VSB Chairperson

On Monday, October 30 I was honoured and proud to be elected as the Vancouver School Board Chairperson by my fellow trustees.  I had the opportunity to make remarks at our inaugural board meeting and am now sharing them in this post.

Thank you to Musqueam Councillor Morgan Guerin for welcoming us to your traditional, unceded territory and for reminding us of the very important work to be done by this board.

I would like to start by acknowledging former VSB trustees in the audience tonight – Christopher Richardson, Al Blakey, Ruth Herman and Andrea Reimer.  My thank yous also extend to everyone in this room as I know you’re here because you care about public education and in particular you care about Vancouver’s students.

We at this board table are the nine newly sworn in trustees chosen by Vancouver’s voters to serve our students. We bring who we are to this table – we all have different cultural histories, experiences at school, as well as differences in work backgrounds and in our families – but we all bring our commitment to perform the duties of our office and work together as a board with respect and consideration.

I look forward to working with the elected trustees as well as with Eugene Jeong our student trustee and I appreciate the trustees’ confidence in me as Chairperson and will always strive to carry out this role to the best of my ability. I also acknowledge and thank all the by-election trustee candidates as your voices enriched the campaign issues and discussions.

One aspect of the board’s responsibilities I’d like to highlight is that in 2015 the Vancouver School Board committed its full support to Reconciliation. I was honoured to be chosen to witness the 2016 signing of the Second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement by eight representatives, including the VSB Superintendent & Chairperson, and Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow. Those signing acknowledged and honoured the collective responsibilities for the success of all Aboriginal learners attending school in the Vancouver School District and our new board must continue to embrace this responsibility.

Another aspect to highlight is the many relationships our new board will have to establish and nurture, not only with our stakeholders – students, parents, staff and all our employee representative groups – but also with other levels of government, such as the Minister and Ministry of Education and Vancouver’s Council & Parks Board, partner agencies and community partners.  One relationship that will be unique among school districts is with our Special Advisor Dianne Turner. I look forward to our board working productively with you during our term and thank you for your work as the Official Trustee in the past year.

As a new board we must also tackle the immediate concern of recruitment and retention. The teacher recruitment challenges being experienced by the Vancouver School Board this year are unprecedented and ongoing. Having heard the committee updates in September and October I know how much effort has and is being put in by our recruitment staff and the Vancouver Teachers Federation, as well as how teachers and school teams are working together on behalf of their students. However, I also know that with unfilled positions and difficulties in getting teachers on call our district is not yet fully supporting every student and in particular we must keep working to ensure that students who need additional supports do receive those services.

I think it’s safe to say that all the trustees had the support of friends and family as candidates and will now have to balance their trustee responsibilities with all the other aspects of their lives. We have and will miss family dinners, ask for flexibility at work, and not attend sports events or performances – we have asked a lot of friends and family and I’d like to thank all of you who have and will support us.

And now after our inaugural meeting trustees will begin their orientation sessions and dive right into committee and board meetings. I would like to thank the VSB staff who have helped us in our transition and look forward to working with all staff in a respectful and considerate manner.


From L to R: Dianne Turner (special advisor), Carrie Bercic, Fraser Ballantyne, Ken Clement, Allan Wong, Janet Fraser, Joy Alexander, Judy Zaichkowsky, Estrellita Gonzalez, Lisa Dominato, Eugene Jeong (student trustee).

New board, new opportunities, new relationships

Vancouver voters elected nine VSB trustees last Saturday and I thank everyone who participated as well as the new provincial government for calling the by-election.  I also thank all the candidates who took on this very public role as your voices enriched our forums and debates and I hope you stay involved with Vancouver’s public education.

I look forward to working with all the trustees elected to the new VSB Board.  We represent a range of voters’ views but are all committed to putting students first, working collaboratively, and creating a respectful workplace.

Our first decisions are to nominate trustees and then elect a Chair at our first board meeting on October 30.  The Chair is still a single vote among the nine trustees but they have additional leadership and representation responsibilities, including presiding over board meetings that must be orderly and fair, working closely with the Superintendent, and representing the board

I believe our most immediate concerns are the recruitment and retention of teachers and the appointment of a Superintendent.
An October 10 update showed 113 full and part time job postings (84 FTE), an increase from 72 (53 FTE) in the September 15 report.  The most difficult areas to fill are French immersion, special education, math, sciences, counselling, tech studies, and Mandarin.  Resource teachers have been placed as classroom teachers to give consistency and district teaching staff have been deployed to schools. There are 677 teachers on the Teachers on Call (TOC) list but administrators and support teachers also have to cover classes.  Our new board will have to review all the actions taken to date and ensure our district is doing all that it can to support both recruitment and retention of new teachers.
Superintendent interviews and selection (for all stakeholders) is scheduled for November 15 and the appointee’s start date is anticipated to be by the end of February.

During our one-year term our board will also have to work closely with the new Minister of Education, Rob Fleming.  As for all school districts we have to prepare a balanced budget for next year – a budget that will meet the needs of all our students.  We also have to address many school buildings and space issues such as seismic upgrades, poor maintenance, new schools where there are not enough classrooms for neighbourhood students, the reduction in French Immersion classrooms, sufficient space for adult education students, and appropriate learning spaces for music and art.  The province provides the funding and sets the rules for capital funding and we must work together to meet our common goals of safe schools with adequate space for all our students.

And finally our board must continue to work towards Reconciliation.  We must continue to work so that Aboriginal students have a sense of belonging in our schools, increased academic success, and that all students have knowledge and appreciation of Aboriginal cultures and contributions.  I was honoured to be a witness to the eight people signing the Second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement and acknowledge our collective responsibilities for the success of all Aboriginal learners.

Our district cares for and educates more than 50,000 students every school day and I’m proud that Vancouver voters have allowed me the responsibility of being a trustee for the coming year.  I will serve our students and always put their needs first.

VSB Policy: The Role of the Board Chairperson and Vice Chairperson

October 10, 2017 Staffing and recruitment update:

Superintendent Interviews:

Second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement:

PAN trustee candidate questions

The Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education (PAN) is a non-partisan grassroots collective of parents and community members who share a commitment to public education.
They are encouraging all Vancouver citizens to vote in the October 14th school board by-election and believe it’s important to learn about ALL the candidates to make an informed choice; not just about their platforms and experience, but who they are and how they plan to effect change.
To support voters they have asked all trustee candidates to answer 6 questions – my answers are posted here along with a link to all the candidates’ answers.

What skills would you bring to a trustee position and why should Vancouverites vote for you as an individual (leaving aside party affiliation)?

In my two years as a trustee I showed my commitment and integrity.  As well as attending VSB board and committee meetings I visited my 14 liaison schools, often several times, as well as many other schools, and was an active trustee liaison for DPAC and my three City advisory committees, Vancouver Food Policy Advisory Council, (VFPC), Active Transport Policy Council (ATPC), and the Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee (UAPAC).  I met with stakeholder groups and individuals, either reaching out or as requested.
I worked respectfully with everyone, students, parents, trustees and staff, and spoke clearly about my role and views on VSB issues through my blog, Twitter, in the media and personal communication.
I will continue to work hard and work respectfully on behalf of Vancouver’s students.

If elected, how will you promote an atmosphere of collaboration with advisor Dianne Turner, senior staff, and Board members from other political parties?

It is the individual responsibility of trustees to demonstrate their leadership for our district and, especially at this time, working respectfully and collaboratively is essential to bringing stability and confidence to our district systems that support the 50,000 students we care for every school day.
I will work with the expectation that everyone is focusing on student success, respect other’s opinions, even if I don’t agree with them, and do my best to find points of consensus, and not court adversity or seek to score partisan political points

As an elected trustee, how would you envision the role of parent input with respect to decision making?

Parents are co-educators with their students’ teachers and schools so it is essential that both individual parents and parents’ organizations, for example PACs and DPAC, are involved with decision making.  As I trustee I value our district’s commitment to engaging with parents, as with all stakeholders, through consultation and especially through our committee system.  I value parent input, recognizing that with a diverse parent body there can be diverse views and opinions, and it is always a factor in my decision making.  I appreciate that parents use their own time and resources to work on behalf of students but it is essential their voice is heard.

Explain your perspective on how the Board should work going forward with the provincial Ministry of Education.

There is much hope and optimism for public education with the election of a new provincial government.  In media reports and presentations I see that the Ministry of Education under the new government is reaching out to its stakeholders and I am pleased there is a more positive tone for consultation and discussion.   I am optimistic that our elected Board will establish a good working relationship with the Ministry so that we can effectively communicate our concerns and requests and work together to improve BC’s public education and also address Vancouver specific issues.

What is your view on how the Board should work going forward with the City of Vancouver (i.e. in addressing the intertwined issues of densification and available school space)?

School boards are stuck in the middle of the sandwich – here in Vancouver the City has dramatically increased density in some neighbourhoods yet the Province will not build new or expanded schools to match the increased student numbers.  I am concerned that City Council does not fully understand the impact of their decisions on the many families in walkable neighbourhoods but who not only have to travel to a distant school and but often have the additional challenge of finding quality, affordable childcare.

I believe the City and the School Board should work together to amplify the request to the Province to build adequate school spaces in every Vancouver neighbourhood.  As a first step I would propose a joint briefing for the Mayor, Councillors and Trustees so there is a common understanding of how many neighbourhoods and families are impacted by inadequate school spaces, and of how deeply families are impacted.

What do you see as the top three most urgent and important issues facing the Vancouver School Board, and how do you plan to address these?

I see three broad areas that each have key elements but are also intertwined.

  1. Bringing stability and confidence to our district. There are six hundred new employees, most senior management positions are in flux, there are challenges with implementing the hard won restoration of the teachers’ collective agreements, and trustees need to ensure a safe and respectful workplace.
    It will be the elected trustees’ responsibility to provide effective leadership to ensure our district can work together to address these challenges, as well as embrace the opportunities they present, and to ensure a culture of respect.  And finally, our board must live up to our commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
  2. Effective use of school space. Our district has had to rapidly adapt to the space requirements for the restoration of the teachers’ collective agreement, we still have more than fifty seismically unsafe schools, there are schools that cannot accept all in catchment students and many families struggle to find childcare.  As the province controls capital funds and decisions we need to work with the Ministry of Education to implement a long term plan, not just school by school approval, so that every student can attend a safe school in their neighbourhood and that the schools themselves can become community hubs.
  3. Stable, adequate and predictable funding. Trustees make many decisions about governance and policy in their districts but in many, many instances what can be offered to students is limited by the provincial funding.  The resources in a school cannot be dependent on parents’ ability to fundraise for essentials.  As a trustee I want to know that teachers have resources to teach the new curriculum, that special needs students have appropriate support, that music and art programs thrive, that adult learners can access the courses they need, the immigrant families have support, that our schools keep pace with using technology to enhance student learning – the list goes on but the level of provincial funding is essential to providing equitable access to education for all students.

All candidates’ answers to the 6 PAN questions:

PAN website:  http://www.panvancouver.ca/