School board races competitive
In 2018, voters in Kawartha Lakes had little opportunity to change their Trillium Lakelands District School Board trustees, with four of five local races featuring only one candidate who was ultimately acclaimed.
In 2022, for the first time in many years, all five trustee positions have multiple candidates vying for positions on the TLDSB’s governing body. In Wards One and Four incumbent Don Alton is being challenged by Deb McInerney. In Wards Two and Three incumbent John Byrne is facing a two-way challenge from Tim McAlpine and Herb Pounder. In Ward Five, incumbent David Morrison is not running again and Kevin Gorrell and Heather Bradley have come forward to challenge for that vacant seat. In Wards Six and Eight Joan Abernethy is campaigning to replace long-time incumbent Judy Saunders. Finally, in Ward Seven, incumbent Colleen Wilcox is facing off against Peter Wallace and Charles Clarke.
The Advocate contacted all 12 public school board candidates with an identical survey to gather information about their motivations and educational philosophies. Six individuals responded.
Wards One and Four
Don Alton – no response
Deb McInerney is a recently retired TLDSB teacher. McInerney says she wants to be “a strong advocate for student needs, particularly those with special needs.” She says that she “can present the concerns of parents, students and staff to the board in a manner that will be given consideration by board members and senior administration.”
McInerney says it is important to engage retirees in the goings-on of the local board so these individuals can see the importance of the education system and how their tax dollars are being spent. McInerney also says that after two-plus years of the pandemic it is time to “re-engage students and parents from kindergarten through grade twelve . . . so that everyone can find value in their education.”
McInerney’s goals as a trustee would be “to increase both student and parent engagement, improve mental health supports in schools for both staff and students, represent teacher and student voices at the table and represent non-parent taxpayers’ concerns to the board and to the schools.”
Wards Two and Three
Herb Pounder – no response
John Byrne – no response
Tim McAlpine is a retired local teacher. McAlpine says he always has valued the work of school trustees and “would love the opportunity to give back and represent our schools, students and constituents of Wards Two and Three.”
McAlpine says he wants to listen to and learn from all partners in the system. He wants to “make sure our constituents, parents, bus drivers, support staff, teachers, administrators and senior management . . . have a voice in a strong publicly funded education system.”
McAlpine says that the best way to improve the local board is for trustees “to have a strong understanding of the current environment to shape any future initiatives or change.” McAlpine says he will visit, meet and speak with as many partners in the district as possible “to represent them effectively at the board table.”
Kevin Gorrell – no response
Heather Bradley – no response
Wards Six and Eight
Judy Saunders, a longtime trustee, offers voters “a passion for our educational community — students, families and staff.” Saunders says the board “needs to create physically and emotionally safe, healthy learning environments.” She also says that it will be very important “to provide experiences that help student re-connect and engage in school life.”
Saunders’ educational philosophy is centered “on good governance and leadership with student centered approaches to instruction, assessment and the classroom environment.” Saunders wants to support a learning environment and experiences that “foster equity, inclusion and belonging.”
She also says “it is important to have high expectations for students, staff and trustees. All voices are vitally important. I want to recognize and celebrate the strength that comes from the diversity of our student and staff identities and experiences.”
Joan Abernethy, a retired educational instructor who has been involved in the system at many levels, credits councillor Ron Ashmore as one of the reasons she chose to run.
Ashmore suggested to Abernethy that “it was time for a change” in trustee representation of Ward 6 and Ward 8, and Abernethy agreed.
Abernethy says that the pandemic has “disrupted education. Many students have fallen behind and became discouraged. Some despaired. Others have become deeply cynical. Parents, teachers and staff suffered a loss in confidence in the system as schools were closed . . . and families left to fend on their own. Many stakeholders are anxious and angry and they do not know who to trust in a world driven by high levels of misinformation. We need to restore faith in education.”
If elected trustee, Abernethy said she would focus on several goals: “to listen, represent, advocate and mediate for the interests of all educational stakeholders in our community including students, parents, teachers, staff, community members, business interests, unions and Ontario to promote excellence in education and enthusiasm for learning.”
Abernethy says she will “ support and encourage innovative options to traditional education and will listen to all stakeholders about how to improve how our schools function,” adding ”some parents, teachers and staff feel they have not been heard. I will work hard to change that.”
Abernethy wants to focus on “sound infrastructure” which she says “is vital to a good education. I will advocate for improvements to infrastructure that benefit the whole community and engage the community in active and interesting learning.”
Charles Clarke – no response
Colleen Wilcox is a two-term trustee who says her goals for education are “putting students first, to keep schools safe and make sure the supports are there for students to fulfill their goals that they have set for themselves.”
Wilcox says that key issues the board is facing include a lack of internet connectivity at many students’ homes, and unpredictable enrolment numbers.
“Over the last 10 years the number of students has gone down but with the expansions going on in Lindsay and surrounding areas we have seen this trend is slowly reversing. The board needs to be mindful of this.”
Wilcox says she will continue “to be available, to listen and to take concerns to the appropriate people to get resolutions . . . If I have a concern, whether from a parent or student, I don’t hesitate to call senior staff and ask what can be done and where I can direct the concerned person. I have often been heard saying we are like air traffic controllers in that we direct people to the right person to get the answers we are seeking.”
Wilcox also says she sees herself as an advocate for staff and student mental health initiatives and students with special needs.
Peter Wallace is a parent who says he is worried about “the illiberal tide of highly divisive questionable political ideology working its way into the Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum usually under the branding of social justice initiatives. Many of these ideas are rooted in critical race theory and gender ideology-based ideological narratives.”
Wallace says if elected he would “take a principled stand against teaching children a divisive ideology that aims to have them see themselves primarily as being members of abstract identity groups. . . these ideas promote an us vs. them adversarial mentality which invariably manifests over time in animosity, division and ultimately hate.”
Wallace says that another of his focuses will be getting students caught up from time missed due to the pandemic.
Wallace says he has a solution to the shortage of teachers and support staff local boards are facing. “I believe one step the school boards can take is to offer a work environment which respects the freedom of speech and freedom of conscience of all (school staff) even if they disagree with certain dominant cultural narratives in the education system,”
Wallace says he wants to see a system “free of extreme political ideology” and one that is not afraid to learn from other schools around the world.
Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board – English separate trustee
Candidates – Mary Ann Martin, Jaclyn Giffin
Martin is a long-time Durham Catholic board trustee and nine-time board chair. She also served four years on Kawartha Lakes council representing Omemee and area.
“I am passionate about Catholic education,” Martin said. “I will do my best to ensure the best possible Catholic education in an environment that is safe, nurturing and respectful.”
As trustee, Martin will make it her job that the Catholic schools in Lindsay, Downeyville and Kirkfield get the same resources and that students in these schools have the same opportunities as other students in this geographically diverse board. Martin said she will make sure that budgets are equally allocated for each school regardless of where they are located.
Martin said all students are welcome at the boards’ schools as “they are all children of God. We are Catholic first and we are taught to love one and another.”
Giffin is an Omemee-based lawyer with practices in Peterborough, Port Perry and Kawartha Lakes.
“I am Catholic and I felt called to run,” Giffin said in a telephone interview with The Advocate.
“I am not happy that sacramental preparation has been taken out of the curriculum and I am campaigning to have it returned to the curriculum so that students can learn about the sacraments with their friends.” Giffin said. “I found it brought the students and teachers together.”
First communion would be part of the Grade1-2 curriculum, first reconciliation/confession the Grade 3-4 curriculum and confirmation would be part of the grade 7-8 curriculum.
Other issues that drive Giffin include making sure all schools are funded and supported equally, that staff are supported by the board and that all involved do a better job of advocating what makes Catholic curriculum special to encourage parents to keep their children in the system after Grade 8.