The role of trustees is defined by the Education Act, but is not well known. Individual trustees are part of a team, charged with promoting student achievement and well being, effectively managing resources, and guiding the “big picture” policies of the school board in the interest of all students. As a group, trustees hold their one employee, the Director of Education, accountable for the functioning of the entire system through annual goal setting and evaluation. The team is focused on building strong, resilient, happy and engaged students and communities for lifelong learning. Developing a multi-year plan is also an important role. The Halton District School Board’s Multi Year Plan 2016-2020 is based on the values of Accountability, Collaboration, Creativity, Empathy, Equity, Integrity.
The trustee role is one of developing strong policies that translate to meaningful action for each and every student. I also see the role as listening actively to students, school communities, teachers, staff and administrators, and facilitating discussion, processes and solutions. Clear communication is at the heart of this. Over the last four years, it has been increasingly necessary to communicate also about the limitations of this role. The Provincial Ministry of Education determines things like curriculum, overall budgets allocations and how budgets must be spent, who gets new schools, and guidelines that have a strong influence on local outcomes (such as pupil accommodation processes). For many years, the Halton District School Board has been at or near the bottom in terms of per pupil funding and this is a challenging spot. Trustees work tirelessly to build relationships with municipal, provincial and federal counterparts to advocate for this community.
To do all of this well, it is important to look inward and outward, and forward and backward in time. As part of the trustee team, I bring my core values, which include inclusion, collaboration, transparency, timeliness, progressiveness, creativity and safety. I will continue to work to:
- Foster activities and policies that value each student for their strengths and talents, and are inclusive of diversity, arts, culture, academics and athletics.
- Create an environment of collaboration between students, staff, teachers, administrators, families and Trustees.
- Make sure student voice is heard. If students are to become capable and confident leaders, it is important to make sure their voices are heard in decision making. This past term, students raised concerns about the exclusionary voting process for student senate elections. Technology was leveraged to give all students the opportunity to vote, increasing turnout by hundreds. Students also led a discussion with Tracey and community partners about drugs in schools and approaches that could make a difference.
- Support the unique needs and aspirations of each school community by connecting with families, students, teachers and administrators in ways that are most suitable to each. One size does not fit all.
- Give people the tools to participate in the decisions that matter most to their families by committing to distribute information about upcoming decisions to be made, seek ongoing input, provide easy-to-follow details about how to participate in Board meetings and committees, and communicate what happened and why. I have done this through School Councils and directly with those who express interest and concern.
- Build strong community connections by bringing together School Councils and Student Councils to share experiences and explore common opportunities and challenges in a proactive way. A shared database of best practices could be created so that limited resources can be shared and stretched, where appropriate.
- Leverage existing programs and community volunteers to benefit schools. For example, local environmental groups have various programs to green school yards at no cost. Local Council members are also a wealth of information and opportunity.
- Work to address aging school infrastructure by leveraging all opportunities for funding. Over the last four years, schools in southwest Oakville have received millions of dollars in upgrades, including air conditioning in a number of schools, updated gym, classrooms and washroom facilities. It isn’t enough. Money for upgrades comes from the provincial government, and is largely inadequate as it touches only about 1/4 of our identified needs. There are many good things happening inside schools, and the outside of HDSB buildings need to welcome people into this journey, not push them away.
- Develop clear messages for students and families about Internet safety, which means staying on top of the latest on-line buzz to keep families in the know and our students safe. During the last four years, HDSB has developed a number of new approaches in this area, including the Technology and You initiative.
- Build connections to the broader community, First Nations, Metis and Inuit and the world to promote inclusion and tolerance. The HDSB has embraced the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and engaged with Knowledge Keepers to ensure that students know the legacy of residential schools in Canada.
- Assist in building understanding of who does what in public education, through ongoing social media posts, media releases, and conversations with School Councils and in the community.
- Build confidence in public education. The most challenging parts of this role have been community cynicism, making sure that good policies translate to good things for ALL students, expectations related to local vs provincial influence, and the relatively unknown scope of the job. I’m excited about a new initiative to build public confidence. It will take a community of people who are interested their own situation and that of our entire area.
Interested in reading more about the role of trustees? Here’s a couple of resources for you.
- Ontario School Trustees (ontarioschooltrustees.org)
- Ontario’s Ministry of Education http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/
- Town of Oakville Trustee Guide for Candidates and Communities
All action starts as an idea!