Okanagan-Skaha trustee candidates weigh in on past decisions

Candidates gave us their answers at the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce event

With two Okanagan-Skaha School District 67 trustees not running in this municipal election, there will be new faces around the table making decisions.

The Penticton Western News caught up with candidates at a recent speed-dating style event hosted by the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce.

Related: Who’s running in Penticton’s election?

Shelley Clarke has been a school trustee for the past 11 years in Penticton, has been involved in her children’s schools as a PAC volunteer and is an active volunteer in the community. She said it was a challenging last term for the school board, due to the processes they went through on school closures.

“Going through school closures was a really tough time, but I think pushing the government to basically give us the money we needed to keep those classrooms open I think we did a good job,” she said. “We now have $700,000 in our bank account that can go to classroom resources and teachers that we would have never had before if we hadn’t gone through that process. Another thing I am really proud about is our strategic plan. Now we can see what we are working towards, where before it was only on a yearly basis.”

Clarke said she is also proud of the work done in providing technology to students and what is to come — with the board hoping to have more laptops and iPads available for students in the classrooms. As well, she said a lot of work has gone into student and staff wellness which she hopes to see continue outside of school hours with the YES Project youth centre programs.

Tracy Van Raes, the recent Business Excellence Award winner for Volunteer of the Year, has a variety of board experience through community organizations and said she decided to run to be advocate for the students.

“Definitely they are the vocal minority and this is 100 per cent about them. I felt like I am a good fit for a person that is in-between understanding what kids’ needs are and being their silent voice and bringing that to a different level,” she said.

Van Raes said she sees room for improvement on the school board.

“I have been a watchful eye on what has happened with different issues and I was part of the engagement process of school closures and diverts things including board meetings,” she said adding there needs to be improvement in communication and transparency.

I think something no one has touched on, or addressed as a concern, is community collaboration. I feel the school board needs to be a voice in so many different stakeholder conversations that go on. For example, we have declining enrolment. As a school board we shouldn’t just sit back and wait for students to come — we need to work with the city, economic development, Start Here Okanagan. All these different great programs the city is working on. What can we do to improve enrolment to Penticton? How can we help you get these families to move to Penticton?”

Theresa Hebert said she is passionate about education and believes it makes a difference in people’s lives.

While she believes the past board worked well together, she knows it was a rough time looking at school closures.

“I thought that went reasonably well. Nobody does that perfectly because there is no perfect way to close a school.”

Hebert said if elected, the biggest challenge ahead will be the first year of working together with new faces around the board.

“I think that takes a bit of time. I think, though, a real strength of a board is having people somewhat different — different in their views and the way they see the world a little different. Decisions get made a little better,” she said.

A B-plus grade is what Derek Hurst gives the last school board, giving them credit for what they have done with the money given to them by the provincial government has been effective.

He believes enrolment is the biggest issue for the upcoming term and if the rural education funding will continue.

“The only reason we have a couple of schools still open is because the government came up with more money. That is a year-to-year thing, so if that goes away, tough decisions again are going to need to be made,” said Hurst.

Right now, he said, enrolment is projected to be level and flat and the growth that was supposed to be seen in Penticton never happened.

“We are going to have to be able to fine-tune what is going on within the district and make sure the kids are getting everything they need,” said Hurst of what his goals for the next term would be if elected.

Hurst, who has lived in Penticton since 2003, said he chose to run because it was a natural profession with what he has already been involved in with the school district. Both of his daughters have gone through the school system in Penticton and he was chair of the parent advisory council for the past six years.

Dan Walton is the only candidate running, that does not have a child in the school system. He said he chose to run because during his time as a journalist in the city, he saw all four trustees running for re-election voting to close three schools.

At the time he put in his nomination papers, there was only four people running for four seats and he did not want to see an acclimation.

“I really didn’t want to see the two incumbents get acclaimed because they both voted to close schools. I felt like they were out of touch with each other in public,” he said.

“Five voted to close and only two voted to keep them open. To that same reason, those people who voted to keep the schools open — they are not running again. During the public hearings it was very heavily weighted to keep them open, so I really felt like the trustees, especially the incumbents, were a little out of touch with the actual public.”

In 2014, Barb Sheppard won a trustee seat and promised to serve the community for a minimum of two terms.

During the past four years she said she has learned the SD67 is a unique district and has some of the top leadership in the province with teachers and staff well-respected in the province. She would like to see more funding go into the classrooms. Working with boards and budgets at several community organizations and with Community Futures gives her the knowledge and experience to continue her work as a trustee, she said.

Sheppard said the school district needs to be better at celebrating their success, including their work the past four years of bringing more technology to the classroom to open up the way kids are learning and working on projects.

“We have been taking the initiative and have awesome programs that they don’t have in other school districts,” said Sheppard.

James Palanio thinks he can make a difference on the board as they move into the next four years.

“I think their biggest decisions were poor and I would probably only give them a C grade. The reason

for that is the biggest thing is the school closure process. I don’t think it was thought out. I think it was an easy direction for them to go,” he said.

Palanio said there could be opportunities to increase enrolment through the international program, which he credited as a very strong program, and through early French immersion.

“I also think a really great French immersion program will also pull people into this district. I think doing that would have been better than the closure route … this is a district that was nearly closing schools and we still have room to increase enrolment in early French immersion.”

Issues he would like to see improve over the next term is school safety by developing a task force or partnership to get a safe zone around the school.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Kristi Patton | Editor

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