Rapid student growth high on trustee radar

The recent provincial commitment of $100 million for two new West Shore high schools was welcome news for SD 62 trustee candidates,

The recent provincial commitment of $100 million for two new West Shore high schools was welcome news for SD 62 trustee candidates, but it did cause a sudden recalibration of election campaigns.

Messaging about keeping up the fight for new schools quickly transformed into planning for future growth, keeping tuned in about the school construction process, and fighting for adequate education funding.

Belmont zone trustee candidates seeking election and re-election met a typically small audience at the Nov. 3 all-candidates meeting at Isabelle Reader Theatre, mainly other educators and a few people from the community. The meeting was sponsored by the Sooke Parents’ Education Advisory Council (SPEAC).

Veteran trustees Wendy Hobbs, Denise Riley and Dianna Seaton are looking to retain their seats, and are facing newcomers Donald Brown (son of outgoing trustee Don Brown), Dani Horgan, Tim Rud and Dean Sutton. Four trustees spots are up for grabs in the West Shore area.

Sitting trustees focused on the need to plan for growth as one of three or four districts in B.C. seeing a net increase in students.

“We need to carry on with the business plan,” said Hobbs, the school board chair and five-term trustee. “The two new high schools are just the beginning. We need to keep the (education) ministry informed of our growth.”

Dianna Seaton pointed out the district expects to see a 55 per cent increase in students over the next 15 years, and that the high schools are critical to making way for the influx of kids.

“It’s my commitment to have the schools built in record time,” said Seaton, a two-term trustee. “I have unfinished work that needs to get done.”

Riley said the new schools will allow the district to shift the grade structure, which will make more room in elementary schools, but that’s only part of the picture. “That’s not enough for student growth,” said Riley, a five-term trustee. “We need to plan for more (school) sites.”

Rud, who ran in the 2008 trustee election, is campaigning on trustee accountability and a more open public process on board decision making.

“I advocate transparency, especially with land use procedures,” Rud said. “At board meetings it’s always a chore to get the public’s point across. There should be more times at board meetings for public input.”

Sutton said with his experience on the West-Mont school board in Metchosin, he understands how to get things done in education.

“I’ve spoken to every PAC president, to the SPEAC president and gathered information,” Sutton said. “I like research and innovation. We’ve got to move into 21st century learning.”

Brown said he wants to bring a youthful, positive perspective to the board, and said “class size and composition is still an issue.”

Horgan, who is also running for Metchosin council, said education is underfunded, and noted some parent advisory councils are burdened with a large amount of fundraising for necessary school supplies. “Education needs to be valued and properly funded,” Horgan said. “Children will grow up to be our future.”

On provincial issues, trustee candidates didn’t support the government’s “net zero” mandate for the teachers’ contract negotiations.

“I’m not comfortable with a net zero mandate. People do a good job and they need to be recognized for that,” Hobbs said. “We have a great working relationship with teachers. I’m not happy with a net zero mandate.”

“It doesn’t lead to trust or a respectful atmosphere at the table,” Riley said. “It makes no sense.”

“We have a very good relationship with teachers. It’s taken a lot of hard work,” Seaton said. “But with two opposing factions with different ideas, there is always antagonism. They have to find a way to deal with it.”

The concept of standardized testing also found little support among candidates, typically a sticking point between the teachers’ union and the government.

“We want benchmarks, but learning has changed,” Sutton said. “We’ve got to look at other jurisdictions on how to move kids along. We’ve got to move to something fresh.”

“My son gets sick about standardized tests,” Horgan said. “Standardized tests are just about getting more stats.”

On the role of technology in classrooms, Hobbs said much of that depends making the government make that a priority.

“Learning is empowered by technology. The government states that, and we’re hoping to see funding for that,” Hobbs said.

“(Technology) is a way to engage student,” Seaton said. “Students learn in different ways and need different opportunities, and technology can be part of that.”