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

“I strongly value the public school system and its role in educating and supporting the growth of the next generation. I believe that my background in not-for-profit governance, collaborative decision-making, and law will make me a constructive participant in the work of the school board.”

Why are you running to become a trustee?

I strongly value the public school system and its role in educating and supporting the growth of the next generation. I believe that my background in not-for-profit governance, collaborative decision-making, and law will make me a constructive participant in the work of the school board.

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

Trustees are the democratic connection between residents and our publicly funded schools. Trustees:

– act as a resource to the director of education, and to provide supervision of staff through that position
– determine questions of policy and to articulate a vision for the school district
– support staff in their work
– act as ambassadors for the school board and promote the work of the board
– set the annual budget
– ensure that children are being provided with a quality education and that policies are being adhered to
– work with community partners to create additional learning and enrichment opportunities for students and staff
– offer constituency services to parents

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

I’m a sole practitioner lawyer operating my own law practice in downtown Guelph. I’ve lived in this beautiful city for 21 years.

I have had the privilege to serve in a leadership position on the boards of directors for a number of local organizations, including the Guelph Not-for-Profit Housing Corporation, the Hillside Festival, the Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation. These experiences have strengthened my skills at collaborative decision-making, working alongside professional staff, and understanding the division of responsibilities between a governance board and organizational operations.

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

The hiring of the new director of education to replace the outgoing and longtime director was a very important decision. I appreciate the board’s decision to recruit a director who brings perspective and experience from other boards as well as from a provincial lens.

The development of the strategic plan was also a key item. The multi-year plan provides a strong vision and establishes strategic priorities for the future. I understand it was a mammoth undertaking, with input from over 3,400 students, parents, community members, and other stakeholders.

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?

Schools should be thinking proactively about how best to keep students and staff safe in the face of the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. Students want to be in class and teachers want to be there too. The best learning takes place in class and we should do everything we can to avoid another disruption of in-person learning. This means being sensitive to the changing risks created by COVID-19 and proactively implementing safety measures and best practices to allow for the continuation of safe in-person learning. Our buildings need ventilation upgrades and every classroom should be equipped with a C02 monitor in it to confirm fresh air is being supplied.

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 think the best way to address the education gaps is to ensure there is not another disruption to in-person learning. Other jurisdictions around the world have demonstrated that it is possible to safely operate schools during the pandemic and we should be taking lessons from their experience.

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?

One well-established best practice to address mental health and wellness in students is to reduce classroom sizes. This allows teachers in the classroom to be able to give each learner more attention and to identify challenges early so that appropriate supports can be offered. We also need to be hiring and retaining professionals such as occupational therapists and classroom counsellors to provide the support students ned.

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?

It’s a good question, although tough to answer as I have not been part of the ongoing discussions of the board on the topic. Speaking as an outsider, I think that improving air ventilation in classrooms and other internal spaces should be an absolute priority right now. We know that schools are one of the main drivers of infectious airborne illness and many parents are anxious about sending their children to school. We can and should be addressing this both through large-scale interventions such as upgrading HVAC systems (which can be expensive and takes time) while also through more nimble interventions such as the provision of Corsi-Rosenthal boxes.

As far as the construction of new schools goes, that’s a complex process which is connected to urban growth and provincial funding. I know that a lot of hard work has already been done on this topic and I’d look forward to rolling up my sleeves to learn more about the process and help guide future decisions.

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?

Our schools should be places where all students know they will be safe. This means celebrating the diversity of our community and communicating that every person has equal value and is worthy of respect. Teachers, staff, and guests to our schools all have a responsibility to live and reinforce the values of inclusion.

Many children in our schools come from communities which have been harmed by the actions and presence of law enforcement in their lives. These students are entitled to feel safe in school and to be able to participate as fully as anyone else.

If the question is: “Do I support the presence of police in schools through programs such as the School Resource Officer program?”, the answer is “no.” I do not think such programs add value to the educational experience and I think the harms outweigh any possible benefits.

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 think that this is a complex and important topic which merits our attention, but has unfortunately suffered from being reduced to a talking point to advance certain political agendas.

Our libraries are obviously an important societal resource. They introduce children to the ability to choose their own reading material and to explore the surprising and wonderful field of human literary endeavour. As a child, I spent many hours in the libraries of both my primary and high school, time that fostered a lifetime love of reading. I strongly support providing children with a broad, diverse, and rich collection of books and other library materials.

That said, context is important. We are the inheritors of a culture which has been organized around relations of power that worked to privilege some while disadvantaging others because of things beyond their control (for example the colour of their skin or their gender). Children are like sponges and soak up whatever they are exposed to. We need to be mindful of this and uphold our responsibility as adults to not accidentally transmit harmful stereotypes, hateful ideas, or hurtful language to a new generation. Children of different ages understand materials differently, and some are better able to understand context than others. Considering what to offer and how to offer it is a complex process that should be done transparently in collaboration with all stakeholders such as parents, educators, librarians, and the students themselves.

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 love philosophy! I make my living as a lawyer, but I consider myself lucky to have started out with a philosophy degree from U of G.

For most children, the school is the second most important place in their life behind the home. For most of the year, children spend nearly a third of every waking workday in their school. The school should first and foremost be a safe place where they feel valued and are given the opportunity to build social skills and self-esteem. From a practical perspective, a school should be a reservoir of important information about the world and a site of opportunities to learn and to foster future learning.

Basic skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic are obviously important to develop so that children can grow to become independent adults in their own right. This is just the foundation, though, and I believe that schools should expose children to a broad variety of knowledge in fields such as literature, art, music, history, law, and the physical sciences (and philosophy!).

My personal hobbyhorse is that I would like to see a stronger emphasis on critical thinking, media literacy, and the constitutional form of government in Canada.

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?

My advice to the Minister would be simple: our schools need more appropriate funding and our students suffer when this is not provided. Our schools are struggling mightily under the combined pressures of making up lost time because of the last two years, a long-growing crisis in violence in the classrooms, and serious issues of mental health among students. Every student who disengages from their learning because sufficient supports were not provided is a tragedy and a lost opportunity. Societies are judged by how they provide for the next generation and we have an obligation to do better.

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

Anything! There have been no debates for the candidates for trustees running in any of the wards and I find that a bit of a shame. Trustee races get a lot less attention than the council and mayoral races, meaning that residents have to do a lot more of their own research to learn about who is running. I think citizens would be better served by getting the chance to hear from candidates in a public discussion.

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

I invite folks to contact me at connect@lukeweiler.ca.

They can learn more about me at:
http://www.lukeweiler.ca
http://www.facebook.com/luke.weiler.397 or
@VoteWeiler on twitter

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