Monday evening an almost entirely new set of school trustees began orientation en route to this week’s inaugural meeting.
With only the current school board chairman Rolli Cacchioni and longtime Peachland-based trustee Moyra Baxter returning from the previous board of education, the group promises fresh enthusiasm at a time when educators and administrators throughout the province are on edge.
“That was the interesting thing, not one person talked to me about the contract negotiations, even when I tried to raise the issue,” said Joyce Brinkerhoff, a first-time trustee elected in Kelowna.
With fears of impending strikes or additional job action out of sight, Brinkerhoff said she heard more from parents concerned about the use of technology in schools, and whether someone would fill the shoes of longtime healthy schools champion Anna Hunt-Binkley who opted not to run in Lake Country this year.
Parents are looking for someone to take up the cause, Brinkerhoff was told, and ensure schools continue to pursue ways to incorporate healthier foods and lessons about healthy lifestyle choices.
Returning trustee Murli Pendharkar—back for a third term after leaving in 2005—said he plans to make food one of his pet causes as well going into this term, though he’s approaching it from a different angle.
Pendharkar campaigned on a stance to ensure all children have access to the basics they need to learn and plans to look into whether breakfast programs, like the one he is involved with as a Rotary Club of Kelowna member, need expanding.
The only acclaimed trustee, Deb Butler of Lake Country, is looking at the other big education consumer—the parents. Coming in with a background in parent advocacy, she wants to address parental access and involvement.
Late last year the board of education opted to forgo consultation with the district-wide parent advisory council because the group consistently could not achieve a quorum at meetings. Butler said she believes there may be issues in the manner that parent feedback is being solicited and hopes to look at the issue as soon as possible.
“Your board is elected by the public and they need to be accessible,” she said.
Butler is the one trustee few heard much about in election season as her seat went unchallenged, although those who follow education in the valley know her well. Joining her first parent advisory council when her oldest son entered Kindergarten, she has worked at all the levels of the parent advisory system and said she believes the parent voice is a critical component of public education. Her sons are now in Grade 12 and Grade 10 and she has planned to run for trustee for a number of years—though this was her first time officially throwing her hat in the ring.
Representing West Kelowna, meanwhile, Julia Fraser has promised to advocate for library funding as a means of addressing literacy issues and, like all her new colleagues on the board of education, told the Capital News she is committed to spending the first few months of her term listening to all the stakeholders involved.
The inaugural meeting will be held Dec. 7 with new trustees Chris Gorman, Brinkerhoff, Pendharkar, Butler, and Fraser joining Baxter and Cacchioni. A new board of education chairperson and vice-chairperson will be elected during the meeting, which begins with an aboriginal smudging ceremony and concludes with trustees agreeing to roles on the board’s committees.