The need for communication between trustees, parents, teachers, staff and students was a main theme of an all-candidates meeting for school trustee candidates on Wednesday.
The first and only meeting of the 16 candidates, who are vying for seven trustee positions, was held by the local District Parents Advisory Council (DPAC).
The event was held at the Abbotsford Arts Centre and drew more than 100 people.
Candidates introduced themselves and each answered a question submitted by the public before the meeting was opened to questions.
Phil Anderson, who is new to the Abbotsford but was a trustee for nine years in two provinces, said he would bring his people-person skills to the trustee table and would be able to work with the board.
Kamal Gill spoke of the need to give full attention to every student.
Noah Dwain Arney said that it is important to focus on two-way communication between board and teachers.
Harold Kokot said funding is a critical issue facing the district. He said there are people who can help special needs students, but proper support needs to be placed where it is needed.
Graham Evan MacDonell said city halls put pressure on the provincial government to keep education costs down and “that is wrong.” He spoke of the need to work to increase funding.
Incumbent Shirley Wilson said the focus in the next decade needs to be on the shift in technology, and those involved in education need to be “nimble” to address the changes as students will learn differently in the future. She added the board also needs to stay on top of resources and make sure they are where they need to be.
Linda Matties said that when dealing with vulnerable students, where due to economic issues or learning abilities, there needs to be a long list of approaches to meet the needs of the particular person.
Balbir Gill said that to be available as a trustee, he would try to attend as many functions at schools as possible, as well as DPAC and PAC meetings. He said as a current DPAC member and crossing guard he already spends time in schools.
Tadeusz Kuczynski said he would put a focus on arts and culture, which is essential in schools.
Incumbent Rhonda Pauls said there is always a need to increase communication with parents. She said there are technological ways to communicate with parents, as well as newsletters and newspapers, but it is difficult to reach some parents whose input they need and the board must find new ways to communicate with them.
Kirpa Punam Kaur Mann said schools need to be responsive to diversity whether it is economic, language or learning diversity, and schools shouldn’t see individuals as a problem, but respond so every child feels involved and supported.
Kevin Pedersen said for him a primary focus is on science and helping kids become interested and involved as jobs open up in those fields.
Stan Peterson said people will know their trustees have done well by the success of students, and in Abbotsford that has occurred. He said they are there to provide opportunities for all students in the district.
Incumbent Preet Rai said that over the last term they focused on individualized learning and that moving forward arts programs should be cultivated.
Incumbent Cindy Schafer said that strategically around the district they have tried to provide different programs and offerings to aid and nurture the creativity of students.
Freddy Latham said the arts are a great motivator for kids to read and learn and said they go hand in hand with literacy. If we were able to support teachers to integrate the arts with literacy it would be a powerful learning tool, she said.
The issue of the teacher’s strike arose in a question from an audience member, who also questioned how to encourage teachers to want to work in Abbotsford and retain teachers.
The candidates spoke about the need to respect teachers and better communication between the board and teachers moving forward.
A raise for the incoming school board was also subject to questions. The raise, to increase pay by 3.3 per cent over the final two years of the upcoming four-year term, was approved during the teacher’s strike by the current board.
The raise was criticized by some candidates, but defended by incumbent Pauls, who said there was misinformation about the issue. She said an external committee made a report to the board about the increase for the future board. She said she thinks it is about $500 to $700 over four years, not the 27 per cent raise as suggested in the question.
Many candidates touched on the need to repair the relationship between boards and teachers following the strike.
For more on each trustee candidate visit abbynews.com/municipalelection