Vikki Dupuis is another of the four incumbents running to return to the Wellington Catholic District School Board.
1) In 100 words or less, what’s your main reason to run for school trustee?
I can answer in two words: the children. I have a passion for enriching the lives of kids—their dreams, the things they find funny, their problems, their achievements, their joys, their ambitions and their different journeys as they move through childhood. The “playing field” is not equal for every child, unfortunately, but I believe that education can very much help level that field. As a trustee, I am in a position to help administration and staff members create opportunities for all children to strive to reach their full potential. I know that may sound a little cliché, but I very much believe in it. I have a lifelong history with Wellington Catholic, first as a student, then as a parent of students, and as a volunteer and trustee. I bring a strong commitment to our kids and to Catholic education.
2) What is the role of school board trustee as you understand it?
The trustee role is about governance. As a school board we establish our mission statement and the governing values that are the basis of the decisions we make on annual budgets, policies, facilities, special education, multi-year strategic plans and much more. While education is provincially mandated and the Education Act outlines roles, the approach to management is a municipal responsibility. Trustees are elected officials and, as such, are accountable to their community, but they also need to understand the public and the students; they need to establish and maintain a wide spectrum of community partnerships in order to achieve student success and well-being. Every school has its own uniqueness and challenges, and trustee decisions should recognize and respect them, ensuring that it’s always about the success of our students.
3) How do you think the relationship currently stands between the Ontario government and your school board?
Relationships are about respect, and Wellington Catholic District School Board has a long and respected history of going the distance for our students. Our special education and mental health strategies are well-respected provincially. Our strong commitment to student success has created some very innovative programming in our district, and our outstanding graduation rate reflects that. Over the years a number of staff members have been seconded to work at Ministry level or have contributed to curriculum development. As a board we are strong advocates for the well-being of our students and we consistently meet mandates set out by the Ministry of Education.
4) The mental health of young people is a growing priority; how will you help insure that schools get the resources they need to address this important issue?
Mental health is a major issue for young people—recent statistics report that one in five children/youth struggle with some level of mental health concerns. Wellington Catholic has a comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Action Plan in place, and we recognize the strong commitment required to support the plan. Children struggling with mental health at times have little or no capacity or energy to learn. While we work from the plan to be as proactive as possible, we have teams in place to support day-to-day challenges. As a system, Wellington Catholic has strong connections in the community with partners who can assist in “wrapping around” those in need as well, as recognizing that this support needs to include families and caregivers. As a trustee and member of the board’s Special Education Advisory Committee, I strongly support the resources and staffing needed for mental health advocacy and action in our schools, and I am deeply committed to mental health wellness for both staff and students.
5) Guelph will continue to grow in the next 20 years, where and when should the priority be for new school construction?
School construction is a complicated process. Neighbourhoods change, school populations change and the Ministry of Education has very prescribed criteria for funding new schools (these allocations include before-and-after school programs/day care allocations). As a board we review our needs annually and we monitor our projections, but beyond that I cannot speak for where and when, based on funding and land acquisition.
6) While mayor and council candidates talk about city infrastructure, let’s talk about the infrastructure of our schools. How do our school buildings fare? Are they accessible enough? Are there enough resources to address repairs? Et cetera.
Our schools are a source of pride for the board. The Ministry has a Facility Condition Index that ranks each of our school conditions individually and, overall, we rank very well. (Unfortunately, this means we are occasionally not eligible for provincial funding, because our facilities are well-kept, but we continue to ensure that our schools move forward in energy efficiency, safety, etc.)
With regards to accessibility, to what end do we consider a facility “accessible enough” with challenges being as varied as they can be? A review and update of the board’s Accessibility Plan was done in February 2018 and we comply with AODA standards, but we also do not limit student opportunity based on physical accessibility. Is there enough money for every repair and maintenance or upgrade? Never. Equipment ages and fails, preventative maintenance costs rise and needs change, but we recognize that safe, welcoming, well-maintained facilities are also an important part of student achievement, and so we recognize the need to constantly stay on top of the evolving needs.
7) What can the school board do to give teachers the resources to improve how students learn in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses?
Innovative programming is a major focus and strength of Wellington Catholic. In the Summer 2018 issue of Leaders & Learners magazine, our staff are highlighted in an article entitled, “Responsive Models of Professional Learning: A Success Story.” The piece speaks to the ongoing work and success of our Primary Renewed Math Strategy, which is just one example of the work we are doing in the STEM space. Our long-standing support of the Guelph Lake program is another example of a commitment to innovative science programs for our entire system. Our technology plan this year piloted wi-fi on several county buses, in order to give students who travel for an extensive part of the day access to staff and homework help online while en route. This is a first in Ontario and again an example of our commitment to funding/resources to ensure our student achieve success in all subject areas.
8) What’s an example of something that Guelph schools are doing well versus schools in other board jurisdictions?
I do not have in-depth knowledge of what other boards are doing well, but I can share with you that Wellington Catholic supports and demonstrates social justice extremely well. I am so proud that social justice is second nature to our administration, staff and students. The many initiatives of our schools to support those in need, in our community but also nationally and internationally, happen constantly. Staff and students alike will always give time, talent and resources to improve the lives of others. As just one example, we were very proud to win the United Way “Community Spirit Award” last year.
The other strength of Wellington Catholic as a system is the day-to-day efforts for marginalized learners who, often because of circumstances beyond their control, are unable to achieve success in a typical classroom. Again, our system and staff members are dedicated to creating innovative pathways for all kids to achieve, believing in the ability of each and every person in our system
9) FRENCH IMMERSION: If you’re running in the Upper Grand District School Board, how do you think the board has handled the pressure of demand for French Immersion? If you’re running in the Wellington Catholic District School Board, should the board be looking at developing its own French Immersion programs to help relieve the pressure?
Wellington Catholic looked in-depth at the issue of French Immersion this past year but there was consensus at the time that it was not feasible for us to implement. I am certain the program will be discussed again at some point in the future.
10) There’s a political question about dissolving the Catholic and separate school board system and creating one school board, what’s your opinion on the issue?
Ontario is currently ranked among the top education systems in the world. Many people believe that amalgamating boards would show efficiencies, and avoid duplication of services, but the merging of boards in Ontario in 1997 proved that bigger is not better. The ministry Grants for Student Needs are per pupil and would remain the same, as would teacher salaries and benefits. Classroom sizes are Ministry-mandated, and schools can still only accommodate a set number of students; special education needs are specifically funded; transportation costs are not eliminated, and the list goes on. My opinion is that education, and all it entails, is not cheap. We absolutely need to be fiscally responsible and develop partnerships where possible, but costs in education increase as they do in all other facets of life. My opinion is that we have a system envied worldwide and it should remain status quo.
11) Is there an issue concerning education or public schools you feel needs more attention? What is it, and why?
Funding would be an easy answer—there never seems to be enough money—but outside of that, I feel that mental health issues in our children/youth are a major issue, and a challenge for education. How does a child suffering from anxiety or depression learn? Do they understand that they’re struggling, or have a sense of why? In my opinion, we need to continue to look for ways to support and champion kids with mental health challenges, showing them every day that they matter. Students do not all learn the same way and teachers are major players in a child’s growth and development, and student achievement is a struggle without wellness. I feel more attention needs to be given to mental health staff/support.
12) For someone that doesn’t have kids in school, why should they care about who’s running for school board?
This quote from the 2018 World Development Report: Education really struck a chord with me:
“When delivered well, education cures a host of societal ills. For individuals, it promotes employment, earnings, health and poverty reduction. For societies, it spurs innovation, strengthens instructions and fosters social cohesion. But these benefits depend largely on learning. Schooling without learning is a wasted opportunity. More than that, it is a great injustice: the children whom society is failing most are the ones who most need a good education to succeed in life.”
This is why we should all care about who’s running for school board trustee. I cannot think of a single area of life that is not touched by education. Maybe you no longer have kids in elementary or secondary school, but do you have grandchildren? Do you use volunteers at work, or in your organization/agency?
Perhaps you are who you are because of a certain teacher who made you feel like you mattered, who pushed you to do better. Or maybe there was a program that fostered in you a passion to follow a certain path. Education touches virtually all aspects of society, and school boards have the accountability of overseeing those systems. We need people in trustee roles who have a passion to serve to do their very best to ensure all these things can happen. I’ve proven over and over again that I am one of those people.
13) Where can people learn more about you, or your campaign, and how can they get in touch with you?