CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Joe Tersigni for Wellington Catholic District School Board Trustee

“I am running for Trustee to promote and protect Catholic Education and to continue working towards maintaining excellence in student achievement. Our Catholic school system is an enduring gift that has been handed down to us since 1841. I am fully committed to maintaining this excellent Catholic Education System in Ontario.”

Why are you running to become a trustee?

I am running for Trustee to promote and protect Catholic Education and to continue working towards maintaining excellence in student achievement. Our Catholic school system is an enduring gift that has been handed down to us since 1841. I am fully committed to maintaining this excellent Catholic Education System in Ontario.

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

The Role of a trustee is to be the community’s voice for public education. Under the Education Act, a trustee must focus on student achievement, well being and equity, establish policy direction, and be accountable to their electorate and to the province. Trustees also play an important oversight role in the operation of our schools and are important communication links for parents.

Tell us a bit about your background and experience, and how that will inform the way you work as a trustee?

I am born and raised in Guelph and am a graduate of the Catholic Education system here. I am a retired teacher. I taught history and politics for the Wellington CDSB for 34 years. As a two-term trustee and former educator, I feel I have the knowledge and experience to continue to set policy that will improve student success, fiscal responsibility, and support safe and inclusive schools in our board.

What do you think was the most consequential decision made by the board during the 2018-2022 term?

The most consequential decision made by the Board during the last term was the support and advocacy related to Covid-19 resources for students and faculty. Concerns were regularly raised by our board and administration to the provincial government to ensure that there are adequate resources and supplies to make certain that everyone in our schools was protected.

For example, the Board of Trustees supported administration in decisions for providing options of masks (e.g., N95 masks), prioritization of staff for vaccinations, and ensuring there is adequate ventilation in our schools. There are many other consequential decisions that were made too – like balancing the budget, support for capital project submissions to the Ministry related to international education programs, additions to St. Joseph, Fergus, childcare spaces at St. Patrick and Sacred Heart Rockwood and support for board equity and inclusion initiatives that have provided more visible support for all our students.

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 can only do our best and explore any avenue of resources to combat future viruses. We must continue to work closely with WDG Public Health officials throughout any related pandemic issues and make significant investments in HVAC and other ventilation tools such as HEPA filters in each classroom.

It is also important to keep open communication with parents about the value of public heath recommendations such as vaccinations, masking, maintaining distance, hand hygiene and daily screening protocols. Continuing to support a mask-friendly environment in our schools and workplaces is also very important. Our board is making masks, PPE, and rapid antigen test kits available to all staff and students in our schools in the 2022-23 school year as needed.

Most recently, our board received updates from the Ministry of Health and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health concerning school and childcare screening tools. I am proud to say that our Director of Education Michael Glazier, and Rae Walton, Manager of Plant and Operations along with other Board administration members have worked so hard as a team and are very well prepared to weather any potential future phases of the pandemic in Wellington Catholic.

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?

It will be a challenge to ensure that no student falls through the education gaps because of Covid-19, but everyone in our system is working to the best of their ability to reach out to those in need. Our board will be reaching out to families (students, parents, guardians), with additional tutoring supports and our student success teachers will be working to support students struggling with credit accumulation. Both in-person and virtual support will be made available. Both literacy and numeracy will be a strong focus.

For example, in the primary grades, we are implementing new supports to help struggling readers. Our board will also be providing professional development to staff in math and literacy. On July 25, 2022, the Ministry of Education released Ontario’s Plan to Catch-up. This plan is aimed at helping students catch-up on learning, to better prepare them for the jobs of the future and support their physical and mental health. As a trustee, I fully support these measures and any other ways we can find to help ensure that no student falls through the education gaps because of the pandemic.

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?

Our board has taken and will continue to take further steps to help students with mental health issues. For example, increases have been made in mental health staff including mental health clinicians, and child, and youth workers. Training for our staff has been an annual priority. Our staff are also working with local organizations such as CMHA, the Guelph Children’s Foundation, the Grove, and other community partners to access community support as well. Finally, we must continue to advocate for more support in our community and in our schools from the provincial government.

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?

Our schools are in excellent shape and well maintained thanks to the direction from our Manager of Plant and Operations Rae Walton and our custodial and maintenance staff. Because of growth in certain parts of the city and county, our board administration has submitted two rounds of capital priority requests and have been successful with a few projects for additions, improvements, and new childcare buildings. Our board is currently working with our planning consultants to determine growth areas for the next decade and beyond so that we have school spaces where we need them.

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?

Having our students and staff feel safe, included, and welcomed in our schools is a top priority for our board. It begins with open communication between staff and students, and everyone connected with education in our schools. As the slogan on the front door of one of our schools reads, “There are no strangers here, only friends we have not yet met.”

Regarding student safety, this past year we implemented a new program in partnership with the YMCA to support students who have been suspended. The reoffending rate has been very low as the program focuses on addressing the issue that led to the suspension. It is a unique partnership, and it has gone very well. Our staff also complete yearly training to combat bullying in our schools. School principals, mental health staff and teachers have been working hard to provide caring classrooms. Our staff have been learning how to better support indigenous students, LGBTQ+ students, Black students, and other students of colour, and newcomer students to our board.

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?

We must do everything we can to make sure the material we have in our libraries sheds a positive light on every aspect of human dignity, respect, inclusivity, and appropriateness.

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?

A famous educator once wrote this about the importance of education: “Education is as necessary as the light – it should be as common as water and free as air.” Education should mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage, and spark imagination and curiosity. Aside from all the subjects we teach, it is most important to teach that every student is valued, loved, and has potential.

We want our kids to take chances. It is important to teach them to not be frightened of being wrong or of making mistakes. “I can” is always more important than “I.Q.” Batman sums it up beautifully when he states, “You only have your thoughts and dreams ahead of you. You are someone. You mean something.” Teachers touch lives forever.

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?

Simply put I wish for both parties to work together – honestly and fairly – for the common good and to remember we are all here to do what’s best for all students and education stakeholders in the province.

Finish this sentence: I would be very disappointed if we got the end of this election without debating…?

I would be very disappointed if we got to the end of this election without debating the need to push for a new Educational Funding Model for the future from the provincial government that better supports school boards throughout the province.

Where can people learn more about you, and your campaign?

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