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Education Minister Dave Hancock says he appointed an official trustee to the Northland School Division because the education of students is suffering. ((CBC))

Alberta's education minister has dismissed the 23-member board of the Northland School Division and appointed an official trustee over worries about student achievement results and staff turnover.

The school division encompasses most of northern Alberta and provides education to 2,885 students in 23 schools.

"I have given this course of action careful and serious consideration, and am disappointed at having to enforce this section of the School Act," said Dave Hancock in a release.

"The bottom line is that the education of students is suffering and we can't risk losing a generation of young people."

Government documents indicate that only 19.6 per cent of Northland students complete high school within three years of entering Grade 10. The provincial average is 70.7 per cent.

The student average on provincial achievement tests is 40.4 per cent in Northlands division, compared to 76.8 per cent across the rest of Alberta.

'We need a seismic shift'

"This is not about the individual members of the boards," Hancock said, adding they will remain members of local school committees to which they've been elected.

"[What] I had to determine is, do we continue to work at an incremental level or do we need a seismic shift? And I think we need a seismic shift."

A $12.5-million school in Peavine was completed last April but remains empty, Hancock said.

"It distresses me. Actually, it angers me," he said, noting that some students are still taking classes in the old school that was to be replaced because of health and safety concerns.

"The school board and the Metis settlement cannot get their act together and agree on the ownership and the operation of the school," Hancock said. "It's unacceptable."

The staff turnover in the Northlands School Division is also a worry, with the four-year teacher retention rate being about half the level it is in the rest of the province.

"Of the 23 principals, 14 this year are brand new to the division," Hancock said.

Decision 'slap in the face'

The decision to dismiss the board is a "slap in the face" for native communities, said Cheryl Wogan, who's been a board member for 12 years.

"They are very proud of our aboriginal school division and the fact that it's run by aboriginals for aboriginals. We are 98 per cent aboriginal and we had no warning of this."

Wogan, who lives in Red Earth Creek, said schools throughout the district struggle to get parents to send their children to school.

Hancock has also appointed a three-member team to examine the way the school division has been run. The team will have up to six months to come up with recommendations.