The 14 candidates running for school board trustee positions in the Comox Valley were asked the following question:
What is the most pressing issue facing our school district and how would you address it?
Here are their responses, listed in order of the community in which they are running.
Kat Hawksby (Area A) did not participate.
(* Denotes incumbent)
CITY OF COURTENAY CANDIDATES
I think addressing the post-pandemic learning gap and student mental health are among the most pressing issues facing our district. These are complex issues with many variables that are beyond the district’s control, but we can focus on the factors over which we do have some influence, including:
• Addressing the pandemic learning gap as both academic and mental health/confidence issues;
• District leadership/participation in community-wide dialogue about youth mental health;
• Messaging throughout the year that “normalizes” accessing mental health services, supports and self-care and about their availability in schools and the community;
• Continued leadership on issues affecting students’ futures – climate change, food security;
• Tackling (LGBTQ+, racial & sexual) discrimination through increased awareness-raising and development and/or enforcement of district policies which prohibit discrimination;
• Staffing decisions about counsellors, including the number hired, whether specialized training is required, and allocation between schools.
Sexual violence has also increased during the pandemic and significantly affects mental health. As a parent, I have advocated for specific district-wide measures to address sexual assault and harassment between students (including consent education for all students K-12), which I would continue to support and oversee if elected.
The board of education and school district will be faced with many challenges over the next few years, continued increased student enrollments at our neighbourhood schools, a climate crisis that has impacted all of us, high inflationary costs that impact our limited budgets, and the need for continued supports and resources for mental health/wellness services for students.
The most pressing issue facing the district will be ensuring that we have the necessary operational and capital funds from the government that would not only address the current challenges the district faces, but continue to support a strong, vibrant, innovative and inclusive learning community for all students.
I have a proven track record of speaking up and advocating for increased funding for our district that invests in critical educational programs and student supports, fully funds staffing and resources, all capital projects and costs (the successful increase in funding we received for the full seismic–retrofit upgrade at Vanier as an example).
I will continue to hold the ministry accountable, meeting with the minister and ministry staff when needed, and continue to work with both our local educational community and provincial partners to advocate for a fully funded equitable public education system.
The most pressing issue in public schools is academic achievement. When recruiters complain that the average high school graduate cannot pass a Grade 8 level mathematical skills test, it’s cause for concern. Public education is as Horace Mann, the pioneer of American education, famously stated “the great equalizer.” In other words, a good quality education is the tool by which individuals can lift themselves out of poverty and have social mobility. I am concerned that our students are being pushed along their education journey without acquiring the skills they require to either continue on to post-secondary studies or directly enter the workforce. There must be a renewed focus on academics, parental participation and transparency.
Inclusion. Gone are the days where ‘one size fits all.’ Not only does inclusion enhance every child’s academic performance and holistic well-being, but it also affirms their human dignity. That’s enough of a reason to make it a priority. Our schools must continue to evolve and embrace all students, inclusive of who they are today and who they will be tomorrow. This means learning about Canada’s colonial history and taking meaningful steps toward reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. It means evolving our curriculum and our classrooms to include children of all genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, and abilities, broadening our kids’ understanding of what it means to exist across these social positions.
If elected, I will champion equity and infuse compassion, kindness, and teamwork into all that the school board does. I will use my role as a school board Trustee to make space for historically marginalized and underrepresented voices in our community.
As a mom of two young kids and a federal and BC provincial economist over the past 15 years, I know very well that resources are finite and that we need to work smarter, not harder. Inclusion requires dedicated leadership, championing change, creativity, compassion, and impactful policies that directly support our kids. Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I am confident that I can lead our community to do better.
TOWN OF COMOX CANDIDATES
I believe there are many challenging issues in our school district, the main one being increased enrolment. How does this impact students and families? It means moving school boundaries, use of classroom portables and reconfiguration of grades all have to be considered. Some of our schools are at capacity while others are not. I understand the stress of leaving friends and familiar surroundings to relocate to other schools. As a child, I had to change schools four times between Grade 1 and 6 due to an exploding enrolment. Fortunately, children are far more flexible and adaptable than often we as adults are. I would address increased enrolment by working with members of the school board, and administration, and look for feedback from the community. I would help develop a long-term strategic plan that would determine a course of action to guide present and future decisions. As part of the board, I would welcome presentations by community groups and individuals. There is no simple solution that will satisfy everyone but if we work together we will come up with the best possible answer.
In these post-pandemic times, it is critical to meet students where they are at. It is vital to foster connection and a sense of belonging for all students as they navigate learning. Personally relevant and flexible learning plans and learning environments are more important than ever before as students engage in classrooms and school communities. I want to be part of the dialogue to ensure structures are in place to support their mental health in this process.
Additionally, healthy relationships between students, teachers, schools, the district team and the community are essential in reconnecting all of us.
Relationships are built on clear, transparent communication, honouring differing perspectives with all students’ personal and cultural well-being at the centre.
I understand the complexities of working with students, staff and community with diverse opinions and personalities and have experience using restorative practices district-wide in facilitating safe, open dialogue between parties.
I am invested in the success of this school board and am here to ensure all children have the best learning opportunities possible. My depth of knowledge and understanding of school systems and operations in the education system as a teacher, district principal and director of instruction will further support us collectively moving forward.
In my experience as a two-term school trustee, there is no single issue. However, in keeping with the question, I believe that there is one common thread with all of the challenges and opportunities that face the board of education. The common thread is collaboration.
Living in Comox and having a child in school allows me to listen to what parents, educators and the community are saying and to understand what is important to them. What is important to you when we discuss the vacant Comox Elementary School? What matters to you when we discuss school boundaries and overcrowded classrooms? How can we work together with parents, educators, and the community to ensure that students experience a welcoming, inclusive, and inspirational education? These are important issues that require collaboration.
I know the importance of strategic plans and policies. I know that monitoring outcomes is key to ensuring that the priorities of the school community are being met. I am a collaborative, action-oriented, experienced school trustee. I look forward to working together to ensure a bright future for students and the community. I can be reached at 236-655-7038. Thank you for your vote on Oct. 15.
VILLAGE OF CUMBERLAND CANDIDATES
Sarah Jane Howe* (acclaimed)
I think the most pressing issue facing our school district today is our growing enrolment. As it is exciting to see so many new families in our community, we continue to work to identify and address the areas in our district that will be facing challenges around schools at capacity. Working over the last term with the team to try to alleviate pressures has been frustrating but necessary as the ministry has done the job of funding students but failed to factor in where the students will learn if our district is at capacity. While we continue to advocate to the ministry for capital projects, we lose learning spaces and effective opportunities for our students to thrive.
Continuing to communicate with the ministry and shed light on the specific issues our district is facing will hopefully help with additional funding so that we can spend operating money on kids instead of construction and portables. I feel grateful to have been acclaimed for another term and feel confident that we can address these issues. As we progress, I will keep the well-being of students above all else.
There are two challenges I feel are most pressing for Comox Valley Schools: Growth and support for mental health.
The rapid growth of the CVRD is difficult to navigate and funding needs to be carefully considered when spent. From 2016 – 2021 we saw the most significant growth in Cumberland (18.5 per cent), Courtenay (10.8 per cent) and in Area A (9.9 per cent), where I am grateful to be running for school trustee and raising children in Royston. In Area A, I want the CVRD to take action following Jasmin Tufnail’s delegation to improve walkability and safety to and from Royston Elementary. I also hope to collaborate with K’omoks First Nation on our journey to developing the new school towards Union Bay in close proximity to KFN treaty lands.
In regards to supporting mental health, I see it as the responsibility of our schools to lead head-on in normalizing self-care and all that entails. Programs such as Soft Start are beginning to take this step. It is my hope to see SD 71 further integrate mental health and wellness directly into the school day, both in class and individually at the student/educator’s comfort level. We need to ensure our students are safe and well; only then, are they ready to learn.
With inflationary pressures on fuel for school buses, the rising costs of renovations and expansion, and the legal obligation to deliver a balanced budget, I would prioritize minimizing class size and making sure we have sufficient teachers, education assistants, and Indigenous student support by stretching the timelines on new construction and expansion. I have one child in an SD 71 community school and one child at Vanier. As a long-time Parent Advisory Council member, two years as co-chair, and a former council member of the Denman Island Community Education Society, two years as chair, I have experience in balancing budgets in non-profit societies and in the corporate sector. With my kids in SD 71 schools, and my experience in the education portfolio of my community, I bring a unique and needed perspective to managing the difficult challenges in our public education system.
Michelle Waite* (acclaimed)
We are all feeling the rising cost of inflation in our personal lives and our district is no different. For the 2022-23 school year, the dramatic increase in inflationary costs and the direct and indirect impacts on students is the most pressing issue facing our school district.
With the impacts of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of our school community, and the growth in our school populations in the Comox Valley, all alongside our primary goal of children’s education and now childcare, every dollar lost to inflation matters.
Recently, our district received new one-time money, the Student and Family Affordability Fund. This welcomed funding will support some targeted areas including food, meal programs and other initiatives to support students and families. We need to continue to advocate for additional inflationary funding for our district’s operational requirements and to ensure our decisions regarding resources are student-centred and align with our strategic priorities.
Cristi May Sacht*
It’s my belief that the most pressing issue facing our school district and others, is a lack of resources.
Inflation of new people to the area along with higher costs of products and services to our district has exacerbated the issue. Additional resources for all programs, staffing, teaching resources, spaces and extracurricular activities are needed. Many schools are forced to do their own funding for field trips and while character-building, our educational system needs more funding. As a trustee, we have and will continue to advocate for additional resources for our district, but are forced to deal with what we receive and balance our budgets. Hopefully, education becomes the priority to invest in our children and their bright futures.
I believe the biggest issue our district is currently facing is growing enrolment and available classroom spaces. Many of our district schools are at capacity and while we have made many adjustments to try and alleviate some of the overcrowding, I think more will need to be done over the coming years to address it at a greater level. We have many new developments and family homes being built into already very full catchment areas. This is an issue right across the district and will continue to be a challenge. While I don’t have an answer, I hope to collaboratively work with other trustees and school officials to engage in meaningful conversations and planning for our future enrolment. I hope we can discuss options and receive feedback to better educate ourselves for the challenges ahead. I think we need to be focusing on key schools that will be of issue in the coming months and years and ensure we are looking ahead and planning accordingly. I also hope to improve on the inclusiveness of our choice programs and foster that as we continue to grow in the district. We need to ensure we are working together for all families and students in our district across all levels of learning and programs.