Greater Victoria school district trustee candidates

We asked candidates to fill out a questionnaire about their background and their positions on some issues facing their communities.

Here are their answers, as submitted by them. 

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Candidates

There are 12 people running for nine positions:

Nicole Duncan

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

Nicole has worked for many years as a parent advocate in our District demonstrating her commitment to public education as a volunteer and through her service on the Executive of a Parent Advisory Council.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

Nicole Duncan is a parent of a child currently attending school in SD61. Nicole is running for trustee because she believes in the intrinsic value of public education and the right of all children to receive equitable access to the very best education. Nicole is motivated by the importance of meeting the needs of our diverse learning community. Advocating for a strong and vibrant public education system is a top priority for Nicole.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

The impact of a new funding formula from the Province will require careful management by the School Board to ensure equitable access to funding and adequate supports in the classroom. Current projections suggest that a further 2000 students will need to be accommodated over the next decade. This requires prioritizing outstanding maintenance and upgrades to our current facilities and the remaining seismic projects to properly accommodate staff and students as we complete a School Boundary Review.

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

Nicole plans to champion initiatives that encourage adequate supports in the classroom, student well being and the use of technology that respects the privacy and security of those that learn and work in our District. Nicole will advocate for good governance, transparent decision making and a board that is accountable. This means building support through meaningful engagement with our learning community to share information in a timely fashion, identify issues and find collaborative solutions.

Aidan Elkin

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

Community involvement is a big part of my personal identity & an avenue to develop & demonstrate competencies. Examples: getting involved in leadership, counter attack road sense, free the children & students’ council in high school; using project management skills to organize events with Kiwanis club & Commerce Students’ Society; using consultation & listening to help new students with the student transition centre; and using my HR training to help found a business powerspeaking club.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

Skills I gained in high school directly contributed to securing my first job after University & promotions that followed. Having experienced first hand how life changing public school can be, I will focus on long term land, infrastructure & facility planning and improvements; increasing education partner consultation to build on best practices; and use collaborative, values driven, evidence based, common sense decision making to improve student well-being & expand education supports & resources.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

Prioritize boundary review, plan land-use and infrastructure & facility improvements to create sufficient space (considerations for future growth) for education and amenities, ie classrooms, sport fields, childcare, green & garden space. Increased community engagement & mutual benefit partnerships to increase opportunities & supports for students and staff. Productive & respectful bargaining to develop best practices & facilitating increased student learning outcomes and educational experience.

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

Increase ability for parents, students, teachers & community engagement and collaboration with school board for better decision making. Enable stakeholders to better understand and follow issues, proposals and promises being addressed by school board to decrease barriers to getting involved and increase accountability. Focus on improving outreach and consultation with students for increased student voice in decision making.

Tom Ferris

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

A past chairperson of the Greater Victoria School Board

A past president of Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary.

Business Experience

I continue to serve Junior Achievement BC in a volunteer and advisory capacity.

I was the PAC president of my children's Elementary School.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

I feel that my experience lends itself to a continued, good governance model for the school district. Public education is currently tasked with developing new curriculum and accomodating an increase in student population. In addition there will continue to be a need to upgrade our scools to the curant earthquake standards. All of this requires longterm planning and prudent decision making for curriculum,for technology and for facilities.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

In order to meet the needs of all students and to do so equitably across the district, we need to continuously examine the district's practices and the funding allotted by the provincial government. Whether it is a question of expanding facilities, meeting the needs of learners or providing technology in the classroom; we must put students first.

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

We we have a new board with new faces. I will search for common ground with all members of the board in order that we can move forward with a strategic plan and meet the many challenges we face.

Vincent Gornall

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

I have worked with a number of local organizations to improve communities around Greater Victoria — including as a member of the Hillside-Quadra Neighbourhood Action Committee, the Gorge-Tillicum Community Association, and the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

As a candidate for School Trustee, my only ambition is to improve the quality and accessibility of education in School District 61. My work with local community associations informs my unique perspective as a candidate for School Trustee. As a Trustee, I intend to continue my support for inclusive communities throughout the region and will aim to include diverse voices in every public process.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

My priorities as a Trustee will be to:

* Optimize the use of school facilities to accommodate diverse community needs.

* Increase access to high quality before and after school care.

* Support diverse learners in an inclusive environment.

* Improve school transportation for students.

* Expand opportunities for education around food systems and the natural environment.

* Collaborate with other levels of government to improve local education.

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

My “big idea” is that land use matters. Schools can be places that enhance education for students and working conditions for staff. They can also provide recreational, educational and social benefits to the broader community. My priorities as a Trustee are designed to enhance our schools and the places around them, so that the quality of education is improved in School District 61. These priorities will have the added benefit of improving the quality of our communities at the same time.

Angie Hentze

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

I spent the last five years on the board of my children's preschool, first as secretary, then as vice president. I have spent those 5 years liaising and working with families, community members, parent educators, ECEs, teachers, and the SD61 school board.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

The main reason I'm running is because I'm a parent. My children are in kindergarten and grade 3, and I want to be involved in their education in a meaningful way. I think their school and teachers are wonderful, and that our district is doing good work. However, I also think there's a lot of room for improvement, and I would like to be on the inside, helping create that change.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

[In no particular order] 1) Badly outdated catchment areas/map. 2) Too many portables/lack of space combined with unused/underused schools. 3) Lack of affordable out-of-school care. 4) Lack of equity across the district when it comes to programs and opportunities available to students.

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

We've been told that the Ministry of Education will be adding "early learning" to their mandate in the not-too-distant future. Now is the time to plan ahead. We need to communicate with and observe current, quality early learning programs, and work with them to plan for the future. It's vital that we use these programs as a model, and not discard or sacrifice them in favour of cheap, substandard, cookie-cutter options.

Elaine Leonard

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

I have served on the Greater Victoria Board of Education since 1996, served as Chair of the Board and have been a school and community volunteer for 15 years.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

I am passionate about our public education system. I believe I provide a strong independent voice with the collaborative decision making skills necessary to manage the system, listen to the community and advocate for necessary improvements for our students.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

Limited resources in education and having real meaningful input into a new provincial funding formula, our aging facilities and ensuring that the government fully funds our seismic upgrades in a timely fashion

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

I believe in equitable distribution of resources and equal access to education and resources for all students no matter where you live or what challenges you may face.

Diane McNally

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

I was elected to the SD61 Board in 2011 after teaching for 22 years and re-elected in 2014. My motion in 2012 resulted in votes at Board meetings being recorded for public accountability, and another of my motions that year brought student representatives to the Board table. I’ve served the community as Chair of the BC SPCA Victoria Branch Community Council. I’m active in community harm reduction support groups and a member of Moms Stop The Harm. My recent motion, a policy and standards of care following SPCA recommendations for animals in classrooms, is with community stakeholders for review.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

Public schools are the foundation of democracy. I want to continue to develop this vital public good by initiating and supporting progressive policy. A new funding formula will require close watch on equity and support for all students, particularly those with special needs. I am committed to increasing Indigenous student success, and to making our schools safe and welcoming for all students and families.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

1. Continue work with Indigenous leaders and communities to improve Indigenous student success.

2. Provide support for student mental health issues

3. Find space for additional classrooms.

4. Advocate for optimal support for students with special needs

5. Clarify Board role in Early Childhood Education

6. Extend cooperation with municipalities 6. Provide support for students who may face prejudice and marginalization from external groups.

7. Build community engagement.

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

My big idea for SD61 is the idea that adequate funding from the Ministry of Education is required in order to provide true support for students. The BCTF win in court improved realities in classrooms. But still, many students need more support. Is it a "big idea" to lobby for optimal funding and staffing?

Ryan Painter

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

I am a mental health and anti-stigma activist who uses his lived experience with mental illness to bring down the veil of stigma that surrounds those living with mental health issues. I speak at community events, and am the chair of the organizing committee for Victoria's first annual Walk/Run for Mental Health, which has raised over $5000 for Connections Place, a local non-profit group. I also use my social media networks to spread awareness about mental health services and resources in the area.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

As a community activist and organizer, I've always led with the belief that the more people are engaged, the healthier our democracy is. Over the last year I've become very involved in mental health activism. As a person living with a mental illness, I felt it was important to step up and speak out on the issues that matter most to those struggling to cope with mental health issues. I'm running to give voice to those living with mental health issues, to show them they don't need to be afraid.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

Definitely top of mind for people is overcrowding of our classrooms. It doesn't matter where I go in the district, when I talk to people they say our schools are too packed with students, and we need to open more schools to lighten the load for teachers and education assistants. I hear about the concerns from parents and advocates for children with special needs that our system is not operating in a way that ensures every student with a diverse need is not just recognized, but is supported.

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

I want to bring a recovery school, a school that is fundamentally focused on recovery from substance use disorder (on a parallel track with academics) to the south island. Recovery schools have been a fixture in the american education system for 30 years, and they show that after only 6 months, not only do students who attend these schools "use" less, but they are abstaining from drugs and alcohol, and their attendance goes up dramatically. Our kids deserve a chance at a fulfilling life.

Rob Paynter

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

My community experience has largely focused on my children and their activities, for example I was an active member of their school PAC, helped to coach a soccer team, etc. More recently I've served on the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association's Cycling Task Force. I am currently the Volunteer Coordinator for the Greater Victoria Youth Rowing Society.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

My interest in the School Board arose because of our frustration over how the bullying of one of my children was mishandled by school and district administration. While our concerns were eventually resolved, we came to appreciate that there were other challenges and other students that could benefit from additional attention and advocacy. Wanting to provide the best possible learning experience for all students is what continues to motivate me in this position.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

Delivering effective and appropriate support to our most vulnerable students (those with designations, those challenged by poverty and family instability, those with mental health challenges) will continue to be a major challenge for us. The state of our facilities will be an ongoing issue for us over the next decade, as we respond to both a steadily increasing student population and revised seismic standards that will require extensive mitigation work to meet.

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

I have always believed that to be an effective advocate for resources, you must first demonstrate that the resources you already have are being well managed. I look forward to working with other trustees and administration to review our expenditures in detail to ensure that we are making best possible use of the funds we are allocated. I have confidence in our staff to have made wise decisions but as a public representative it is not enough to rely on assumptions.

Zul Rajabali

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

I have volunteered at Food banks and the Partnership walk in Vancouver. I also volunteered in the City of Victoria Emergency prog as a Trainer and a Telecom Operator. I am active in my community as a Helper for elderly people

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

I am running as I want to have an Impact . Now that I have retired I can focus on achieving this.

My children through our Educational System. Two of them finished High School over 15 years ago and the last one completed High School 2 years ago. Not much has changed .

Both my Children have gone to Post Secondary with the last one in UVIC. They needed technical resources as well as educational. I had both financial and educational resources to support them which a lot of parents do not have.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

• Insufficient Fixed Buildings, Technology and Extracurricular/Sport activities

• Inadequate education provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities

• Disparity in educational standards between schools. There seems to be a lack of will to uplift standards for schools that have Student motivation issues.

• Not enough parental choices

• Not enough investment for teacher training

• Not enough dialogue between School Boards, Teachers, parents and Students

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

Ensuring sufficient infrastructure is put in place to provide the best resources to Students. A lot of the schools are short of:

• Permanent Buildings

• Technology,

• Training for teachers

• Playgrounds.

Jordan Watters

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

As a Trustee since 2014, I have shepherded progressive policy initiatives addressing gender identity and gender expression; developed policy and processes to support the equitable distribution of resources within the District; and helped draft SD61’s Strategic Plan. Since 2016, I have served as Chair of the Operations, Planning, and Policy Committee where we have navigated dynamic issues including Vic High seismic upgrade planning, and the adjustment of enrollment priorities. I am a member of the Victoria Family Court and Youth Justice Committee where I co-chair the Youth Matters Committee.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

I am passionate about creating safe, caring, and inclusive communities, and I know the best way to do that is by creating safe, caring, and inclusive schools. I want every child to feel valued and supported in their school. I want to ensure our teachers and staff have the appropriate resources to enable each student to reach their full potential. Ultimately, I am motivated by a desire to create a better world for my three young sons.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

Growing enrolment is a key issue which impacts all other areas. We are facing significant space pressures and need to review our catchment boundaries. I am hopeful that we will re-open schools, as well as add capacity through seismic upgrades. In our classrooms, inclusion continues to be an area of challenge. We need to provide the resources and supports to ensure students with special needs thrive in our schools. I also believe SD61 has a role to play in addressing the childcare crisis.

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

I plan to initiate a District-wide strategy in support of healthy relationships and the prevention of sexualized violence. I have advocated at the provincial level for the inclusion of consent within the K-12 curriculum, and I look forward to working with students, families, teachers, staff, and community organizations to identify, support, and promote leading practice in SD61 and beyond. I see this initiative as a powerful way of supporting the social and emotional well-being of our students.

Ann Whiteaker

Tell us about your previous elected and/or community experience.

Before serving my 1st term as Trustee, I served 3 years on the BC Teachers Council, 4 years as President of the provincial parent advisory council (BCCPAC) & held numerous positions on school & district PACs. I represent SD 61 as BCSTA provincial council rep & have been actively involved in the BC School Centered Mental Health Coalition for 8 years. I have a passion to support families, volunteering as a Mentor Mom at the Single Parent Resource Center & facilitator for BC Parent Support Services.

Why are you running? What's your motivation?

I want to continue to make a positive difference for students. I will strengthen collaborative evidence based decision making that includes students parents ed partners & community. I plan to bring these voices to long term facility & land use planning, boundary review & to build on best practices in inclusion. I will seek solutions to improve student well-being & to expand supports & resources while ensuring equity across the district – always striving for excellence in learning & leadership.

What do you think are the top issues facing your district?

Long term planning for land & facility use, seismic upgrades & boundary review are essential to ensure appropriate space for learning & other amenities such as childcare, garden space & services as communities grow. Community engagement & openness to new partnerships which support students, is essential to healthy communities. Respectful bargaining with a student centered focus will set the tone to building on best practices & improving access to learning and well-being supports for students.

What's one "big idea" you have for your school district, or an issue you would like to tackle?

Middle school years can be extremely challenging times. An increasing number of students are struggling for a variety of reasons, not succeeding within the middle school environment. I plan to look deeper into the data to seek solutions & better supports to connect these students with their learning and external supports. Additionally, I am championing expanding our workforce to include intellectually disabled individuals, better reflecting our commitment to inclusion and our student population. 

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