School board candidates grilled at forum

School district board of education candidates Ron Polillo, Sharel Warrington, Corey Walker, and Bruce Wiebe at Tuesday's all candidates forum. Bill Phillips photo
School district board of education candidates Ron Polillo, Sharel Warrington, Corey Walker, and Bruce Wiebe at Tuesday’s all candidates forum. Bill Phillips photo

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

Obviously overshadowed by the mayoral and city council candidate forum going on at the same time, last night’s school trustee all candidates forum drew only about 50 people.

All 11 candidates, however, were in attendance and fielded all kinds of questions from the hosts, the Prince George District Teachers’ Association.

The incumbents – Tim Bennett, Sharel Warrington, and Bruce Wiebe – were asked what values and principles should guide the board.

“My primary lens is ‘how is this going to impact student learning?’” said Bennett. “Whether it’s investing money into the classroom for more resources, whether it’s helping build capacity at the district level, over the past seven years (he’s been on the board), I’m really proud the work our board has done.”

He said the district is in a good position financially.

Warrington agreed the most important thing is to meet students’ needs, adding innovation is important.

“Students can do new things with the resources we provide so the lens is always around meeting the needs of our students,” she said.

She added sustainability is also important.

Wiebe was also in agreement.

School trustee candidates Betty Bekkering, Tim Bennett, and Trent Derrick.
School trustee candidates Betty Bekkering, Tim Bennett, and Trent Derrick.

“We have to support the needs of our students and we have to support our teachers and out educational assistants in our school to help our students achieve,” he said, adding the funding should be fair and equitable.

Given that School District 57 has a high percentage of Indigenous students, the question was posed what would be done to implement recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“One of the big thing is going to be in funding, making sure our aboriginal department has the money that they require,” said Sarah Holland, adding supports need to provided to teachers in the classroom as well.

Stephanie Mikalishen-Deol said that while she wasn’t familiar with all the recommendations, her employer, the YMCA of Northern B.C., has also been looking at how to implement the commission recommendations.

“Whether it’s Truth and Reconciliation, or SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity), or special needs, I’ve been really clear that I’m 100 per cent in favour of inclusive education,” she said. “I think from a board perspective, I think it’s about getting behind it in any way possible.”

The question of how to deal with bullying and its impact on students was also broached.

“It’s a tough subject,” said Ron Polillo. “We all know we had two cases of suicides in our district recently. The key is education, but it’s not just a board issue, it’s a society issue. We have to work with our partners and enforce the policy that we have.”

Betty Bekkering said that when she was previously on the board from 2011-14 the issue was discussed then.

School district board of education candidates Sarah Holland, Allan Kranz, Trudy Klassen, and Stephanie Mikalishen-Deol.
School district board of education candidates Sarah Holland, Allan Kranz, Trudy Klassen, and Stephanie Mikalishen-Deol.

“It’s too bad that it hasn’t improved a lot,” she said. “The biggest thing is getting people to speak up when they are being bullied. I think that needs to be the focus. Our policies, at the time, we thought were well-founded, but they are obviously not working.”

A question about hiring processes, whereby candidates are not given score results, was also posed.

“I would think anyone who takes the time to apply for a position in the school district, it would be good for them to get feedback on how well they did in the interview,” said Trudy Klassen.

Corey Walker said the board can develop policy that those who are interviewed for a position are given feedback on how they did.

“Whether they are successful or not, we give them feedback,” he said. “We can develop a policy on how we provide that feedback … including how well they’ve done and whether there are any areas of concern.”

Communication with the public can also be an issue.

“It’s been a concern with a lot of parents, teachers and stakeholders throughout the community,” said Trent Derrick. “I think one of (the solutions) is to go out and see what works best … Communication is one of the most important things you can do. Without proper communication, no matter how great the plan, you need people to buy into it.”

He said using such things as having established times for the board to meet with the public and using social media can certainly help, including using a social media director.

Allan Kranz said there is a system of distributing information from schools to parents already and suggested the school board could do a similar thing.

“I also think that we can make use of social media,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunity for the school board to make what they do more available to everyone.”

The board ended the year with a modest surplus. How should that money be spent?

Prince George will elect five members to the seven-person board of education on Saturday.