After a couple of rocky years for the Okanagan Skaha School District (SD 67), including looming threats of school closures, 2018’s major talking point will be technology, according to Bill Bidlake, recently named the school board’s new chair.
Bidlake ran unopposed for the position after two years with Linda Van Alphen holding the chair position in the school board, and he will remain chair of the board for the remainder of the board’s four-year term, with municipal elections, along with school boards, coming up in October.
The new chair described Van Alphen’s time as chair of the board as one of volatility, due to what he described as funding uncertainties. For example, Bidlake said the government had a habit of making last-minute changes to funding for school districts after budgets were done.
“All of a sudden you’d get an email or a memo from the government three months later, saying ‘by the way, we need to claw back a certain amount of funds from you,’” Bidlake said, also pointing to the looming school closures in spring and summer 2016, which were saved with last-minute funding from the provincial government.
Now, Bidlake said he feels the B.C. government, formed by the B.C. NDP since summer, is more committed to stable, predictable funding for school districts, which he said gives the school board more time to look at other issues.
One of those issues, Bidlake said, is the district’s technology, which SD 67 recently had audited, with a report delivered to trustees last month.
Because of the report’s completion close to the holidays, Bidlake said the board has not yet had time to go over the findings in detail.
“If they had indicated that we needed a certain position in this field or whatever, whether it was a teaching position or a mid-management position or an upper-management position, we don’t know those things yet,” he said, adding they would need to vet those ideas through the finance committee before making them public.
Bidlake suggested the need for computer labs may diminish in the future, with most students having access to the internet on their phones, and some having their own laptops — something that is becoming more and more commonplace.
“Most of them will have it in their hand,” he said. “It’s really a matter of how’s the technology best used in the classroom, outside of the classroom and so on, and do we have the infrastructure to do all of those types of things.”
Bidlake said the balance of privacy and freedom of information could also be something that needs addressing as technology increases in the classrooms and hallways.
But Bidlake would only speak in general terms on those issues, with the school board expected to go over the report in greater detail in the next couple of months and subsequently bring more of the details to the public.
A rookie trustee, the retired Penticton Secondary School principal landed with the highest vote count in 2014, but Bidlake said he wasn’t sure whether he would run again this year.
Bidlake said he missed working with kids and was considering looking at teaching abroad at an international school. But if he does not go overseas next year, he said he would more likely run for the trustee position again over city hall.