Jordan Lemke is one of five challengers, in addition to the two incumbents, running for the two Ward 1 and 5 slots on the Upper Grand District School Board.
1) In 100 words or less, what’s your main reason to run for school trustee?
I’m running for school board trustee because I’m worried. I see the direction the new provincial government is taking education, cutting important details out of the curriculum and taking away funds that schools desperately need for repairs, and I find it very concerning. We need the board of trustees to understand how important their role is, especially now, and be able and willing to face the challenges that lie ahead.
2) What is the role of school board trustee as you understand it?
The role of a school board trustee is most simply to be a vehicle for public input on education. Trustees are how the community can interact with the board and express whatever concerns they may have in hopes that these concerns can be addressed. There are of course a wide variety of parts to the job, such as setting the budget and policies for the board and making decisions about programs run through the board, but it all comes back to being the public’s representative for making the education system be the strongest it can be.
3) How do you think the relationship currently stands between the Ontario government and your school board?
While I don’t have the best insight as someone who doesn’t currently sit on the board, to my understanding the board has a solid relationship with the people at the Ministry of Education, which is very important for the function of the school board. On the side of the politicians, the board has already put out a statement expressing concern about the direction of the newly elected government, and I don’t expect that relationship to improve all that much if the provincial government continues to attack educators and make cuts to funding and the curriculum.
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?
As someone who has dealt with mental health issues, I’m pleased with the work that has already been done by the board in regards to setting up programs to help students better manage their mental health, but there is of course more than can be done in this area. Resources need to be better allocated so that more staff have a better understanding of mental health problems and methods of dealing with them. Work needs to be done to break down the stigma of seeking help, as this is often one of the main factors preventing students who may be aware of the problems they face from being able to deal with these problems. The approach can’t just be reactive, only dealing with problems as they boil over. We need to take a more proactive approach so that students are already equipped with coping mechanisms if they do end up having an issue with their mental health.
5) Guelph will continue to grow in the next 20 years, where and when should the priority be for new school construction?
The most obvious answer is in the south end of Guelph to help manage the growth Guelph will be experiencing as a result of the Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan. While funding has already been approved for building a new high school in the south end, I doubt this one school will be enough to fully accommodate the growth Guelph will experience in that area over the next two decades. Beyond this, we need better long-term planning around school zonings in general which accounts for growth and change across the city to prevent issues like students being moved between primary schools from year to year and being separated from siblings arbitrarily.
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.
From my understanding accessibility seems to be a work in progress at many Guelph schools, and while it’s great that we see the work is in progress with things like elevators being added to certain schools there is definitely more that can be done. Accessibility can’t just be something we want to achieve eventually, it needs to be a priority and any issues we become aware of should be dealt with urgently. That said, doing so while the provincial government is clawing back money that could be used for these kinds of upgrades or repairs will be a challenge, but with the funding we do have available this should remain a priority.
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 first step would be for the school board to ask this exact question to teachers and students! They’re the ones who would be the most directly familiar with where STEM education in our district could use improvement. From there we apply the feedback received, be it providing more training for teachers who need it, setting up extra programs to get students more engaged with STEM fields, or whatever else is needed to make STEM education in our schools the best it can be.
8) What’s an example of something that Guelph schools are doing well versus schools in other board jurisdictions?
One would be environmental leadership, with every single school in the district being certified through the Ontario EcoSchool program. Another is, despite my earlier criticisms, the board’s approach to mental health being far ahead of most other boards. Academically we see examples as well, such as our International Baccalaureate program where our students score far above the world average for these programs while being provided with with a challenging curriculum which instills a deeper understanding of content and gives that content meaning.
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’ve heard a lot of parents express concerns with the current way the board is handling demand for French Immersion education, and I sympathize with those concerns. While due to simply not having the resources to provide French Immersion to every student who wants it we can’t just make the problem disappear, we should be working towards making it more available in any way we can rather than being satisfied with the current system which isn’t meeting that demand and is so arbitrary in how it determines which students will and will not receive French Immersion education.
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?
As a school board trustee this is not a policy I would have the power to enact. With that said I understand both sides of the argument. While there are savings to be found in efficiency from only having one board rather than two, studies have shown those savings to be minimal, while also identifying that issues may arise initially which would offset any savings that are found. On top of that there’s a reason the separate school system exists and I don’t think it’s my place as a nonreligious person to take that system away from those who support it.
11) Is there an issue concerning education or public schools you feel needs more attention? What is it, and why?
I know I’ve already hit on this, but mental health. While some would say it’s an issue that already gets plenty of attention, in so many cases, especially outside of our district, that attention amounts to little more than lip service when what’s needed is action. It’s great to talk about how we need to be more understanding of mental health issues, but the approach needs to be so much more than that. The main thing just talking about these issues does is reduce stigma, but in a school environment even that effect can’t be guaranteed if the approach taken for that conversation doesn’t strike the correct tone as is so often the case.
12) For someone that doesn’t have kids in school, why should they care about who’s running for school board?
For the same reasons I care! I don’t have kids yet and probably won’t even by the end of this school board term, but I understand that education has such a wide impact on society that it’s worth being engaged with the system in some form. The kids in school now will eventually be the ones paying into our social safety net, as well as the ones controlling it, and as important as it is for us to ensure that the world they enter is livable, it’s equally important that we prepare them for the challenges society will face under their watch. As the school board is responsible for steering schools in the right direction, people need to engage with the democratic process so that they can be confident in the direction being taken by the board, and hold trustees accountable when a wrong turn is taken.
13) Where can people learn more about you, or your campaign, and how can they get in touch with you?
The easiest way to reach me is through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, though I also have a campaign website at jlemcke4trustee.ca. I can also be found on both facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jlemcke4trustee and twitter as @jlemcke4trustee, where while my posting has been limited I will be fairly quick to respond to questions if asked!