School trustee hopefuls field questions on 21st century learning

Fraser Cascade trustee hopefuls write about how they view today's clasroom

When voters go to the civic election polls on November 19, they’ll be asked to cast a ballot for school board trustees as well.

School District 78 has a board of seven trustees, three who serve Agassiz-Harrison, three who serve Hope and one who serves the Canyon region.

In Agassiz and Harrison, there are four candidates running for the three seats. Incumbents Al Fraser, Marilyn Warren and Ron Johnstone, as well as past trustee Rose Tustian.

The Observer sent each of the three Agassiz-Harrison candidate the same three questions, and each candidate has responded.


Question 1:

1) Parents are told about the dangers of too much screen time for their children, yet schools are bringing more and more technology into the classroom. What can be done to monitor students’ use of computers and items such as ipods in their classroom?

Al Fraser:

I share parental concern about the issue of face time and the amount of technology in schools. When I retired from teaching, computers were beyond the novelty stage but used mainly by teachers with limited student access. Today computers are as important as photo copiers were in my day. Today we don’t just talk about computers but it is how technology in general changes the way learning takes place. Between home & school, children are exposed to electronic games, phones, Smart Boards, ipods, ipads, wireless networks, and more. Parental concerns & Board of Education’s concerns, are not just the face time issue but cumulative effect on child development, particularly young brains that are exposed to electronic emissions.  Then there is the misuse of social media, particularly cyber bullying and students putting personal information online. The dangers of these practices need to be taught including that this is on the public domain forever.


Ron Johnstone:

Too much of anything can be unhealthy – this is certainly true of screen time use by children. There is, however, a great difference between the engaging educational application of screen technology (as learning and information delivery tools) and non-educational entertainment purposes (video gaming and passive TV interaction). The use of screen technology in schools is relevant to our children and is important for their personal development, so long as it always has an educational purpose. I have seen first hand how the use of smart boards in the classroom can be a powerful tool for engaging children in their learning. In today’s world it is critical that our children become technologically literate and understand the ethics surrounding its use. The Ministry of Education has just released the BC Education Plan. An important part of the plan is about improving parental engagement in our schools. I believe that good communication between the classroom teacher and the parent(s) is important in all aspects of development including the use of technology. This collaborative approach will provide opportunities for parents to make informed decisions.


Rose Tustian:

Screen time is a topic where educators need to engage parents; working together to help support students. Current “screen time” guidelines for children 5-17yrs suggest 2 hours of recreational screen time per day. This screen time includes TV, computer and video games; they are linked to obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance and violence. Not all screen time is bad and combined with levels physical activity it may well compensate for the effects on health.

Computers in schools are beneficial learning tools and life lines to some of our most challenged students. Laptops have been introduced in many school districts with improved educational results particularly in reading and math.

Computer usage must be quality and not quantity; they must be placed in the right hands and used in the right ways.


Marilyn Warren:

Technology, as used in the classroom, is for the purposes of research, learning and practice.  It is important we remember it is a tool which enhances a student’s learning experience.  With the focus on individual learning, it will become even more important.  While each school has developed it’s own policy re: cell phones in the classroom, we have ongoing training in internet safety for students and staff.


Question 2:

There seems to be a growing trend around the province in restructuring the traditional school year. How would you restructure the school year in Fraser Cascade, and what would be the benefits of that?



The short answer is that I would work with my fellow Trustees, Administrative staff and our education partners (parents, First Nations, support staff, teachers) to find a consensus on any restructuring of the school year. My personal choice would be some form of the year-round-school which has shorter periods of time between breaks. Queensland, Australia’s school calendar has four 10 week teaching segments divided by four two week breaks with a four week summer break. The major reasons I would choose this calendar is that it is better pacing of the school year which is less stressful for both teachers and students and that the shorter length of time between ten week segments fosters learning retention (particularly true of younger students). The only changes in recent years to our local school calendar have been the four day week in Boston Bar Elementary Secondary and the extension of the Winter break by a second week. Both changes were driven by cost pressures from declining enrollment and the Ministry of Education requirement to cut costs. New legislation could help bring many other  changes such as later start times for secondary schools & that increasingly more learning can be done outside of the traditional classroom.



dynamics in every school district are very different, and what works in one school community may not necessarily work in another. Currently there is no discussion taking place about restructuring the traditional school calendar in our district. I am aware that there has been a growing interest in the area of an alternate or “balanced”  (year round) calendar in other districts and that this type of restructuring has taken place in a handful of schools in the province. Local community input would be beneficial and necessary to gain an understanding of the real value of any proposed changes. I am always open minded and would be willing to consider the pros and cons of restructuring the traditional school calendar while always keeping the needs of students at the forefront of my decision making.


School Districts have become accustomed to an education calendar developed in the 1800’s when students were required to help their parents on the farm. Many schools districts have adjusted the traditional calendar, the most popular is adding minutes to the day for longer breaks at Christmas or spring. Research has found this does not increase student learning.

A balanced school calendar gives even distribution of instructional days and school breaks over a period of twelve months. Typically this is done using a rotation of three months of school followed by a one month break or three weeks at Christmas and in spring, followed by six weeks in the summer. Advantages of this system include improved student achievement, less absenteeism by both students and teachers, reduced student drop out rate, improved student attendance, continuous education which reduces the amount of material students forget over the extended summer vacation, special needs and at risk learners have less disruption to routines, motivation/engagement is increased, students can make up a course; get remediation or enrichment during their vacation time through intersession classes, less student and teacher “burn out”, children get bored with two months off school in summer.

There are opposing views on this topic and both views must be considered when evaluating the balanced school calendar. This is done by engaging parents, our community and educational partners.



We have lengthened Spring Break.  We have also gone to a 4 day week in Boston Bar.  There is no plan to do the same thing at any of our other schools.  There are a couple of real problems with changing the school year: Problems/costs of day care for parents and loss of pay for our hourly paid staff.  The Board has no appetite for more changes.


3) Describe the ideal classroom setting for today’s child.



The ideal classroom setting for today’s child is a place of safety, a place led by a caring and competent teacher; a place well resourced with the learning tools of the day; where each child’s unique learning style is known and used to teach him or her; where parents are able to engage in their child’s learning;  where a student’s special needs are known and dealt with; where each child has a personalized learning program; a place where a child can develop as a lifelong learner;  where everyone can feel accepted; where a student can find that something he or she does better than anyone else; a place where a child can fail without stigma and succeed beyond their wildest dreams. Most of this is true of education from any time in recent history. Add to this list a child who comes to school well fed, well rested, clean and loved and you have all the ingredients of success.



A classroom setting should be a place where each child’s unique learning style is understood, supported and nurtured. A positive classroom setting should allow children to discover their passions, and provide them with the tools necessary for them to succeed. Children should have a sense of belonging and well being in their classroom.  It needs to be a place where they can build their self confidence and learn to collaborate and cooperate with others while learning the importance of respect as they develop valuable social and life skills. Finally, of great importance, the classroom setting has to be a place where they can become proficient in the essential core subjects of reading, writing, and mathematics.



3. Student learning is optimized when they feel comfortable in their classroom environment. Today’s classrooms are filled with students who have a variety of learning differences. For some, factors such as lighting, colour, music, separate areas for various activities, opportunity for movement, walls that are visually appealing and structure are contributing factors for optimal learning.

Some students learn best when they can collaborate with their peers, are actively involved in the learning process are offered flexibility and creativity. Ideal classroom settings don’t all look the same, but they generally have many of the same elements. Combine these with teachers who are excited about what they are teaching and you have a learning environment that nurtures the whole child – socially, emotionally and academically.



Personally, I think the structure of desks in a row, one behind the other needs to change.  Many teachers are going to tables-in-the-round.  It is more inclusive of all children, especially with the ministry going to Individual learning.  Many schools have already made this change.  Technology, as a tool, needs to be more integrated into the classroom.