The Capital News asked the Kelowna trustees candidates to answer a series of questions about issues facing the Okanagan School District.
Do you feel school board policies reflect the values of Central Okanagan communities?
Every community has a wide array of values and priorities, and it is impossible for policy to satisfy everyone. Nevertheless, I believe the policies that have been developed over the years by the board of education successfully reflect the most common values of our community, within the constraints of legislation and practicality. There is always room for improvement, as society’s values evolve and as we learn more, so it is important for the board to be proactive in addressing deficiencies and new concerns. An example that the board and staff are currently working on is the new policy on “sanctuary schools” for students with precarious immigration status.
In what way, if any, are parents not given the opportunity to play a role in their child’s education?
In my opinion, the best ways for parents to be involved in their child’s education are: talk regularly with their child about what they are learning and doing in school; discuss their child’s progress with their teacher; and attend the school’s parent advisory council (PAC) meetings. Every parent is automatically a member of the PAC at their child’s school and these meetings are a great way for parents’ voices to be heard by the school administration, and (through representatives at the district-level Central Okanagan Parent Advisory Council) by the board of education and superintendent. However, neither parents nor trustees (nor school staff) have a direct role in deciding the curriculum that is taught in public schools, which is set provincially by the B.C. Ministry of Education and Child Care.
What is the Central Okanagan School District doing well or not doing well to allow our students to become productive adults?
Schools have changed a lot since I was young, and in my time as a school trustee I have been deeply impressed with the huge number of opportunities now available for our students. These include programs supporting students who need help transitioning to the workforce after graduation and teaching them a variety of life skills, apprenticeships in the trades, and dual credit options in a range of fields in collaboration with Okanagan College and UBC Okanagan. Central Okanagan Public Schools provide a world-class education with graduation rates that exceed the provincial average, and kids are also taught to be compassionate and engaged citizens. But the pandemic has disrupted everyone’s education, and it will take time to resolve some of the gaps. In addition, many of our facilities are too full (or old), and we need much more provincial funding to provide the best possible learning environment for students.
What role should our education system play in supporting students facing gender identification issues?
Everyone has a gender identity, and while for most students this is uncomplicated, some will need extra support as they learn to understand themselves and their relationship with others. Schools should be safe and respectful places for everyone. Transgender students should know that they belong and see themselves represented in their education, and all students should learn to understand each other and the world around them. In reality, very little class time is spent actually talking about gender identity, but there is an expectation of respect for others and an openness to talking about this kind of diversity. Unfortunately, many of these kids are not accepted for who they are by other adults in their lives, and sometimes their school is the only place they can feel truly safe.