A two-week spring break, public engagement and the importance of fine arts were among topics posed to candidates at a well-attended school trustee forum on Tuesday night at St. Andrews on the Square.
The night featured all 10 candidates vying for five spots as Kamloops-area trustees in School District 73, alongside Caroline Thompson, one of the two trustees running for the trustee seat that represents Sun Peaks, Sun Rivers, Chase and a part of Barnhartvale.
Questions began with trustees being asked what their goals are for engaging with the public.
Newcomers gave a few ideas, while the three incumbent trustees gave current examples.
Challenger Keri Schill said there needs to be more time spent at PAC meetings, while fellow challenger Adam Jensen mentioned the need to talk to students, PACs and the administration so more voices can factor in to decision making.
Trustees need to find a way to get people interested in what the board does, challenger Bowen Cooluris said, suggesting trustees attend meet-the-teacher nights to engage with parents.
Challenger John O’Fee stressed the importance of the media in communicating with the public, mentioning a weekly column he used to write while in public service.
(School trustees and members of city council write monthly columns for KTW.)
Incumbent Meghan Wade listed a variety of public functions she attends, while fellow incumbent Joe Small mentioned how much he enjoys speaking with teachers.
Incumbent Kathleen Karpuk spoke of the board’s efforts to engage with parents when meetings are held in outlying communities.
The incumbents were also asked why they voted last year to return to a one-week spring break despite feedback from teachers, students and parents that was largely in favour of two weeks — a question that received a round of applause from the audience.
Wade and Karpuk said the board’s motion asked that a two-week spring break be negotiated within SD73’s next contract, in 2019, with teachers.
“The board did not say no to a two-week spring break,” Wade said, citing the fact SD73 is the only school board in the province that has in its contract with teachers a mandatory start date for spring break, regardless of when Easter falls on the calendar.
Karpuk said the board also wanted to ensure some of its lowest paid staff had an extra week’s worth of salary and heard concerns from parents surrounding the number of days kids are out of schools.
Small said he was one of the dissenting voices in that vote, which he said did approve a one-week spring break for the next three years, claiming that a provision in that motion hindered being able to negotiate a two-week spring break with the district’s unions.
All candidates were asked to list one thing they would like to see to improve the experience for kids in kindergarten.
Challenger Donovan Cavers said classroom size is critical for students in kindergarten, while Jensen said there is a need to encourage more learning through play.
Schill said there needs to be more funding for more playgrounds, challenger Heather Grieve suggested teaching more about diversity and Karpuk said she’d like to see StrongStart drop-in programs operating at every school.
Thompson said she plans to strengthen the connection between day cares and community schools.
All candidates expressed a positive outlook on the fine arts in schools.
Challenger Beat Klossner said arts programs can be expensive for kids, arguing the district needs to ensure they are fully funded.
Wade mentioned a lack of music teachers, who are difficult to attract to the district.
Cavers said the relationship with the province needs to be rebuilt to ensure teachers at all schools in SD73 have the appropriate resources for fine-arts programs.
Asked how they plan to engage with students and teachers at their assigned schools (trustees are assigned a number of schools to which they are connected), O’Fee said it’s important for a trustee to visit schools, Thompson said she plans to visit with the people she will be representing at community events and Schill stressed the need to attend PAC meetings.
Klossner noted he likes to visit with students and teachers and listen to their concerns, while Grieve said she plans to strike a balance between her work with Interior Health and her school trustee engagements.
Small said, as a retiree, he has the time to visit schools and has done so during his term, but plans to do more if re-elected.
Voters go to the polls on Saturday, Oct. 20.