Vancouver school board by-election set for October 14 and no, I'm not running

Education Minister Rob Fleming announced Thursday that Vancouver voters will get a chance to elect new school trustees. The new board will serve for a year until the regularly scheduled elections are held in October 2018.

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I’m proud of what we accomplished over the six years I chaired. We successfully secured hundreds of millions of dollars in capital funding for seismic upgrades and new schools and completed several major projects, including brand new schools at UBC and downtown and several new schools to replace seismically unsafe ones. We worked hard — and successfully —to retain significant heritage buildings like Strathcona Elementary, while getting the funding to seismically upgrade them.

We forged a partnership with the city of Vancouver that is resulting in purpose-built childcare centres being built on the top of seismically upgraded schools for Nelson and Fleming elementaries, with city and provincial funding. I hope that serves as a successful model for future projects — it makes so much sense.

We steadily increased graduation rates by taking the advice of educators on the front lines and targeting our limited funds where they would make the biggest difference.

We saw measurable and meaningful progress in closing the gap on outcomes between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students, although there is still much more to do. We opened the district’s first Aboriginal Focus School and its first early Mandarin Bilingual Program.

We built strong relationships with our professional staff and stakeholders that enabled is to work collaboratively and respectfully on some of our biggest challenges.

So strong that after the B.C. Liberals systematically destabilized the district last fall (read my account of that here), both the retired Superintendent and Secretary Treasurer I worked with during my six years as chair dropped everything and came back to support the board and the district (only to be dismissed by Turner on her first day as official trustee).

We were the first district to create a student trustee position and adopt strong sexual orientation and gender identity policy and regulations to ensure clear and consistent support and protection for all students — and proved to vocal naysayers and other school districts that the sky doesn’t fall when you make schools safe for trans kids.

I’m proud that we kept our promises to keep east Vancouver schools open despite strong pressure from government, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) trustees and towards the end, our own management team. Had things gone their way, Britannia Secondary, Gladstone Secondary and a bunch of elementary schools would be closed this fall — permanently. That would have been a terrible loss and I’m glad we didn’t let it happen.

I’m also proud that we resisted pressure from former education minister Mike Bernier to sell off the Kingsgate Mall site and use some of the proceeds to offset shortfalls in the district’s operating budget.

The B.C. School Act prohibits using proceeds of school lands sales (the site was once a school site) for operating purposes — for good reason. There’s a much better way to unlock some of the value of that site to provide some capital to support future school construction projects while increasing annual lease revenue that goes to support programming for students.

We were working on that when we were dismissed and I hope the next elected board can resume those negotiations to ensure Vancouver residents retain public ownership of that site for generations to come.

After serving as a trustee for eight years it was clear to me that the biggest challenge that faced our school system was the B.C. Liberal government. It’s a huge relief to see it gone and their long-running court battle with the BCTF over.

While it saddens me that hundreds of thousands of students — including my kids — were shortchanged due to B.C. Liberal underfunding, I couldn’t be happier to know that there’s a new government in place that’s committed to restoring funding and rebuilding relationships.

We have a great public education system staffed by dedicated professionals who deserve to be supported and given the working conditions that enable them to do their best work.

I will be watching and cheering them on as the new government reinvests in the system and restores some or all that was lost during the B.C. Liberal years.

When I ran for school board the first time, I decided to stay for one three-year term. I ended up staying for eight years — five years more than I’d planned.

I’ve decided that makes it a good time to step aside and make room for others at the board table, so you won’t see my name on the by-election ballot for school board. I gave some consideration to trying a run for city council, but I’m enjoying my break from elected office too much right now and the time it frees up for other projects.

I may or may not try a comeback in 2018, but in the meantime, I’ll be watching from the side and hoping to see a progressive board elected and a strong management team in place.

Thank you Vancouver — it was an honour to serve you.  





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