School Board Trustee Races Seek Candidates With Only 1 Month Until Application Deadline
With just over a month left until nominations close for this fall’s municipal elections, there are local races for school trustees that have few, if any, candidates.
This concerns Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association.
“We have an impact on the future of Ontario,” she said of the role school counselors play in a community. “The job we do at the table when we meet is to make sure that the policies we set, the budget we set and the principal we hire are all aimed at providing the best possible education within the confines of the legislation. .”
Within the Waterloo Region District School Board, several candidates have registered to represent Waterloo-Wilmot, Kitchener and Woolwich-Wellesley, but there is only one candidate in Cambridge-North Dumfries, where three trustees will be elected.
In Cambridge-North Dumfries and Waterloo-Wellesley-Woolwich, no one has yet registered to run as a Catholic council trustee. There are also no registered candidates for the French-language boards.
Few people have registered to run for the school board of the Upper Grand District School Board of Guelph or the Wellington Catholic District School Board.
Abraham often says that the important work of school counselors is missed.
“People don’t understand that the impact we have on what happens in your community is the same as your mayor, your council member,” she said. “When we do our job well, we have a well-educated community, which is the foundation of everything that happens in our local community, in our province and in Canada.”
Outgoing trustee: get involved
Kathi Smith is currently a school trustee with the Waterloo Region District School Board which, after 20 years, has said she will not be running again this fall.
Smith’s decision comes because she feels the board is sometimes polarized between people who lean a certain way politically and the rest of the directors. She says she feels like she was attacked for speaking out when Smith says all she does is think about what’s best for the students.
“I have never been unable to express my opinions,” she said.
But Smith says she knows the role administrators play is important to the community and she encourages others passionate about local schools and education to get involved.
“What I’m hoping for right now is people are paying attention, people are going crazy and people are going to spend time finding out who’s running and I’m hoping there are some really good people running.” , Smith said.
It’s not clear what the trustees do
Anthony Piscitelli is a former school trustee for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. He currently works as a professor at Conestoga College, teaching in the Public Service Program and has researched public expectations of school counsellors.
Piscitelli says every person in Ontario is a member of a school board, as a taxpayer, so that’s one reason people should pay attention to who is elected to represent them.
He said admins are often people’s first line of communication — and it can feel like no one really notices admins until there’s a problem.
He said whenever a parent – “and it was really just parents” – spoke to him, it was often about operational issues. But that’s not really what a board is supposed to fix.
“All the research around governance suggests that the role of a board is to really focus on strategic issues and leave the operations to the management team,” he said.
Piscitelli published an article in January in the Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, with Andrea Perrella, associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Adam Payler, doctoral researcher, from the University of Birmingham in England.
Their survey found that people generally view school counselors as having three roles:
- Represent the public.
- Support the administrative functions of the school board.
- Ensure that academic results are achieved.
But of the 2,541 respondents, almost 40% (987 respondents) did not mention any of these three roles. Instead, they said the admins had no role, they didn’t know what the admins were doing, or gave an answer that was irrelevant to the question.
“A general conclusion from these excluded categories is that, at best, people’s opinions of school counselors lack structure,” the study reports. “Indeed, it is clear that about a third of respondents do not have a clear idea of what trustees do.”
Trustee as ‘uploader’
Piscitelli says that as a trustee, he often listened to parents’ frustrations.
Sometimes his role was to inform people about a policy or to answer questions that parents had trouble understanding.
“There’s often this translation feature as well. So that’s where administrators would take information from a parent and put it into a language that educators could understand, because oftentimes educators are so entrenched in the system that they don’t necessarily hear what the parents are saying,” he says.
But the most important role of an administrator, he said, is that of “uploader”.
“This is where administrators, by listening to parents, can address issues that they may not realize that a parent is actually speaking on behalf of a larger group and they can let the advice,” he said.
“The council may not be dealing with the problem of that particular child, but they can change the policy in a way that impacts all children facing the same problem.”
Influencing as a team
Piscitelli says it would be helpful if school boards really thought about how counselors interact with parents and set guidelines.
This is particularly important as school boards deal with issues like local boards over the past four years: the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, school reconciliation and renaming, and allegations of racism.
“Board members, in their other sort of strategic category, can be hugely influential, but they have a different influence than an MLA or MLA. So it becomes a bit more difficult for the audience to understand that,” he said.
Abraham says it’s important for people to know that administrators don’t have individual authority on their own.
“These are just board decisions and when a decision is made by a board, it’s everyone’s decision,” she said.
The School Boards Association encourages people to run for office this fall. The deadline to register to be nominated in the local school board races is August 19 at 2 p.m.
Abraham, who has been an administrator since 2000, says it’s important to let people know now how important school administrators are, the importance of quality education “and the impact that happens if someone is under -educated”.
“I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of telling people how important this role is,” she said, but added “it’s an ever-evolving job. It’s fascinating . It’s rewarding.”
“I could talk about passion for a long time,” she said.
“I love the work that we do. And I just recognize the importance of ensuring that every child has the best possible chance of being who they want to be. And that’s our job, is to provide the necessary conditions for this to happen.”
About research: The online survey of 2,541 Ontario residents was conducted between November 22 and December 2, 2020, and oversampled parents of school-aged children. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/- 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.