With the 2018 municipal election approaching, school trustee candidates for Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools had the chance to speak about their views on education Thursday night.
The Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association and Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Nanaimo-Ladysmith local hosted an all-candidates’ forum with 19 of 20 candidates in attendance.
From 2002-2016, Nanaimo Ladysmith school district cut programs and services 14 out of 15 times and one of the questions asked what trustees would do in the event of future budget shortfalls.
“If it’s another situation where we’re looking at cuts, I think 14 out of 15 has been long enough,” said Charlene McKay, candidate and district parent advisory council past-president. “We need to be more creative with the unrestricted surplus that we currently have and make some creative decisions and go from there. I don’t think any further cuts are really needed … We have the professional people that can provide us with the information and some data and then we can collectively, as a board, make a decision that is best for the kids.”
Making cuts is hard to do, said candidate and former trustee TerryLynn Saunders.
“I believe that we need to get as much information as possible, and that just doesn’t mean from our senior management team, that means from every single employee group, it means from all of our parents,” said Saunders. “You need to get as much information as you can and also get what’s going to happen if you make this cut because often we hear that, ‘Well, it’s not going to make that much difference’ …. I want to hear from you, I want to know before I make a decision.”
A question was posed on how to improve programming the district has in place for students with learning disabilities.
“I think that we are going in the right direction for supports for exceptional children,” said candidate and former trustee Bill Bard. “We have a mindset of pulling a child out and putting them into a resource room and I think that we need to take that child and push them in and we now have classrooms that are more open, more collaboration going on with students at every level and we need to continue to work towards each child learning to their potential with kids with different potential.”
Jessica Stanley, a current North Vancouver school district trustee, used to work at a jail and the No. 1 diagnosis she saw, from a psychologist’s perspective, was learning disabilities.
“What we had was kids of average intelligence, had one little thing that prevented them from succeeding in our schools, so what happened? They felt stupid, they called themselves idiots and they gave up, so what we need to do is first off, we need to assess at a young age,” said Stanley. “The most common time/age we diagnose at is fourth grade; that is too late…
“Treatment of learning disabilities is quite easy and quite straightforward depending on the degree of severity.”
Reconciliation with indigenous peoples due to residential schools is a school board goal and candidates were asked what it meant to them.
“We needed to start talking about this in a direct way and develop a accountable actions in our school district in response to the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s] calls to action,” said Stephanie Higginson, current trustee. “I am being mentored by incredible knowledge keepers and elders in the lessons and languages of the land that we live on and I take that seriously and let that inform and guide my decisions.”
Lisa Marie Barron, a former employee of the district and parent said it should be a priority for everybody and more work needs to be done.
“Our low aboriginal graduation rate of 52 per cent speaks to just this,” said Barron. “There are many decisions that need to be made moving forward to ensure that we are providing an environment of success for our indigenous students. I believe that by taking into account ways in which we can improve an environment of success for our indigenous students, we are benefiting all students and I feel that it is a necessity within our school system that this is a priority moving forward for all of us.”
“The next question is a yes or no question. Get your coded cards ready. Educators want a caring and inclusive environment that is safe for all children, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Teachers support the SOGI 123 curriculum, do you?”
There was a yes or no question around sexual orientation and gender identity inclusive policy: “Educators want a caring and inclusive environment that is safe for all children, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Teachers support the SOGI 123 curriculum, do you?” Jennifer Clarke and Matt Szeler were the only candidates to indicate no.
(NOTE: An earlier version of this article suggested the two candidates were not in support of an initiative for a sexual orientation and gender identity inclusive policy. One of the candidates wished for clarification, stressing the distinction between policy and curriculum.)