- February 17, 2022
The Attack of Liberal-Conservative Authorities on the Polish School in Senieji Trakai
The school is to remain as it is today!
The school in Senieji Trakai must be preserved as a primary educational institution for national minorities. It cannot be reorganized or closed—this is the firm position of Andrzej Stelmachowski Elementary School community in Senieji Trakai, which met with the Trakai district local government representatives on February 10.
The meeting with the school community was attended by Andrius Šatevičius, mayor of Trakai district; vice-mayor Jonas Kietavičius; director of Trakai district administration Jolanta Abucevičienė; deputy director Agata Mankeliūnienė; and the mayor’s adviser Evelina Kislych-Šochienė. The meeting was also attended by local councilors of Trakai district Maria Pucz, Teresa Sołowiowa, and Tadeusz Tuczkowski—on behalf of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Union, as well as the president of the Trakai District branch of an Association of Poles in Lithuania—Jarosław Narkiewicz, advisor to the MP of the Republic of Lithuania.
The meeting with the community of the Polish School in Senieji Trakai was initiated by the district government, and the primary purpose of the high guests’ visit to the educational institution, which has been teaching children and youth in their native Polish language in this village of the Trakai district for more than 100 years, was to discuss its vision of new government regulations.
Quality and diversity
On December 22, 2021, the Polish government passed a resolution “On the approval of an amendment to the conditions for establishing a network of schools providing formal education,” the essence of which is the reorganization of the school network. The changes, which are to take place in schools across the country starting from the next school year, are in a way connected with the start of the national program “Millennium Schools.” The program was prepared by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sports of Lithuania.
“The goal of the ‘Millennium Schools’ program is to consistently renew all schools in Lithuania by 2030 so that they become open to the diversity of children and their needs and for children to have equal conditions for learning. The goal is to minimize disparities in student achievement and create quality conditions for education in each local government,” the Ministry of Education outlines the plan.
The information about the above-mentioned resolution reached the Polish school in the Trakai district already in the last days of last year in the form of the mayor’s decree on establishing a special commission, which immediately got down to implementing the document.
Two visions of the same school
As reported by Elwira Lavrukaitienė, a pre-school teacher and deputy director of Andrzej Stelmachowski Elementary School in Senieji Trakai, the school administration had to present to the local government a vision of the school for the next school years (2022-2026) already in January.
“We presented our vision after a meeting of the School Council. At the meeting, we decided that our school should retain its current status, which is to remain a national minority elementary school, providing education at the pre-school, early school, elementary and primary levels,” the deputy director stressed.
Meanwhile, the vision of the Polish school in Senieji Trakai from the perspective of the local government, presented by Mayor Šatevičius and alternately praised by the deputy mayor and the director of administration, is as follows: From the new school year, grades 9-10 will be moved to Trakai Middle School and the Andrzej Stelmachowski Primary School in Senieji Trakai will become a branch of the Trakai educational institution. Another option proposed by the district authorities is to merge the Polish elementary school in Senieji Trakai with the Kiejstut elementary school in the same village. However, as the mayor himself generously pointed out, “the first option would probably be more acceptable…”.
In the opinion of the local government clerks, the reorganization of the school will allow ensuring high quality of teaching and, above all, to save money and get investment funds for the development of education in the region.
“We are looking at overall numbers and looking for the most optimal option,” Šatevičius stated.
The budget of the “Millennium Schools” program is 210 million Euros, and the Trakai government expects to raise 2.5 million from it. It is known that the specific support will depend on the value of the planned progress and the number of students in the local government.
According to Narkiewicz, the largest amount that Trakai officials could count on is about 400 thousand Euros. So, it is too meager a sum to make such immense sacrifices!
Juggling with arguments
Representatives of the school community note that the ministerial plans are a good cover for the current liberal-conservative coalition in the local government of the Trakai district to crack down on Polish education in the region and diminish the role of the well-functioning community of local Poles. They fear that the proposals of the local government may lead to the gradual dismantling of the school and, in the long run—even to assimilation.
According to the December resolution of the government, on which the local authorities base their proposals, starting from September 1 of this year, primary schools, junior high schools, high schools in which according to the pre-school, early school, and general education curriculum 60 or fewer students study, should be reorganized or closed, except for special schools and special education centers. Further points of the resolution provide, among others, that from the 2022-2023 school year, grades 5-8 will not be combined. Also, grades 9-10 (I-II middle school grades) will not be combined, and the smallest number of students in combined grades 1-4 and 5-10 must be no smaller than 8 students, in middle schools—no smaller than 12 students. Exceptionally, classes may be smaller in general education schools where teaching is conducted in national minority languages as well as in schools with Lithuanian language if these schools are located on the territory of Vilnius, Šalčininkai, and Neringa regions.
According to the guests of the self-government, the Trakai district does not have any special status, so the schools must be reorganized in the same way as the schools of the whole country.
“Current authorities of the local government, to satisfy the central authority, are tangled in arguments that are not only unreliable but also false. Today parents could see that it is trying to manipulate arguments that are supposedly forced to take such a step. We do not agree with it at all, because the exceptions regarding the formation of a school network apply to all national minority schools, including the elementary school in Senieji Trakai and the Longin Komołowski Middle School in Polukun, which they also want to reorganize,” Narkiewicz explained after the meeting.
“There are no formal grounds to reorganize our school. We currently have 80 students. Next school year, when 11 students of the first grade and 9 of the pre-school will be added, we will have 85 students altogether. We have even had applications from parents of two-year-olds to ensure that their children will have places at our school in the future. We also don’t understand what the municipality is doing,” Lavrukaitienė told reporters.
Outrage and consternation
The community of the historic school in Senieji Trakai does not agree with the local government’s proposals and focuses its attention on other values that should be provided by an educational institution, which is also a source of native traditions, culture, and the formation of national awareness.
“Reorganization is terrible stress for children! Here they learn and grow up as in one family. Why doesn’t anyone think about children? They only count money; they don’t care about anything else! Allegedly millions are in their heads…”, one mother repeated during a meeting with district authorities.
“For us, parents, the quality of education is, above all, the welfare of our children, the possibility of learning in their mother tongue, a safe environment for the emotional and physical development of our children, a guarantee of achieving excellent results in learning, which will ensure the acquisition of basic knowledge and further prospects for education. These are the fundamental values that have determined our choice of this particular school. We want our children to continue their education there and graduate without any changes,” expressed the opinion of parents Agnieszka Rynkiewicz, mother of a 4th-grade student.
“The local government’s proposals are unacceptable. Interestingly, in the hall in front of the gathered parents sat young officials, mothers, a young mayor father… And if you ask them whether it matters to them in which class their child learns: 10-person or 30-person?… After completing this elementary school, it was much easier for my older daughter to continue her education at the Trakai Middle School. First of all, she had excellent basics, and secondly, she could loosen up a bit there. At the Trakai school, classes are not very large, so every student is noticed, questioned by the teacher, and has to prepare for class. There is no chance to loosen up here. All students participate in extracurricular activities here, not only the brightest ones. No one is left out,” stressed Tadeusz Baranowski, father of a former and current student at the school in Stari Trakai, in an interview with the Weekly Magazine.
Irena Orłowa, a Polish language teacher, makes no secret that the current situation has caused a lot of anxiety and nerves. For all these years, the school management, headed by Romuald Grzybowski, teachers, and parents have built this school brick by brick, creating one united family. Thanks mainly to Poland – the Motherland – the school has been expanded and equipped with the best equipment. It is cozy, safe, and well maintained. It can also be proud of its excellent results not only in sports, for which it is famous throughout the country and beyond its borders, but above all of the superb quality of teaching. Andrzej Stelmachowski Elementary School is among the best elementary school in Lithuania. This has been repeatedly shown in the national ranking of “Reitingai” schools and annual competitions organized by the Polish Educational Society.
“The plans of the local government sadden me because my whole family studied in this school. After finishing primary school, I continued my education in another school, but nowhere was as good as here. The learning is of a high standard at our school, and there is a great family atmosphere. Thanks to this school, I have achieved a lot in sports and developed musically. Today I study nursing at Vilnius University Medical Faculty free of charge. I’m sure that my family school gave me a good foundation,” Ewelina Gryniewicz reflected.
“It’s a pity that there wasn’t enough time. I would like to ask the local authorities how they are going to ensure the quality of education by taking two classes away from our school in Senieji Trakai,” asks Kamila Edyta Fominowa, a student at Vilnius University Law Faculty.
The two-hour emotional discussion did not bring a breakthrough, and each side left the room with their own opinion. But the mayor had a chance to hear views on possible changes, as he expected. Whether these opinions appealed to him and his companions was another matter. With the whole community behind it, the school administration, and politicians defending the interests of Polish education in Lithuania, are not going to give up their arms and fight to the end. If their legitimate expectations are ignored, they will organize parental committees to defend the school and strike.
The fate of the Polish school in Senieji Trakai will be decided at a meeting of the Trakai District Self-Government Council. A similar discussion is expected to soon occur at the Longin Komołowski Middle School in Polukhin.
Photo: there are no formal grounds to reorganize such a school, needed by the local community.
Photo: school FB
Translated by Karolina Glaubitt within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.