Nunavut principal receives one of Canada’s top awards
"We need to do more with our culture in our schools"
A Rankin Inlet educator and champion of the Inuktitut language has been selected as one of Canada’s top principals.
Sarah Ayaruak, principal of Leo Ussak Elementary School in Rankin Inlet, never thought she’d win such an award, but says the recognition comes down to her work promoting Inuit culture and language.
“It’s very important,” Ayaruak said from her home in Rankin Inlet.
“Although we are losing our language, the majority of students who come to school do not speak the language,” Ayaruak said, something she’s dedicated to change.
Canada’s Outstanding Principal awards are given out annually by the Learning Partnership, a charitable organization that tries to advance publicly-funded education in Canada. Ayaruak was one of 39 recipients this year.
Recognition is given to principals “who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in their schools and community” and are “to be recognized nationally as exemplary educators.”
Ayaruak will fly to Toronto at the end of February for the awards gala.
Rod Thompson, director of executive leadership for the program, said only one teacher from Nunavut was nominated for the award.
And every year at least one teacher from each province and territory wins an award in the representation-by-population system.
Nominators must fill out and submit several forms, references and testimonials before a panel of judges pick winners.
“It is a fairly significant commitment of time to go through the nomination process,” Thompson said.
“So you obviously have to put your efforts towards those who are at the top of the heap. And this year, that would be Sarah,” he said.
Nunavut’s education minister, Paul Quassa, praised Ayaruak’s achievement in a Jan. 30 Government of Nunavut press release.
“Sarah Ayaruak is a strong leader who has shared her vision with her staff, students and community in order to provide her students with learning opportunities that always support Inuit language, culture and academic excellence,” Quassa said.
One of the people who nominated Ayaruak for the award, Jesse Payne of Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik High School, also in Rankin Inlet, won Nunavut’s coveted spot in 2013.
Payne said Ayaruak’s work making Inuit culture a priority in school is a reason why she and Bev Hill, another Rankin Inlet principal, nominated her.
Ayaruak said she encourages staff, Inuit and non-Inuit to embrace Inuit culture.
“The things that I do always remind that we need to do more with our culture in our schools,” Ayaruak said.
Ayaruak began teaching as a student support assistant in the late 1980s in Rankin Inlet. In 1990 she took the teacher’s education program, and became an Inuktitut kindergarten teacher. She’s been a principal at Leo Ussak since 2001.
Ayaruak still teachers Inuktitut at the school, from kindergarten to Grade 4. She said each student has at least 30 minutes of Inuktitut training, three days a week.
“But I encourage them to communicate with their parents as much as they could. Even if you make a mistake, you learn from that mistake. It’s not too late to learn anything,” she said.
Ultimately Ayaruak thinks the education system in Nunavut needs more bilingual educators like herself.
“We need more Inuit teachers in each community to promote the language and culture.”
While Ayaruak is in Toronto, she will also attend an executive leadership program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management between Feb. 23 and Feb. 27.
Ayaruak will now join more than 300 people within the National Academy of principals who have won the award over the past 10 years.