Candidates for the position of Barriere/Little Fort School Trustee faced off at an All Candidates Forum on Saturday, Nov. 6, in the NTVIC room at the Ridge.
The forum was a prime opportunity to hear and discuss the school district for both voters and parents, but unfortunately, the turnout from the public was poor, with just under 20 people showing an interest to hear what SD73 incumbent Joanne Stokes, and challenger Rhonda Kershaw had to say.
Harley Wright moderated and started the forum with opening remarks from each candidate, noting that the trustee position oversees the schools of Brennan Creek, Barriere Secondary, and Barriere Elementary.
Kershaw said she believes “in a strong voice for our children”, and she wants to make sure the children “get the best education right here in Barriere”.
Stokes noted her previous three terms in the position of trustee has provided a wealth of experience she can draw from. “I want to make the best decisions possible for our local school district, while keeping in mind how it effects our own communities,” said Stokes. She noted a “passion for the new innovations our District has done; and we are in the middle of our five year Capital Plan, and I would like to see that come to fruition”.
Wright informed the public that the Parent Advisory Council had submitted a list of nine questions for the candidates to answer, and then questions were taken from the floor.
Asked why they were running for the position of trustee Kershaw answered, “I have two small children in the school system… It’s changing very quickly over the next few years, and I want to give the input of a parent.”
Stokes said, “I can provide the time and energy to dedicate to SD73. I also volunteer in Barriere… I have raised two sons here in Barriere from K to grade 12, and I know the system.”
Asked about parent input, Kershaw said she would like to see more input from the public to be part of policies being made as a result of increased dialogue.
Stokes said, “We are in the people business and good relationships matter. I am committed to seeing that continue.”
Asked what they thought of learning tailored to the needs of individual students, Kershaw said she thinks this is important… ”I would like to see increased course offerings, especially in the upper grades. And to also expand on the video conferencing which is already offered.”
Stokes said, “I would like to see more parents involved in the school system. Parents are important partners in a student’s education, and the education system… Our Board believes in partnering with parents in our school system.”
Kershaw stated that she thinks the Board has done a good job but would like to see rural areas receive the same benefits as urban centres.
Stokes noted she had concern about the effects the length of the teacher’s strike may have on the students. She also said she disagreed with BCTF (BC Teachers Federation) who have said strong progressive trustees stand up for teachers. “Trustees stand up for students, parents, and tax payers,” said Stokes.
One audience member voiced concern about rural schools sometimes getting neglected.
Kershaw said she thought the setting up of arts or science buses, similar to mobile technology buses, could help to give rural schools “the same opportunities as other kids have”.
Stokes said, “The Board supports rural schools by giving them more teacher time. We provide extra teaching staff, and it is one of the reasons we brought in video conferencing. We could get the mobile trades unit to come to Barriere, but we haven’t had enough students to date to do that. If we could, for instance, have six students and six adults take the course we could bring it to Barriere.”
She also noted that funding “is the sticking point – our budgets are tight all the time. We only have the money from the province. Right now the best for Barriere Secondary is to provide a full academic program, and ensure that the graduation program is complete.”
Kershaw offered that she thought a “possible rotation of an outstanding art teacher, who could spend six weeks in Barriere and six weeks in another community” would be beneficial, rather than having a good art teacher in one community all the time, and none in another.
Stokes stated SD73 has a ‘strings’ program, and that they did experiment with a traveling teacher but found it too difficult with winter driving, and driving that took up teaching time. “The best is having a teacher that is qualified to teach many different subjects,” said Stokes.
A question from the floor asked about “kids who fall through the cracks”, and was directed to the incumbent.
Yes, that’s still a problem,” answered Stokes, “We are really working hard to make sure we have learning assistance people on site. We also have tutors to assist with assignments and extra work to help students before they hand that in.”
She did note however that much of that program has been put on hold due to the teachers job action. “It takes a long time for change; we have to keep pushing and advocating it.”
Kershaw noted that teachers seem to be quite willing to embrace new programs and technologies.
A question was asked about getting more support staff back into the schools.
Stokes answered, “Some special needs get a full time support staff worker (SSW), and some get a part time. We hire as many as we need to with the funding available. SSW is one of the only groups with funding we haven’t decreased.”
It was also noted that student numbers are still decreasing with a current number of 177 at Barrere Secondary, and 230 at Barriere Elementary. Currently 223 students are participating in distance learning from all areas of SD73. All grade 10 students take Planning 10 by distance learning so they are provided with the experience of how to do online learning.
In their closing statements Stokes said, “…I’m very proud of our community and parent involvement in our schools. I have a strong work ethic, take my job seriously, and attend every event. I make my decisions on what is good for students… I spend many extra hours at home studying so that when I attend meetings I am totally prepared.”
Kershaw closed by saying, “We are very fortunate to have an active group in Barriere. I have no experience, but I think you all know that I can think quickly on my feet.”
The public were encouraged to vote on Nov. 19, and also reminded that those who do not live within the District of Barriere also have an opportunity to vote for the School District Trustee for Barriere/Little Fort which encompasses the geographic area of those living in the Thompson Nicola Regional District Area ‘O’.