Martha MacNeil is one of two incumbents to represent Wards 1 and 5 on the Upper Grand District School Board.
1) In 100 words or less, what’s your main reason to run for school trustee?
I run for school trustee because I am a steadfast believer in the importance of education and that our future lies in the success of our children. Every day I think about ways I can help to make a better world for all and I know without a doubt that the path for me to take to achieve that goal is through the education system. The Ministry of Education’s goals are: Achieving excellence, ensuring equity, promoting well-being, and enhancing public confidence and I feel that they clearly outline my goals as well.
2) What is the role of school board trustee as you understand it?
At the very core of it, a school board trustee is someone who builds and supports relationships. Relationships with our constituents, relationships with our director and senior admin, relationships with our staff, relationships with our school communities, relationships with other levels of government and with Ministry staff. All of this relationship building leads to improved outcomes for our students, better working conditions for our staff, and positive connections between schools and their neighbours. It also supports the day to day work of the trustee which includes: setting policy, overseeing the development of the board’s budget, making decisions regarding program, and providing a voice to our constituents, among many other things. The job of a trustee is so incredibly varied and that’s part of what makes it so exciting. In a typical day we could start off at a Kindergarten graduation, move next to a committee meeting about equity and inclusion, and end the day by approving our budget of approximately $450 million dollars. It is never dull, it’s frequently challenging, and it’s always worth every moment of our time.
3) How do you think the relationship currently stands between the Ontario government and your school board?
The Upper Grand District School Board has always had a strong relationship with the Ontario Ministry of Education. Our director, senior admin, and staff, all have excellent reputations both provincially and nationally and are often sought out to participate in initiatives, to provide expertise, and to lead pilot projects for the Ministry. Our board is extremely fiscally prudent and high-functioning and we have always worked well with Ministry staff. As far as a relationship with the politician side of the government goes, it is far too early to answer that with any accuracy. It is my hope that, as politicians, we can work with the Ontario government in a productive way, regardless of political beliefs, to achieve excellence for our students.
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?
This is a very important issue both in our board and in society as a whole. As a Board of Trustees, our job is to listen to experts within our board and beyond and support their work in our schools and in the system. We can also advocate for increased funding from the Ministry of Education and for thoughtful use of the funding we receive so that the resources are used where they are most needed.
5) Guelph will continue to grow in the next 20 years, where and when should the priority be for new school construction?
Well, the obvious answer to this is that a new high school is needed in the south end of Guelph. Aside from the tremendous growth in that specific area, a high school hasn’t been built in Guelph since 1967 so a new one will help alleviate the capacity pressures at all high schools in the city. Fortunately, our planning department has been successful in convincing the Ministry of Education that the need for this new high school is of very high priority and we have been granted funding and hope to begin construction in the very near future.
Also, as noted in the City of Guelph’s Clair Maltby Secondary Plan, there will be a need for new elementary schools in the south end and the timing and location of those will be dependent on how the community develops.
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.
The school buildings in the Upper Grand District School Board are in excellent condition overall. The Ministry of Education has a formula for assessing the condition of buildings and we consistently score very well. Our Capital and Maintenance departments are always working hard to keep on top of any issues and, while some may take longer than others to resolve, they do stick with them to eventually find a solution. An excellent example of this is the work that has been done to create accessibility at Guelph CVI. As the building is well over 100 years old and has had many additions over the years, it presents a very unique challenge but our staff have been persistent and are finding success in making GCVI a school that is available to all, regardless of physical ability. On a related note, our staff are very skilled in using repair resources wisely and finding ways to stretch our funding to suit our 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?
The best thing we can do is to listen to the teachers, the curriculum leaders, and our Program staff to find out what is really needed to support students. They are the experts with the in class experience and they are valuable allies when decisions are being made on how to allocate resources.
8) What’s an example of something that Guelph schools are doing well versus schools in other board jurisdictions?
That’s a hard question to narrow down because obviously I think that UGDSB students are the best! Public education in Ontario is consistently rated among the best in the world and I am proud to be a part of a system that provides such high quality education with an emphasis on equity, inclusion, and diversity and that is available for any student. We have many award-winning programs, teachers, staff, and students in our board and the great thing about public education in Ontario is that *every* board could make that same statement.
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?
The Upper Grand District School Board has been offering French Immersion for over 40 years and has, in my opinion, been doing a good job of it. Unfortunately, we’ve been victims of our own success! The model that we were offering previously was unsustainable and needed to be changed. Nobody wanted to restrict access but part of the job of trustee is to make decisions that are best for the *whole* board, not just one group. We are now a couple years in to the new model and we are always monitoring and making tweaks to the program as we come across issues that we hadn’t anticipated. It will never be perfect but nothing ever is, really. The key is to pay attention and learn and adjust as necessary.
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?
This is a thorny issue that has a lot of history. Obviously, one school board might potentially create many efficiencies but efficiency isn’t always the best path and one needs to view the issue as more than just a numbers game. As an incumbent trustee with the English public board, I don’t think it would be fair of me to comment on whether my colleagues in the Catholic and French boards deserve to keep their jobs.
11) Is there an issue concerning education or public schools you feel needs more attention? What is it, and why?
The beauty and excitement of being a politician is that there is *always* something that can be improved and our job is to identify those issues and help find solutions. Currently, I would say that funding for Special Education is a definite challenge for all school boards in Ontario. I don’t think the UGDSB is alone in the practice of providing money for Special Education well over and above what the Ministry deems a suitable funding allocation. The budget amount provided by the Ministry is not enough to provide all of the services and supports that are required by our students. The Ministry’s funding model needs to be reviewed and updated and, as trustees, we can support that process by advocating for change through our provincial organization, the Ontario Public School Boards Association (OPSBA).
12) For someone that doesn’t have kids in school, why should they care about who’s running for school board?
I believe that all people should care who’s running for school board trustee because the education of our children shapes the future for all of us. Trustees are responsible for overseeing the system and if we fail at our job, our students may not be as successful as they could be. The students of today are the doctors, lawyers, software developers, teachers, bus drivers, customer service staff, (and even politicians!) of tomorrow. If we don’t get it right now, we endanger the functioning of our society later. On a more practical note, school buildings are an integral part of our community and it’s important to have a strong, well-functioning Board to help ensure the maintenance of those buildings physically as well as their role as neighbourhood gathering places. Not to mention, everyone pays taxes towards education regardless of whether they have school-aged children or not and it’s important to elect quality trustees to ensure that those tax dollars are spent wisely.
13) Where can people learn more about you, or your campaign, and how can they get in touch with you?
I am always available for conversation via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 519-830-2139. People can follow me on Twitter at @macneil4trustee or they can check out my website at www.marthamacneil.com