School Board is one of the hardest and least appreciated of municipal-type councils -but it is also one of the most important. The three main municipal parties in Vancouver are holding nomination meetings on successive weekends in September (NPA Sept. 13; Vision Vancouver Sept. 20; COPE Sept. 28.)
Since my children began school in 1996 I have seen four different school boards and several dozen trustees. Some work hard -irrespective of their political parties, some work hard but only for their political parties and some didn’t appear to either work or understand the issues at all. Some very good people found themselves hamstrung by party affiliation and didn’t seem to be able to do good work when it meant cooperating with trustees from their opposing party. Over twelve years one does build up a set of strong opinions about the people in public positions and about what they should be able to do.
My criteria for a ‘good’ trustee involves some simple points. First and foremost, I think that they should have a history of direct and meaningful involvement in public education. Secondly, they should have a capacity to work well across political and partisan lines. And, finally, they should be able to demonstrate effective involvement with community members in a manner that builds collaborative engagement.
Using the above criteria here’s my list of the top people via for school board nominations from the three main municipal parties. Please note that if I do not know about a candidate (i.e. have never met with, talked with, or otherwise been able to see them in action) or if I have nothing positive to contribute about a candidate I will not list them below.
If I were voting today (in order of preference):
Helisa Luke (Vision): I have known Helisia since we were parents involved with the founding of Save Our Schools in the early days of the Gordon Campbell government. S.O.S., while severely attached by then Min. of Education Christie Clark for being a front group for the BCTF/NDP/COPE, was in fact a very middle of the road group of parents from across Vancouver who had really had enough. Serious cutbacks to education (through a legislated teachers contract, increases to MSP premiums, etc) made it difficult for schools to provide the education that we should have. S.O.S. included parents from all political stripes. Anyone who was there can have nothing but positive things to say about Helisia’s capacity to work in common cause with people of a variety of outlooks. For this work alone I would give Helisia my strongest support. I have also seen her work in support of public education since then through my role on a number of Parent Advisory Councils at school and district level. In this domain it is even clearer that Helisia is a candidate who is interested in education for all children and furthermore, that she truly understands what is needed to do a good job.
Patti Bacchus (Vision): I also first met Patti through the Save Our Schools campaign. Patti exemplifies the type of parent who gets involved because they care about education for all children, not just education for their children. Like many of us her first brush with education politics arose from her experiences as a parent, but Patti shows us that concern about education is a community effort. Patti has been involved in advocacy groups for special education, school seismic safety, and proper funding and resources for public schools. During the several years that I have been involved in the District Parents’ Advisory Council, I have had the opportunity to see Patti working as a parent advocate at the district level on a variety of committees and task forces. As a parent and community member I know that we would be well served by Patti
Bill Bargeman (COPE). I first met Bill when he was on the Vancouver Secondary Teacher’s Union executive. I am a strong supporter of unions and workers rights to fair representation in unions. However, I take a dim view of the unionist who use the hard won gains of previous generations to hide incompetence, avoid responsibility, or to opt out of ethical behaviour. Bill is not that sort of unionist. Everything that I have about Bill gives me great confidence in him. I respected his leadership in the teacher’s union. He’s the type of teacher that I would love my son’s to have. In my role on the District Parents’ Advisory Council I have seen him act in a firm, clear and respectful manner. As a union leader he would not always agree with the School Board. What makes Bill a rare leader is that he could take the disagreement and still keep the path open for collaboration. Too often politicians and others talk about the importance of unity or agreement when what they are really saying is be quiet if you don’t agree with me. Democracy, however, is built upon disagreement and the capacity to work through that. Bill can work with people even when he disagrees. The outcome is often a better thing for all concerned. Bill will make a great trustee. I look forward to seeing him elected!
Ken Clement (Vision). Ken has been a First Nations community worker for many years in Vancouver. One thing that our public system is failing on is the way in which aboriginal education is back-seated to a host of other concerns. Administrators and politicians will put in a good word here and there, but the real work that needs to be done is constantly overlooked. The problem is that the aboriginal voice in our education system is constantly silenced and ignored. By having a person like Ken on school board we can go a long way toward making sure that the Aboriginal
voice (parents and students) is heard.
Alan Wong (COPE). Alan Wong is one of the longest serving trustees on the school board. I have known Alan since I was a member of the COPE Education Committee about a decade ago (I’ve since left COPE to participate in Vision’s education committee). Alan strikes me as fair minded in his dealings with education issues. He clearly has strong perspectives, but is willing to consider alternatives without dismissing them out of hand. These are important qualities for a school trustee.
Stepan Vdovine (Vision). A UBC student and current school trustee in the outer Fraser Valley, Stepan has a lot going for him that makes him the right choice for Vancouver’s public education system. He has demonstrated that he can do the job. He brings a perspective to the job that is lacking among those of us who are a bit long in the tooth and who may have grown a bit jaded in the process.
Jane Bouey (COPE). Jane was a trustee during the COPE majority board of a few years back. Of all the trustees that I met during the COPE term of power she was among those that I most liked and appreciated for her sincerity, hard work, and willingness to actually make education work. Her work in the areas of special education in particular demonstrated to me that she has what it takes to be a good trustee.
Mike Lombardi (Vision). Mike is recently retired from one of the BC Federation of Teachers most critical staff jobs -communications director. I first met Mike around the issue of the provincial government’s grade ten exam policy. These exams have introduced an entire level of control and monitoring in the school system with problematic outcomes for many students. At the time Mike was involved in the Prince of Wales Parent Advisory Council and they were mounting a strong opposition to the new exams. Mike’s strength lies in the way he approaches an issue that he feels passionately about and is not afraid to make those opinions clear. As a member of the DPAC executive at the time I was struck by the forcefulness of his argument but also by the fact he was able to work with a large group of parents, many of whom actually supported the grade ten exams. The combination of Mike’s professional background in the teacher’s federation with his commitment to public education will make him a good choice for school board.
Carol Gibson (NPA). Carol will be a strange pick for those who know me. I would be the first to say that I disagree with Carol politically on many points. To be blunt, I think that she, like many of her NPA colleagues on the School Board, should take more decisive public action and positions on the matters before the school board instead of letting senior management do all the talking. That being said, Carol certainly demonstrated her capacity and ability to work with parents at the local school level and for this I would put a check beside her name on the ballot. University Hill area schools are grossly over capacity yet we have had practically no action for almost a decade. Former COPE trustee Kevin Milsip did a lot of good work during his brief term in office. Carol picked up the ball and worked with us at the school to get the information we needed and to keep our needed school concerns on the agenda.
If I were voting at the COPE nomination meeting here are my picks:
Bargeman, Bouey, Wong, Blakey -I would leave the fifth spot empty unless forced to vote for five. Then it would be Noel Herron.