Retiring school trustee Moyra Baxter was given a touching farewell as she chaired her final meeting of the Central Okanagan Board of Education on Wednesday.
Sandwiched between her final chair’s report to the board and a standing ovation from her fellow trustees and audience members at the end of the meeting, Baxter was honoured and given special recognition for her 26 years as an elected trustee representative for Peachland/Okanagan Area West.
Kevin Kaardal, Central Okanagan Public School superintendent/CEO, saluted Baxter for her unwavering support for an inclusive public school system and her relentless pursuit for provincial operating and capital funding.
Kaardal said he recalled literally watching her chase cabinet ministers down the hall when they weren’t available to meet with her in order to gain an audience and bring forward the interests of the school district, just one aspect he said of how and why she has been a champion of the public education system as a trustee.
Kaardal also introduced a letter from Dan Albas, Conservative MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, congratulating Baxter for her service and announcing her being the recipient of a certificate of recognition from Parliament in Ottawa.
In her report to the board, Baxter addressed the achievements of the school district in the past year, and also reflected on the past four year-term for the outgoing school board.
“This past four years has been a term unlike any other to put it mildly,” she said.
While there were highlights such as the opening of new schools and resolving the addition of a second secondary school for the Westside, Baxter also acknowledged the division in the community created by COVID-19 and the anti-vaccine and mask wearing requirement sentiments.
While school boards were following provincial health ministry protocols, Baxter said parents vented at local trustees about those decisions often with abusive telephone calls, texts and threats.
“No one deserved to be treated that way,” she said.
Baxter said looking ahead, school boards are limited by provincial oversight when it comes to operating and capital funding, and curriculum directives.
But she noted where school boards still have independent authority is in areas such as offering French Immersion, school busing, the international student program, to close or amalgamate schools, and to work with partner stakeholder groups and individuals to improve public education for students.
“And school boards have and will continue to be leading advocates for increased funding and resources, and have a voice to challenge provincial decisions related to education,” she added.
Baxter also thanked the support the school board receives from staff, community groups, individuals, parent advisory council volunteers for supporting the school system in a variety of ways.
She also gave a shout out to members of the district student council for their “thoughtful and honest voice” on education issues.
Since she enrolled her oldest of three sons in Raymer Elementary back in 1974 after immigrating to Canada from England, Baxter said she has come to believe that public education is the cornerstone upon which a democracy can exist and thrive, and has dedicated herself to fighting for that ideal.
Trustee Lee-Ann Tiede said the new board of education will miss Baxter’s “remarkable recall” of historical details concerning the school district.
Trustee Wayne Broughton applauded Baxter’s support of the LGBQT students and their journey to find acceptance and support within the school system.
Outgoing trustee Norah Bowman cited Baxter’s guidance, of reminding her how an elected official represents all their constituents, whether they voted for them or not.
“She takes very seriously the idea of democracy and I have a lot of respect for that,” Bowman said.