing Kindergarten to Grade 4 structure will ultimately give the band tighter control over the education of its students.

“We have had our own school since 2002 and this will be another part of growing,” Derocher remarked. “Our past and present students say they feel at home going to school on the First Nation.”

While money for the endeavour was only recently announced, Derocher noted the band has been working for several years on securing funding for the addition. He said a lot of groundwork was done in the previous two years under the leadership of former chief Robert Merasty, adding the current council also wants to see the project succeed.

Chief Richard Gladue commended the work of the previous leadership noting many discussions, meetings and planning had to take place. He also said, even though fewer band students will be attending Northwest School Division schools in the future, Flying Dust wishes to maintain a good working relationship between the two groups.

“We will always have a tuition agreement with the school division for Grades 10-12, so it won’t be anything different,” Gladue said. “Just fewer students.”

Gladue also echoed Durocher’s comments the band will have greater control over the money it’s allocated for education. Gladue said the government currently doesn’t give the band enough money to cover the bill the NWSD charges for each student. The move of students will eventually see the band’s total bill with the division reduced.

Gladue went on to say a project team will be supervising the expansion as plans move forward. The team will study preliminary designs and engineer reports before any shovels hit the ground. While work on the addition could begin as early as this fall, construction shouldn’t be delayed past spring of 2016 if everything goes as planned.

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