Q & A with SD78 trustee candidates

Agassiz-Harrison’s trustee-hopefuls answer the Observer’s questions

Questions for School District 78 Fraser Cascade trustee candidates:

1. What experience do you have that will make you a good trustee for SD78?

2. What are the two most pressing issues facing SD78? How do you plan to address them? (be specific)

3. How do you plan to listen to parents and students about the issues they care about? (be specific)

4. The SD78 board has faced a number of controversies over its last term, including allegations in a letter to former education minister Mike Bernier alleging a “severely dysfunctional” board and requesting a special advisor to review SD78’s governance, two censures of a trustee one of which cost the school district $48,000 and allegations from the same trustee about bullying, a disrespectful workplace and a lack of transparency on the board. Given this, how do you plan to instill trust and build a positive workplace culture on the SD78 board?

5. What is your position on the implementation of SOGI in SD78 schools?

Lesley Ward

LESLEY WARD

1. I advocate for students fulfilling their potential through education. For the 19 years my children were in public school I played an active role in their education. I was elected for several terms as president of the local Parent’s Advisory Council and was representative at the Provincial level.

2. Encouraging students to stay in school, graduate and pursue post-secondary education; whether in university, entering a trade or by obtaining a certificate. Matching student’s interests with courses and encouraging them to pursue careers in those areas. The vast geographical area served is a challenge, It is a constant that cannot be changed. Thinking “outside the box” may produce solutions for students who require services outside their school area.

3. I will be available by telephone, email and in person to engage in respectful dialogue with parents and students. I will not engage in debate on social media.

4. I believe in moving forward with an honest, positive attitude. Respect for the school system, and the rules and regulations governing trustees; respect for the students, parents, administrators and Board is uppermost. I will keep confidences as required and will answer truthfully questions posed within the parameters give

5. Education is the key to preventing bullying and discrimination. Children need to be taught at an early age that not everyone is not the same. Whether it’s the colour of skin, ethnic origin, sexuality, or family dynamic; open, age appropriate dialogue will encourage students to respect diversity.

Marilyn Warren

1. I am a 30+ year resident of Agassiz. I worked for DND for 27 years as a computer technician. I have been a trustee for 9 years. I have had extensive education, both K-12 and university. I have held community, provincial and national offices. I currently hold RC Legion, Kilby, ACE and Chilliwack Lions offices I am part of the ACE community group.

2. In my opinion the most pressing issues are provincial funding over all and for specific groups, ie, handicapped ( we get less than half what is needed) and various testing, ie. Psychology, Psychiatry etc. as well as gifted funding.

3. I feel the school is a part of this community. Parents are well represented by PAC and DPAC but more can be done. We have many groups that can and should be integrated such as the elderly having regular visits such as the wheel chair walk by Kent school. School groups should continue to tour RC Legion an seniors homes but they can be made part of the curriculum.

4. This was caused by one trustee with a problem and it in no way should be looked at as a district problem. I have never experienced anything such as in my time as a trustee. It shows that more should be able to be done to remove a destructive trustee rather than give them leave and lawyers fees paid out of money allocated for students. We can use it as a teaching moment.

5. I agree that it is needed and I support it. Some may not agree with some parts but we need to provide a safe place in all our schools where every student feels safe.

Emma Potts

EMMA POTTS

1. I have attended mainstream and alternative schools throughout the districts and as a recent graduate I have the knowledge of this districts pros and cons. Having a fresh set of eyes will be valuable for SD78 because I will be capable of understanding the students and teachers needs.

2. District S78 has mental health problems and drug use within our students. Within society today negative mental health and drug use is much more common and sadly deadly. Our youth have resources, but I don’t believe they are accessible and welcoming to the youths eye. In order to face these issues we should look into our resources and figure out ways to encourage our youth to use them.

3. Getting input from students and parents is very important to me. Encouraging parents and students to attend board meetings, and grow connections with our trustees is a great first step. As a trustee I would make connections with students, and show them they do have a voice within the district.

4. I truly believe positivity and honesty is key in a workplace. We should be working together and acknowledging one another’s strengths in order to thrive in a work environment. Respecting each other’s opinions, and respectfully sharing our own opinions is a big step to a positive board. Being humble, remembering your place as a trustee, and understanding it is a workplace should be a priority.

5. It’s important to be taught how to react positively to sexual identities within people. SOGI in SD78 I believe can help stop bullying by teaching our students more about the subject. As more people are opening up to the concept of sexual orientations it’s important to address and teach this to our students.

Brittany Ekelund

BRITTANY EKELUND

1. As a parent of two school aged children I personally understand many of the struggles students face in our schools. I have university level training in both educational psychology as well as teaching practices. My work in local government includes reviewing bylaws, writing reports and meeting with community members.

2. The most apparent issue facing the School District actually lies at the Board level and that issue is ineffective communication between Board members and the community. In order to serve the District to the best of our ability, effective communication is imperative.

The second issue would be graduation numbers. We must ensure that students not only reach graduation but are set up for success on their path forward.

3. I am available to meet in person and reachable by other means of communication. I want to be clear that while there are procedures in place that must be followed for voicing concerns and solving problems, I am always available to meet and listen to students and parents.

4. This question speaks to my concern to the issue of ineffective communication. As School Trustee`s we are chosen leaders in the community. What kind of message are we sending to the parents, staff and students of this District if Bullying occurs at the Board table?

Effective communication and respect needs to be a number one priority moving forward.

5. I support all programming that gives educators and staff the tools and resources they need to assist and protect their students. This includes SOGI 123. Our District needs to be inclusive to all students.

Ron Johnstone

RON JOHNSTONE

1. I bring 10 years of experience, commitment, transparency, and a collaborative mindset to the trustee role. I am very proud to have been elected by my colleagues to serve as Board Chair for 3 of those years. Should I be elected once again I will fully commit to my work as a trustee in order to support initiatives that benefit our students.

2. First, improving graduation rates: The board must seek out programs and resources that are relevant and current for students so they will stay in school and be more engaged in learning. Secondly, teacher recruitment: It is critical that the board work with our partner groups to help develop a positive district culture to attract and retain excellent candidates for teaching positions in our schools.

3. I have attended nearly every district parent/student forum or student lead event over the past 10 years. This is one of the most important and enjoyable areas of being a trustee. I make a conscious effort to engage parents and students and include them in the process. I am always approachable and open to helping parents with issues affecting our students.

4. I have served on the Board for 10 years and I have a strong reputation for being a fair minded person who continually puts our students first. I have attended hundreds of publicly held meetings and I have always been considerate, respectful and collaborative with others. As a team player, I will continue to behave in a manner that fosters positive relationships.

5. The Board has a legal and moral responsibility under BC’s Human Rights Code to provide safe and inclusive environments for all of our students. Our well-trained teaching professionals must have access to the best resources from many sources, including SOGI, to help support and protect our most vulnerable students.

Frances Oliver

FRANCES OLIVER

1. Having just graduated last year from an alternate high school in SD78, and now attending UFV I have a unique glance into all of our students needs present and future. I have volunteered Kent Elementary giving me a passion for our younger students success as well.

2. That’s a hard question to answer with so few words. I would say not to any one persons fault a major issue is a lack of general knowledge about what goes on within the board and district. I would very much like to make this information more easily accessible for parents and students. I would like to increase student involvement whenever possible, as well as make meetings easier to access for the general public.

3. There are specific procedures in place to guarantee that parents and students are listened to. Parents often feel unheard as do students, but given access to the proper channels they can “raise the volume” and get results. I plan to make these procedures more easily understood and available.

4. We tell students that bullying is wrong and teach global citizenship as it should be taught in all grades. There is no arguing the benefits of this, and when the students look to our board it is necessary that they see those same values in action. Bullying at any age is unacceptable, and when you are in a position that children are looking up to it is especially awful. I plan to be a leader by example. I try to show professionalism and kindness in every way that I can find to do so and if elected I will continue to do so and have faith that the rest of the board will do so as well.

5. I believe that SOGI being used as resource can only benefit students. Unsurprisingly 64% of LGBTQ+ children say that they have felt unsafe at school. Safety and a comfortable learning environment are two of the most important things that we can give to our kids.There is a lot of misunderstandings surrounding SOGI. If you seek greater clarity on what SOGI is or want to know more about my stance please feel free to reach out to me or visit the website www.sogieducation.org

Wendy Colman Lawley

WENDY COLMAN LAWLEY

1. I have over twenty years of experience as an educator in a variety of roles, working extensively with communities. As a collaborative team player, working with students, parents, educators and community partners has given me the opportunity to gain valuable understanding regarding the needs of students and communities.

2. I believe it is the responsibility of the School District to provide relevant engaging and effective learning opportunities for students. The goal is to develop responsible, independent, resilient, competent, socially responsible citizens through appropriate academic, career, and social programs with our education partners. It is our responsibility to respond to the ever-changing needs and requirements in today’s society to increase knowledge, opportunities, and individual capacity for all students.

3. As a trustee, I will listen to the community members and guide them through processes and opportunities to ensure their issues are addressed. As such I would be involve involved in reporting back to the communities as a board utilizing policy, transparency, and accountability to the community members I serve.

4. I believe that utilizing professionalism, respect, understanding, policy, and listening will facilitate and promote a highly effective School Board. Collaboration and transparency, while acting in the Best Interest of the children in our School District will ensure the atmosphere of inclusion, empowerment, and transparency increasing public trust.

5. SOGI Curriculum is about creating a space for dialogue around diversity, respect, awareness and understanding that each child is unique bringing different experiences and opportunities to the learning communities. Increased understanding as outlined in the Human Rights Commission ensures children are provided safe, constructive, supportive opportunities for learning.

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