CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Luke Weiler for Ward 1/5 Upper Grand District School Board Trustee

Luke Weiler is one of the people running in the very busy Ward 1 and 5 trustee race for the Upper Grand District School Board.

1) In 100 words or less, what’s your main reason to run for school trustee?

I believe fundamentally in the importance of education. Elementary and high school provide the foundation for how we live the rest of our lives. Trustees have the special responsibility of working with teachers and parents to ensure that our children are being educated in a supportive, caring, and respectful environment. I would consider it a privilege to assist the board in this work.

2) What is the role of school board trustee as you understand it?

My understanding is that trustees are meant to ensure that there is democratic accountability in the operation of our school system. Trustees work with parents and other constituents to ensure that their concerns are taken into account when decisions are being made, and to explain those decisions afterward when called upon. Trustees take in advice from staff, teachers, and experts so that they are making informed decisions that will serve the best interests of students and the community. Trustees, when convened together as a board, supervise the Director of Education and through that employee, other staff indirectly. Finally, trustees are required to make sure that the school system is meeting provincial requirements and that it is operating on a balanced budget.

3) How do you think the relationship currently stands between the Ontario government and your school board?

I think that given the young age of the provincial government, it is yet to be determined how exactly that relationship will develop over time.

Initial indications are a cause for worry. The reflexive cancellation of the revised sex ed and well-being curriculum and the retraction of badly needed funding assurances are both concerning. That said, it is a young government and a new minister, and I would hope that good faith actors in both the school board and the provincial ministry can focus on the core mission of providing education to our children in a way that promotes quality, accessibility, and inclusion. As a lawyer, I spend a lot of time trying to bring together two sides who do not see eye to eye, and I’m hopeful this experience will assist in this role.

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?

I think that the mental health of young people has always been a priority, although it is only relatively recently that we have recognized it as such. I understand that the school board employs a mental health lead, who is responsible for developing programs and strategies with counsellors, psychologists, teachers, principals, and other experts. I strongly support this work and will work to ensure it is funded and expanded as recommended. While as a society, we are starting to approach physical wellness in a preventative way, I think we are still only beginning to understand the need for a similar holistic approach to mental health – one which addresses it at every level, and not only once it becomes a visible issue. I would support work which addresses assessing and assisting students from this perspective.

5) Guelph will continue to grow in the next 20 years, where and when should the priority be for new school construction?

As a trustee, my role would be to take advice from staff and experts, to dialogue with my fellow trustees to make evidence-based decisions in the best interests of students, and to advocate to the Ministry of Education to obtain the funding and necessary support for new capital projects. I believe there is a system in place to analyze our needs for new schools, and that this system has resulted in the approval of the new high school in the south end of the city. I will continue to support this process.

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.

Accessibility is certainly an important issue. Accessibility means that all participants in a system are able to use it equally and I dependently. This matters because it recognizes and supports the dignity of each and every person. Accessibility can be a challenge for an organization with older building stock, but it is a challenge that we should look forward to confronting. Given that this is not just a school board responsibility but a societal one, I would support advocacy for dedicated funding from the provincial government to assist in making all schools accessible.

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?

I think that our front-line educators, namely the teachers themselves, are best positioned to determine the allocation of resources for teaching these subjects. I would listen to our teachers and take their lead on what supports they are seeking. Ongoing training should be made available so that our educators are well versed in modern best practices.

8) What’s an example of something that Guelph schools are doing well versus schools in other board jurisdictions?

Guelph is an environmentally conscientious community, and an early adopter of many ecologically friendly programs such as waste diversion, rain barrels, green roofs, and community energy. In keeping with that tradition, I understand that the UGDSB leads in EcoSchool certification.

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?

There are currently more students who wish to be in the French Immersion program than there are spots to accommodate them. In some ways, this is actually a good problem to have – it is reflective of an engaged and enthusiastic population that wants to be fully conversant in both of our nation’s official languages. Unfortunately, there are presently neither the staff nor the space to deliver services to every student who wants to enrol in the FI program. While this is not where we want to be as a school system, I cannot fault the current board for overseeing a program that is so popular it has overrun its capacity. I am supportive of efforts to recruit and retain new hires who can allow us to expand the program, and I am open to creative problem solving to address the issue of physical space.

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?

Keeping in mind that this is a provincial issue and not really something decided at the level of the school board, I’m happy to share my thoughts.

I believe in public education, properly funded and delivered to every student without regard to language, residence, or creed (or lack thereof). If we were to design the school system today, it is unthinkable that we would create a publicly funded school board explicitly set aside for members of just one religious community. In fact, we have been criticized for this by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. It does seem odd to maintain a system that has an obviously discriminatory aspect. That said, there are historic reasons for the arrangement and it is enshrined in our constitution, making it difficult to change.

I believe that, eventually, the people of this province are going to determine that they are not supportive of such a division and will ask the government to take the necessary steps to amalgamate the school boards. On grounds of simple equality, I will support this decision. I am sceptical that such amalgamation will generate great cost savings, however, keeping in mind the experience of the municipalities subjected  to forced amalgamation in the 1990s, for whom the promised savings never appeared.

11) Is there an issue concerning education or public schools you feel needs more attention? What is it, and why?

I think that the presence of disruptive personal technologies in the classroom is an issue that needs more attention than it is getting at present.

We know that technology is potentially very disruptive to learning, interfering with focus, deep thought, and analytical abilities. We also know that many smartphones and apps are specifically developed to capture and hold users’ attention. I am seriously worried about how the presence of these devices is affecting students’ ability to gain the real benefit of classroom instruction.

It is my understanding from speaking with teachers that they do not have the authority they need to manage the presence of smartphones and tablets in their classes. This is an issue that I would like to see addressed at the board level, in consultation with students, teachers, experts, and especially parents. I think there is a real potential gain to be made here, and our students stand to benefit.

12) For someone that doesn’t have kids in school, why should they care about who’s running for school board?

As someone who himself doesn’t have a child in school, I think I’m well placed to try to answer this question!

We live in a society together. We affect one another. Aside from the fact that it is a basic moral imperative to educate our young, we owe it to ourselves to take this responsibility seriously. The students of today are our fellow citizens of tomorrow. They are going to vote in our elections, staff and run our companies, serve as our health care workers, and fill all the other roles in our increasingly complex and changing world. Even looking at the question from a very self-interested perspective, the next generation’s ability to live rewarding and meaningful lives will reduce crime, and their taxes will pay for our health care when we get older.

Educating our next generation is one of the single greatest responsibilities we have as a society. We are fortunate to play a democratic role in selecting the people who will help administer that education, and we should take it seriously.

13) Where can people learn more about you, or your campaign, and how can they get in touch with you?

Folks can check out my campaign website at www.lukeweiler.ca, and I’m reachable by email at connect@lukeweiler.ca. People can also call me at 519.994.7742.

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