Mike Foley aims to be a new voice on the Upper Grand District School Board as one of two representatives for Wards 2, 3, and 4.
1) In 100 words or less, what’s your main reason to run for school trustee?
Children are our future, and if we don’t nurture and provide the essential foundations for them to grow and succeed, our society fails in the development of future generations. As a parent, community activist and educator I know from experience thatstudents need a healthy environment to learn in, as well as the proper tools to perform at their optimal best
I want to make sure that all UGDSB students get everything that will facilitate success and achievement while preparing them for the world that lays ahead. I want to make students have the best educational experience possible by working with parents, teachers, students and the board. I’ve seen young adults fall by the wayside time and time again, and I want to make sure that on my watch that doesn’t happen.
2) What is the role of school board trustee as you understand it?
Board members need to be a vital link between the board and our community, and to be an advocate for parents, students and teachers. There are many roles for a trustee to take on, but one of the most vital is in communicating with all stake holders effectively. Trustees use their experiences and skills to work as a group with municipal and provincial governments to craft the best possible environment for education in their districts. Trustees are responsible for allocating funds and resources in a productive fashion to facilitate educational programming and labour harmony while meeting the needs of the community at large.
3) How do you think the relationship currently stands between the Ontario government and your school board?
From what I understand (not currently being on the board), the UGDSB has followed Ministry of Education directives, and that’s all I can attest to at this point. My concern is how far the current board is willing to go to stand up to Doug Ford and protect 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?
There have been strides made with respect to mental health, but our schools are very much underfunded in this area as mental health issues have exploded. Schools need proper funding to hire more educational assistants and to have the necessary resources to implement proper monitoring and follow up of mental health concerns. We need to support our schools so that they have the needed tools to deal with these issues and enable them to develop strategies or coping mechanisms for the classroom.
Presently, it’s often only administrators, guidance counsellors and special education teachers who are offered the necessary mental health professional development. Classroom teachers who want to receive training in mental health often have to do so on their own time, and mostly at their own expense. This is an area I would like to see a lot of improvement in. Our teachers need to be given the training necessary to identify mental health concerns early on.
Having worked with children who are at risk for the provincial government, I was exposed to a variety of mental health issues that are prevalent at all levels of the community. The amount of self-harm by cutting and other means is extraordinary and there are a lot of children at risk in every school. We need to have the appropriate protocols in place to increase the well-being of students.
There are programs in place in all UGDSB schools, but teachers and support staff need better training and better tools in order to effect long term positive change for students.
5) Guelph will continue to grow in the next 20 years, where and when should the priority be for new school construction?
There is a need for improved long-term planning and vision with respect to creating new schools and spaces. The board needs to plan better and eliminate unhealthy portables. Some UGDSB students have been in three schools over the course of a primary school education. Guelph students need better.
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.
Many Guelph schools have been in a constant state of remediation in terms of removing mold and other toxins and trying to create full accessibility, but some schools still have not achieved full accessibility. The current provincial government has just cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the Ontario school infrastructure budget. This is alarming, and to keep children studying in a safe environment, there will need to be serious discussion on the best way to handle this funding catastrophe.
For example, one school in our board just had an elevator installed to create greater accessibility but it doesn’t go to the lowest floor which might limit the classes a disabled student needs to attend. These are some issues of concern that need to be revisited and require more onsite personal inspection.
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?
We need to communicate with our teachers and students and ask them those questions. The Board needs to encourage greater participation in these highly academic areas, while not forgetting about the need for electricians, plumbers and masons as well.
8) What’s an example of something that Guelph schools are doing well versus schools in other board jurisdictions?
The Board has been successful in creating a variety of educational experiences such as outdoor education and enriched programs such as the International Baccalaureate at GCVI. Guelph schools have outperformed with respect to literary results above the provincial average. Program leaders at the Board have been working to integrate Indigenous content into the curriculum.
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?
I think that the Board’s current lottery program is a reflection of a lack of long-term planning and vision. It is a stop gap measure, and in my consultations with teachers and parents, it seems evident to me that a proactive approach needs to be taken to relieve this backlog. The board needs to be like a ball team: they need to scout the existing teachers’ colleges and attract more French teachers. I grew up in a Francophone community in Quebec, and I would love to see more people being engaged in bilingualism, but the infrastructure needs to be in place in order to create the spaces.
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?
In principle, it’s a great idea, but ultimately like many urban myths, it’s not really a practical solution. Studies have shown that there is only a small savings, and that it creates utter chaos initially. If there was a concrete example that it works, then great, but so far, it’s more about political optics than a foundational reality.
11) Is there an issue concerning education or public schools you feel needs more attention? What is it, and why?
Safer schools. Schools that are forty years or older need significant amounts of restorative work for children and staff members to be able to attend these facilities without daily health concerns. The fact that the present provincial government has eliminated millions from remediation is cause for concern and the health of these buildings needs to be improved. Toxic substances such as mold and asbestos need to be removed from our schools as quickly as possible.
12) For someone that doesn’t have kids in school, why should they care about who’s running for school board?
It’s the old story of “it takes a village to raise a child”. We are all in this together; the students of today will be the citizens of tomorrow and they will be contributing to the tax base and social safety net. By investing in quality education today, we are watching our investment grow as today’s students become tomorrow’s citizens.
13) Where can people learn more about you, or your campaign, and how can they get in touch with you?