CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Laurie Whyte for Ward 2/3/4 Upper Grand District School Board Trustee

“I have developed strong, respectful working relationships with senior administrators, present trustees, school administrators, teachers and other education workers. I have proven my willingness and ability to collaborate with others to jointly identify programs to help all students and have an understanding of the structure through which the Board of Trustees’ must operate.”

Why are you running to become a trustee?

I am running for a few different reasons.

First, I believe I can offer insight on a variety of issues and effectively represent my community. I am a single parent with 2 mixed race children and a member of the 2SLGBTQI+ community. Due to my own childrens’ school experiences and my role as facilitator of a caregiver support group I have developed strong, respectful working relationships with senior administrators, present trustees, school administrators, teachers and other education workers. I have proven my willingness and ability to collaborate with others to jointly identify programs to help all students and have an understanding of the structure through which the Board of Trustees’ must operate.

The second reason I am running is because I believe in the public education system. The Upper Grand District School Board is in a period of change and growth with the hiring of a new director, development of a new Multi Year Plan and the ongoing issue brought to light by the pandemic. The rapidly evolving issues of equity, inclusivity and mental health present especially given the past few years of the pandemic will also continue to put pressure on the board to adapt.

I have been active within the school board on a volunteer basis for over 15 years. As a long term sitting member and past chair of the UGDSB Special Needs Advisory Committee, I have seen first hand the programming and philosophy changes that have taken place. However, there remain gaps, extreme needs and stresses within the system that must be addressed. The development of policies and best practices to help staff and students develop capacity for greater intercultural understanding is essential. This will foster an atmosphere rooted in mutual respect. I strongly believe that everyone has a right to feel safe, included and seen at school.

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

The role of a school board trustee is to act as a liaison between the community and school board, advocate for students and families with a focus on maximizing student well being and academic achievement within scope of the Education Act. Trustees are to work collaboratively to ensure that policy and programs reflect the priorities, and expectations of the community.

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

I have been a volunteer with the school board from the community school level to the higher systems level for over 15 years. On a community school level, I was treasurer of my childrens’ school council, prepared many hot lunches for school fundraising and attended countless school trips. On a system’s level I was appointed to the Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) shortly after my son started school representing families and students affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. As a result of these experiences I have formed strong working relationships with many senior administrators, principals, vice principals, teachers, EAs and support staff.

Two years ago I was appointed to the UGDSB Safe, Equitable and Inclusive Schools Steering Committee and subsequently elected Co-Chair. This committee is comprised of people from various community associations/agencies serving the UGDSB region. As a single adoptive parent of two young adults who are mixed race and being a member of the 2SLGBTQI+ community myself, I feel I offer a unique perspective and insight to this committee. I have a solid understanding of school board policies and practices in the areas of equity and inclusion and I have been part of ongoing consultations with community agencies providing feedback on board practices.​

I believe these experiences have shown that I am willing and open to learning, do not back down from a challenge and am committed to my community.

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

The hiring of a new Director of Education was the most consequential decision because the director of education must ensure that all schools improve student achievement and well-being within an equitable and inclusive environment. This decision affects every aspect of the new Multi-Year Plan and will dramatically influence the atmosphere within the school board.

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?

The potential for future phases of the pandemic is a real concern for many. I would ensure that UGDSB continues to follow the guidelines and recommendations from Dufferin Wellington Public Health. The use of all protective strategies, such as Hepa Filters, ventilation upgrades, handwashing and sanitation, etc, should also be continued. The need for continual advocacy on behalf of students and staff to ensure a safe workplace is imperative.

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?

I believe strongly that relationships are the basis of positive and successful school experience. With families and staff struggling we need an opportunity to build strong relationships between school staff, families and students. A return to extra-curricular activities, school community events such as open houses and BBQs will go a long way to helping to establish new relationships and repair older ones. Board staff have a large variety of newer programs aimed at addressing gaps in the learning of all students. To avoid further students falling through gaps I would advocate for additional funding, follow up to ensure efficacy of new programs and encourage the identification of other gaps and programs to address them.

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?

The board has increased the number of Social Workers and Child and Youth Counsellors this year but there is always room for more to be allocated. Advocacy for increased funding from the Ministry is a consistent need. There are also some promising early intervention programs in the works that I would like to closely monitor to ensure their efficacy. I would also like to see consistency from year to year for in school support as CYC’s often switch schools frequently, leaving students with whom they have relationships feeling abandoned. It is imperative that community agencies such as CMHA and Family and Children’s Services work in unison with the school board to support families and students. I would encourage more collaboration between services, to minimize overlap and increase efficiency. Families need wrap-around services as mental health concerns do not only happen at school.

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?

The building of the new high school will be one of the highest priorities. Students at current high schools, especially Centennial, are severely overcrowded. The maintenance and upgrade of air filtration systems is also imperative. The board has established timelines and checkpoints to keep general maintenance of buildings on track, this should avoid any surprises or large, unexpected expenditures.

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?

Earlier, I mentioned relationships being key to learning. Safety is also key – and safety comes from relationships. Relationships that are rooted in respect, awareness of needs and acceptance will create safety within our schools and community. Often, bullying and violence are the result of fear, ignorance and isolation. The more students and staff learn about each other, their differences and their similarities the more everyone will feel accepted. This is also modeled through a curriculum that is inclusive and allows students to see themselves within their learning.

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?

I absolutely support this and this is not a new practice. We must ensure the resources our students are accessing are relevant, accurate and cause no harm. It is also important that resources reflect the student body, so that students see themselves in the material they are learning from.

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?

I think the point of schools is to create safe, accessible learning environments for all children. I do believe that the system can offer students the opportunity for both well-rounded education and job training, depending on the job. Most careers, however, will always require higher education, whether that be college and/or university. Thus, preparing students for their next step is imperative.

There are also students who will not be able to achieve the same baseline as others. These students must also be encouraged, educated and given opportunities to allow them to optimize their potential. It is important that all students learn how to be positive, productive members of society. For me that means students who are comfortable and confident with themselves and each other, no matter where they are from, who they love or what language they speak.

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?

Respect and honesty, from both sides would make things more effective.

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

The importance of education. Obviously, since I am running for Trustee I feel strongly about public education. I think most people do not pay attention to the election of trustees despite the fact that they play an integral part in all our children’s education.

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

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