When the Okanagan Skaha School Board sits down for its inaugural meeting in December, there will be new faces and old, but a significant amount of experience will be missing.
Along with longtime Penticton trustee Larry Little, trustees Connie Denesiuk, who also serves as president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, and Tom Siddon, a former federal cabinet minister, have also declared their intention to move on.
Little has been a trustee for 18 years, a long time for any elected official. But as he prepares to retire in 2012 from his position as Chief Librarian at the Penticton Public Library, Little decided not to run for re-election as a trustee.
“It’s time to move on. 18 years is a long time,” said Little, adding that his wife has been supportive through the years as he spent many evenings away from home at the many meetings he had to attend as a school trustee.
For the future, Little plans to take things increasingly easy. That means, he said, being able to take a walk down to the beach with his wife and enjoy a book. Reading for pleasure is also a luxury he hasn’t often been able to enjoy, usually squeezing it in late in the day.
“I also like to wood carve and I haven’t been able to do that for a few years,” he said, adding that other hobbies, like photography, have also been on hold.
It was back in 1990 that Rory McIvor first encouraged him to run, citing Little’s background in education, which includes a degree in education and experience teaching in Northern B.C. before he came to Penticton.
While Little wasn’t elected in that first kick at the can, he was in the next election. Through the years, he has served in different capacities, including several years as vice-chair and three years as chair of the board.
But Little said the reason for sticking with it for so long is a simple one.
“The kids we graduate are our future,” he said, adding that this district is one of the best in the province, thanks to a strong focus on student achievement. But, he said, the staff members are the driving force for those changes, not just administrators and board, but also the teachers in the classroom.
“These are some of the best people we could have working for us anywhere,” he said. The effectiveness of the operations, he thinks, is borne out by the response from the provincial government, which has invested some $100 million in this district.
“They don’t do that in every school district,” said Little.
Denesiuk, who has been a trustee for 19 years herself, nine of them as chair of the board, agrees, citing the improvement in student graduation rate as an example. Earlier this year, she also stepped down from her position of BCSTA president.
“We are currently five per cent above the provincial average for graduation rates,” said Denesiuk. “We went from about a 29 per cent grad rate for aboriginal students to 60 per cent today, which is 10 per cent above the provincial average.”
Three years ago, according to Denesiuk, a provincial review of Okanagan Skaha described the district as a “progressive, fiscally responsible, well-managed and performance-oriented school district.”
“I feel a great deal of satisfaction in regard to what has been accomplished over the last number of years,” she said, adding that part of that satisfaction comes from her fellow trustees over the years, including Little, whom she describes as “an absolute delight to work with.”
“Larry is out and about in the community and he always listens. And people talk to Larry, so Larry never fails to bring back the concerns and comments that he hears on the street, on the job, in schools when he is visiting,” she said, adding that Little, as board chair, always made an effort to include the other voices around the table. “Larry has been a tremendous asset to the community. We have been very lucky to have Larry on the board for the last 18 years. He’s stellar.”
For herself, Denesiuk said she is grateful to the people who have continued to vote for her and support her over the years.
“When first elected I was a young mom of four kids in the school system,” she said. “I have grown tremendously as a person. Decisions have not always been easy or popular. Sometimes we have been justly criticized, sometime maybe not so justly.”