“I have said many times that education can ‘level the playing field’ for kids, and not just in terms of learning. Education can offer experiences, opportunities and educators who can change the course of a child’s life. The impact of an education ripples throughout a person’s entire life. As a trustee I have had a voice in the governance of those opportunities and experiences, and I foster my calling to serve and support children.”
Why are you running to become a trustee?
Education was a major focus in my home when I was growing up. My father’s parents immigrated from Italy and as neither had the privilege of education, they could not read or write. Their children all received the education that provided literacy and a better life, and their grandchildren had the opportunities of post-secondary educations. When you combine my first-hand knowledge of what education means to people with a lifelong passion for children, it’s easy to understand why running for trustee is so important to me.
I have said many times that education can “level the playing field” for kids, and not just in terms of learning. Education can offer experiences, opportunities and educators who can change the course of a child’s life. The impact of an education ripples throughout a person’s entire life. As a trustee I have had a voice in the governance of those opportunities and experiences, and I foster my calling to serve and support children. It’s all about the kids.
What is the role of school board trustee as you understand it?
The trustee role is one of governance. Education is provincially mandated and there are many parameters to the Education Act that must be followed. but as trustees we establish our system’s mission statement and governing values. We provide governance for budgets, special education, facilities, multi-year strategic plans, and much more. This governance is at the municipal level, and as elected officials we are accountable to our community. In order to achieve this, it’s important to know the community.
It’s important to understand the vital role of solid community partnerships in order to achieve student success and well-being. It’s important to know that every school in Wellington Catholic is unique, with its own dynamics, strengths and challenges. Good governance means trustee decisions should recognize and respect all of these things, and have the best interest of our students in mind.
Tell us a bit about your background and experience, and how that will inform the way you work as a trustee?
I was born and raised in Guelph, the eldest daughter of Lanny and Eleanor Sorbara. I, along with four sisters, attended Sacred Heart School, St. James and Bishop Macdonell. I had the privilege of growing up in the ward inside a large, extended Italian family. I graduated from the University of Waterloo and am retired from the City of Guelph were my last position was Manager of Operations for the city’s recreation facilities.
I am married to Jake Dupuis and have four wonderful children who are all graduates of Wellington Catholic and five amazing granddaughters, four of whom are school age and attending Catholic schools. I am a practicing member of the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate and an active volunteer in the parish.
I currently am honoured to be the Chair of Wellington Catholic and a long standing trustee with the board. In 2019, I was humbled to be awarded the Ontario Catholic Trustee Association Award of Merit. I am also in my fourth year as a Board Director with the KidsAbility Centre for Child Development that serves Guelph, Cambridge, Waterloo, Kitchener and Fergus.
What do you think was the most consequential decision made by the board during the 2018-2022 term?
It’s almost impossible to choose just one decision in that term, when you consider the overwhelming impact of the pandemic on our students, staff and system. Change was constant, and there was always a need to pivot, to make incredibly difficult decisions. If I have to narrow it down, I’m most proud of our ability to sustain, support and grow our programs and partnerships.
In addition to the International Baccalaureate Program at Bishop Macdonell, we established the primary program at Sacred Heart Guelph, the only IB primary program in Guelph and Wellington. We were able to present balanced budgets that supported special education, mental health strategies, environmental stewardship and more, including establishing our healthy active living resource position. This term was unprecedented in education and I’m very proud of the way our system dealt with it.
Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on schools, students, staff and educators, but it’s not over. How will you help to ensure that schools throughout the board can weather any potential future phases of the pandemic?
We need to continue to work in close partnership with the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health Unit, our parents and our staff. On August 5, 2022, we received direction from the Ministry of Education for daily screening, masking and upgraded ventilation which was similar to when students left at the end of the school year. Our schools score very well on the Facility Condition Index, of which upgraded ventilation is a significant area. We continue to sustain these facility requirements for everyone’s wellbeing. It is clear that we will continue to live with this virus and safety needs to remain a priority for us all.
The Government of Ontario has announced direction to address education gaps caused by students’ experiences throughout the pandemic, how will you ensure that no student falls through any of those gaps?
During the two-plus long years of pandemic shutdowns and disruptions, students were affected in multiple areas. It is an important reality to accept that kids will need support and patience as they adjust to this new year. Online learning was not for everyone and many struggled with staying consistently engaged. Mental health and re-engaging students and parents continues to be the first priority. Staff began assessing where their students were at the end of the last school year; this is a major undertaking that will extend into this academic calendar year.
Just think, for our grade elevens, this year marks the first “normal” year they will have in high school. It’s their first year of extracurricular clubs and sports, of events that make up what we know to be important aspects of the high school experience. This summer saw programs offered for primary/junior literacy, intermediate math transition and secondary online learning; the grade eight Reach Ahead credit program was also offered. We also have established the Empower reading program in all of our elementary schools. Student success has always been at the heart of what we do each and every day.
The mental health of students was an issue before the pandemic, and the pandemic has generated even more desperate need in many cases. What can be done to get more resources and assistance for students of all ages?
Mental health is a tremendous issue among youth—now more than ever. Statistics now say four of every five youth struggle with some form of mental health challenge. Many struggle with anxiety, depression and stress, and these challenges make it hard to cope and learn. Wellington Catholic recognizes that wellness goes hand in hand with student success, and the system has established a comprehensive mental health strategy.
We also have multiple, strong community partnerships that we rely on for resources, support, wraparound services and more. Wellington Catholic believes strongly in the partnership of the home as well, and this past year offered the first “Surviving Parenting in the Pandemic” seminar. This past summer there was a Wellness Garden program that is overwhelmingly supported by School Mental Health Ontario. Each garden had mental health clinicians associated with it, community volunteers, school staff and served a large number of students
. Partnerships with Grove Wellness Centres, walk in clinics and virtual mental health supports were also promoted for students and families. There is a tremendous commitment to the wellbeing of our staff and students at Wellington Catholic.
What are the infrastructure needs of the board, whether that’s repairs on current school buildings or the construction of new ones? What should the priorities be?
Wellington Catholic facilities score very well on the Facilities Condition Index. This index rating is a measurement of the condition of a school building and is based on benchmarks. All of our schools in the Wellington Catholic District School Board are mechanically ventilated and air conditioned. Ministry funding for improved HEPA filters and ventilation improvements have also been put in place. We were pleased to receive capital funding this year for a much-needed addition to St. Joseph Fergus, and to be able to complete and open child care sites at St. Patrick School and Sacred Heart Rockwood.
School safety is a top of mind for students, parents and educators alike, so keeping in mind the mixed feelings around policing provoked by the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, what are the best ways to make our schools a welcoming, inclusive and safe environment?
It’s the staff who create welcome, inclusive and safe environments in our schools. Unfortunately, home is not safe for every student, and not every student is able to come to school in the same position to learn. Mental health, food insecurities, housing issues and economic realities are only a few of their challenges. Many people don’t realize that staff are faced with all these variables every day as they reach out and teach their students. Open communication allows a student to share concerns and problems, or to experience teachable moments from staff members or a partnership / resource in their school. Every child deserves our support—that’s what makes the difference. It’s hard to know sometimes with what or who a student will best identify, but it’s widely known and accepted that one caring adult can make all the difference in a child’s life.
Many school boards have been evaluating education materials, including those available through the school libraries, through lenses of inclusivity and appropriateness. Do you support these efforts? Why or why not?
This is not a new initiative or process for Wellington Catholic. Operationally, staff have always had the responsibility and accountability to evaluate the “tools” they use in their positions (books, films, social media, articles, etc.). There is an ongoing, consistent process to raise questions and make suggestions.
Philosophy corner! What is the point of schools? Is the goal to give every student the same baseline of knowledge, or are we supposed to be training young people for the jobs of tomorrow? Can we balance giving students both a well-rounded education and job training, and how?
Education is about developing creative thinkers who are lifelong learners. I would go a step further and say it’s about helping a student identify what they have a passion for, what their strengths and challenges are, and what they need to do in order to follow that passion. Educating students to one discipline or job is not a reality for today or tomorrow. Teaching them to be creative thinkers gives them the ability to grow and change as they desire. One of the challenges we face is in the area of apprenticeships and co-ops. The pandemic cost students time and placements. A ministry program supporting businesses to help them provide opportunities would go a long way to bridging this gap.
Teachers and education workers will be starting negotiations with the Ministry of Education for a new contract. What’s your advice to the Minister of Education, and what’s your advice to the representatives from the teachers’ unions?
The Ministry needs to repeal Bill 124. It is unconscionable that public sector workers who pivoted and adjusted over and over to ministry directives during the pandemic are not being recognized for the work they do and are not allowed to be adequately compensated. There is a tremendous shortage of educators now but no shortage in the requests/requirements from the ministry. These are frontline workers who are not compensated for the sports they coach, the clubs they run, the concerts and plays they organize, and the many other extracurricular activities that enrich the lives of our students. Boards are seriously struggling with hiring, with a collapsing hiring grid. It needs to be properly addressed as soon as possible.
Finish this sentence: I would be very disappointed if we got the end of this election without debating…?
These questions have covered issues I would have wanted to raise.
Where can people learn more about you, and your campaign?
My website will be up shortly at http://www.vikkidupuis.ca.
My Instagram is vikki.dupuis