SD78 trustee candidates spoke with audience members after the all-candidates session at Agassiz Elementary Secondary School on Monday night. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

Agassiz Harrison school trustee candidates talk SOGI, spending and more

Final all-candidates meeting sees trustee-hopefuls taking the hot seat

Editor’s note: The printed edition of this story in the Oct. 18 edition of the Observer included incorrect information. Trustee Brittany Ekelund’s children attend school in a district outside of SD78 Fraser Cascade.

The final all-candidates meeting Monday night had School District 78 Fraser Cascade (SD78) trustee-hopefuls answering questions about spending, SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) and more.

Hosted by the Fraser Cascade Teacher’s Association (FCTA) and the District Parent and Advisory Council (DPAC) at Agassiz Elementary Secondary School, candidates sat before an almost full library of parents and community members to talk about their goals for the board.

Almost all candidates were in attendance except for Emma Potts, a recent graduate from the Agassiz Centre for Education (ACE) and one of two young candidates in the race.

The other is Frances Oliver, also a recent ACE graduate. “I’m hoping to bring a youth perspective to the board,” she said. “And bring our education system further into the future.”

Candidate Brittany Ekelund has school-aged children and works for the District of Hope.

“I have a vested interest in ensuring a safe and comfortable learning environment with equal opportunity for all students to learn.”

Ron Johnstone has been on the SD78 board for ten years. “I strongly believe we have a duty to the taxpayer to be fiscally responsible, use their dollars wisely and provide meaningful, effective, relevant programs for our students,” he said.

Wendy Colman Lawley has worked for over 20 years as an SD78 employee, including 17 years as a councillor at the alternate school and some time spent developing curriculum and writing grants.

“If you’re close enough to the students and you’re open minded you can hear what the students need and collaboratively we can work together to address those needs,” she said.

Marilyn Warren is an over 30-year Agassiz resident, self-described community activist and former trustee.

Lesley Ward has lived in Agassiz since 2001 and has been a volunteer with ACE students for the last seven years.

“It is my aim to become an active part of the Board of Trustees in order to ensure that every student in SD 78 is able to reach her or his full potential through the right application of resources, in a safe and inclusive environment.”

Read More: Q & A with SD78 trustee candidates

Engaging the community

Candidates were asked how they would help parents, guardians and community members to become supportive and engaged in education within the district.

Brittany Ekelund said the board needs to encourage students to come to board and committee meetings.

“We’re here for them, so I’d love to see more students come to these meetings…I’m going to do what I can to make sure we have more involvement.”

Frances Oliver said better advertising might be a good approach.

“I know social media is something we’re probably going to be shying away from in this new term, but I think getting the public news out that a meeting is happening…maybe fliers around town…just getting the word out.”

Ron Johnstone said the board needs to talk to everyone involved to get input.

“We need to get out to events…we need to really talk to students, talk to teachers, talk to parents and talk to community members…”

SOGI 123

Candidates were asked if they know what SOGI 123 is – a provincially introduced program that teaches students about sexual orientation and gender identity – and if they had read the resources provided on the website and believed them to be valuable.

All the candidates supported SOGI as a resource in SD78.

Oliver said she wished the resources were used and read even more.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions floating around right now about SOGI and how it will be impacting our kids,” she said. “Honestly, I can’t see a fault in something that is going to make our schools a safer place and prepare our kids to be better global citizens.”

Colman Lawley said she is confident that SD78 can use the materials well.

“It teaches respect, it teaches diversity, it teaches communication,” she said. “I know it’s a controversial issue but years ago in our schools, mental health was a controversial issue and actually once we kicked the doors down and started having those conversations, those were some of the best attended workshops…”

Lesley Ward said she stood wholeheartedly behind the concept of SOGI.

“The more education that people have, the more these young people are able to discuss openly, their feelings.”

If SD78 had five million dollars

It wasn’t from the Barenaked Ladies, but candidates were asked what they would do with $5 million if it was donated to SD78 from a fairy godmother. The catch? It had to be spent in 30 days.

Warren said every student would get a per capita grant.

“Those students in every building could decide what they want to do with that money,” she said, adding that a new building for ACE would also be a priority.

Colman Lawley said she would want to bring in more teachers and look at having a forum-style event that included Indigenous communities and brought in feedback from students and families.

After looking into immediate needs of each schools, Oliver said she would try to organize a life-changing event for students.

“Something our students could come to and be inspired by,” she said, mentioning the We for She event she attended as an ACE student. “I want them all to have that opportunity and what better way to do that than to have it right here in our own community.”

Ward said she would like to see every student have a laptop and printer in their homes.

Ekelund had a long list that included addressing aging infrastructure, creating after-school and lunch hour programming, recruitment of teachers, including specialized teachers. She also said the school board should anticipate growth as student numbers rise.

Read More: Election season in Agassiz, Harrison: What you need to know

For more information about the goals and motives of trustee candidates, see page 8-9. Voting takes place Oct. 20 between 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. District of Kent residents can cast their vote at the Agassiz Agricultural Hall, Harrison residents at Harrison Hot Springs Elementary.

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