Okanagan Skaha School board looking forward to quieter year for 2015

After a teachers’ strike and civic election, the new chairwoman of the Okanagan Skaha school board is looking forward to a quieter 2015.

Sharol Papp (left) and Carmi Elementary School instructor Leanne Stewart work with Sharol's daughter Paige Johnston

Sharol Papp (left) and Carmi Elementary School instructor Leanne Stewart work with Sharol's daughter Paige Johnston

After a teachers’ strike and civic election, the new chairwoman of the Okanagan Skaha school board is looking forward to a quieter 2015.

“Much quieter,” confirmed Linda Van Alphen, who was acclaimed in November to her fifth consecutive term as one of two trustees for Summerland.

That’s not to say that she and her team aren’t ready to jump right into things.

“Honestly, I just look around that table and I see people who are so eager to go,” Van Alphen said in a year-end interview.

Three new people —  Bill Bidlake, Julie Planiden and Barb Sheppard — joined the seven-member board following the election. They’ll be guided in their work by a new trustee code of conduct that Van Alphen counted as one of the board’s successes in 2014.

“We’d been talking about it for years and years, and it’s something that gives us the ability to reflect on why we’re here,” she said of the new policy, which was among several the board reviewed or adopted last year.

“It also gives us an idea how to conduct ourselves around the board table, something I think is quite good.”

As for how students conduct themselves, she pointed to results from the latest superintendent’s report on achievement, which showed continued improvement in literacy.

In 2014, standardized test results showed 77 per cent of Grade 4 students were meeting or exceeding expectations in reading, up from 70 per cent in 2010, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the six-year completion rate for aboriginal students reached 63 per cent in 2014, up from 60 per cent in 2010. The rate, which measures the number of high school students who graduate within six years of starting Grade 8, has plateaued at 84 per cent for all students.

Outside of the classrooms, among the first big jobs facing the new board will be balancing the 2015-16 budget.

Declining enrollment has brought year after year of funding decreases, leaving trustees scrambling to cut costs.

For the 2014-15 session, the equivalent of 10 full-time jobs were axed to plug a $1-million hole in the budget.

Van Alphen said it’s too early to say what, if any, deficit the board will tackle this year, but admitted she’s concerned about it.

“I always am, because I don’t like cutting programs,” she said.

School funding also featured prominently in the teachers’ strike, which saw schools close two weeks early for summer break and reopen three weeks late.

Van Alphen said the district is working to repair relations with teachers, some of whom she thinks got the wrong impression of trustees’ roles during such job action when the elected officials focused efforts on pressuring government to support students.

“If you read what the roles and responsibilities of a trustee are, it’s not marching with employees on strike,” she said. “It’s not our job, it’s not our role, although a lot of people think it is.”