Five candidates are vying for three seats as trustees for Salt Spring on the Gulf IsIands Board of Education.
Below are answers to three of the questions posed to Salt Spring school board candidates by the Gulf Islands Teachers’ Association. Note that while George Sipos’ name is still on the printed ballot, he is no longer seeking a seat on the board.
1. What are the critical issues facing our local schools right now?
2. The Fraser Institute ranks schools based on data from the Foundational Skills Assessments and is reportedly now providing this information to real estate organizations. What is your view of this policy?
3. Recruitment and retention of teachers in the Gulf Islands is a significant challenge. What solutions do you propose to address the critical shortage of qualified teachers in our district?
1. If elected I represent the Salt Spring Island voters, yet my board responsibility is in servant leadership to the Gulf Islands as a whole.
Some key critical issues on my mind and heart if elected will be monitoring our new configuration model to ensure it is meeting the needs of the students, and that appropriate, financially stable supports are available for our staff to provide the best opportunities for learners. Collaborating on a renewed strategic plan will be a big piece of work for the new board. I will advocate for values to guide us that stand for diversity (SOGI and BIPOC rights), sustainability (environmental and financial), Opportunity (for all learners) with a restorative practice lens. We need to continue building relationships and trust that contributes to a sense of belonging and collaboration within a system that has complex rights, responsibilities, roles and accountabilities.
2. It is frustrating to witness the Fraser Institute continue to practise ranking schools based on FSA scores. It is small minded to propose that this tells a person anything meaningful about a school or its community. For the last four years as a trustee, our association has advocated to the Ministry of Education to stop this policy.
3. Recruitment and retention strategies are multifaceted. They need to consider housing costs/availability (outside of our control), keeping up with provincial pay grids, participating in in-house trainings/incentives (bus drivers/EAs for example), as well as investing in healthy, vibrant school cultures that attract potential employees.
1. A short list:
• Learning loss due to Covid
• Recruitment of teachers and EAs
• School and community culture
• Faith in the entire system
2. Frankly, we can do nothing about what the Fraser Institute does given the flow of information that is accessible to anyone now. Those of us who sheepishly felt proud in the early 2000s when GISS ranked highly continued to denounce the use of one standardized test to rate schools. I feel strongly that all kinds of data must be shared openly and honestly so the FI isn’t the only institution spouting off. How many kids are going in to trades, how many kids to Emily Carr, etc. and then long term, how many kids are building your house or managing your account at the bank. I am a data seeker. In Saanich we tripled our Indigenous grad rate by figuring out the reasons for lack of success. You can smother the FI by bringing in more information and sharing it publicly.
3. This is a very big problem and we aren’t alone. We want teachers (and nurses!) to bring their families here and stay in the community. I have gone on record saying teachers should be paid more because it is wrong that a teacher can’t afford to buy a simple home. I propose a task force, where a diverse group could brainstorm ideas and at least engage in options for the education community. If the hospital foundation did some things, why can’t we?
1. Although GISS is considered an excellent school compared to other schools, it does face negative cultures within the student population. There is a rise in online trends, and issues affecting all schools also affect or will affect GISS. There is a rise in cyberbullying, and the increase in violence in schools across North America and the world. Salt Spring Island is not really affected as other schools are, but it is better to be preventative. Education is needed on all forms of racism and marginalization.
I would say that my greatest concerns are around a return to overcrowding in the elementary schools.
I am interested in protecting the programs that were unique to SIMS. I hope to keep the option open for returning the SIMS building to its use as a public education building.
Other issues I am interested in include: remote learning options, home learners, working with the Outer Islands, mental health and the use of devices.
Studies show that excessive phone use in classrooms is a detriment to education. There are studies showing a 20 per cent decrease in absorbing what a teacher is saying if a student is online at the same time. I support ways of learning that do not include the need for a handheld device.
2. FSA tests are not a great way of ascertaining the quality of education as a lot of people are not great at taking tests. It shows more about how skilled a student is at taking the FSA test and does not show much about the quality of education at the particular schools. The use of FSAs has brought in an element of learning as a means to an end, and plays into parental pressures on students.
3. It seems to me that the main issue with retaining teachers in local schools is about housing them. There are currently teachers commuting from Vancouver Island to work on Salt Spring. If they are offered a job in the district where they live, they will stop teaching here. As for solutions, possibly making teacher housing a priority, recruitment and incentives for teachers to teach in this district. Also, hiring people as they study.
1. Mental health is a critical issue facing our schools. I have seen improvements in the district’s work to address mental health but the pandemic created new challenges that are being felt everywhere. I will work to ensure the district continues to focus on the mental health of our students and staff to ensure the best educational outcomes.
2. I have never liked the Fraser Institute and how they ranks schools. Sharing this information with real estate organizations is a new low that shows they have no interest in improving educational outcomes for students. That said, I still believe that the Foundational Skills Assessments provide a helpful snapshot of our students’ abilities. Our ability to graduate students prepared for the future is aided by the FSAs. I will continue to advocate for the province to mask the school by school data so it is only used by educators best experienced to improve the outcomes of our students.
3. Recruitment and retention of all staff in the district is an issue and it is also being felt by other sectors locally and the teaching profession provincially and nationally. Locally our district needs to continue to work with local and provincial partners to make housing more affordable and more units available to house all staff in the district. Provincially there needs to be a focus to increase the number of teachers certified and ensure the certification process for out-of-province and out-of-country teachers is made as streamlined as possible.
1. The pandemic has created problems at all levels of society and has disproportionately affected lower-income families and minorities. Although this isn’t directly a school-based issue, all societal issues become school issues. I realize that our teachers, support staff and administrators work really hard to create a welcoming and supportive environment for all children, however, I feel that the pandemic has set so many things backward and the atmosphere in our schools is no exception. In my personal experience, there have been more “behavioural issues/bullying,” to use a catch-all phrase, in students recently. The bullying itself is not the issue, however, it is indicative of underlying problems in children’s lives. In essence, everyone is under stress and the children are sponges that collect all these feelings and let them out at school.
2. In my opinion, Foundational Skill Assessments should be used only for their intended purpose of providing information to teachers, schools and the district. I do not believe results, data and statistics from the FSA should be shared for the purpose of ranking school communities and especially not for real estate purposes.
3. Locally, challenges in the recruitment and retention of all workers are linked to the housing crisis, and teachers are following suit. We need to work with local governments to prioritize affordable housing for critical service providers like teachers.