CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Mark Paralovos for Ward 1/5 Upper Grand District School Board Trustee

“Parents should be able to have an open dialogue with Trustees, without fear of being labelled or ostracized because their views don’t neatly align with those of the Board. I want MUCH better representation in the Board, and I want to foster a space where parents can express their opinions to the Board and be heard fairly and courteously.”

Why are you running to become a trustee?

Parents should be able to have an open dialogue with Trustees, without fear of being labelled or ostracized because their views don’t neatly align with those of the Board. I want MUCH better representation in the Board, and I want to foster a space where parents can express their opinions to the Board and be heard fairly and courteously.

As a parent, I tried desperately to advocate for my children in the UGDSB system when I became aware of concerning content being delivered in schools. I went through the proper channels, reached out to the people I was supposed to reach out to, and was ignored. The trustees did not respond to my inquiries. I don’t want other parents to go through what I went through. I don’t want to see other concerned parents ignored.

I have a lot to bring to this table. I have 15 years relevant, practical experience in the school system, specializing in children’s mental health (in multiple school Boards, including the UGDSB). I have experience working with at risk and marginalized children. I have first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of classrooms, school administration, Board administration and unions. I am not here to tow the line or win any sort of popularity contest. I am here to advocate for kids and their education. Period. I am not afraid to ask tough, uncomfortable questions and have tough, uncomfortable conversations.

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

The role of trustee, first and foremost, is to be a fierce advocate for the students and families they represent; to be a bridge between parents and Board administration, ensuring that parents have a robust say in their child(ren)’s education. Trustees must listen to the concerns of parents and the school community and engage in open, honest dialogue, without prejudice or judgment.

A trustee should recognize and respect that parents are the primary educators of their children and their children’s first role models; instilling values, morals, spirituality, character building and the like. While trustees, schools, and the greater community play a role in supporting how parents raise their children, this should not be their focus. A trustee’s focus should be on how best to deliver the fundamentals of education in a supportive, inclusive framework.

A trustee recognizes that there are competing interests and limited funding/resources available and ensures that due diligence is performed. A trustee must scrutinize all policies/proposals/budgets put forth by Board administration and be prepared to ask tough questions to ensure accountability and fiscal responsibility.

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

My professional background is in education, specializing in children’s mental health. I am a trained Child and Youth Care Worker with more than 15 years experience working with school boards and in schools. I also have previous political experience. An overview of my experience is outlined below:

15+ years relevant, practical expertise working with students, teachers, principals and school and Board administration in both the UGDSB and Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB)

Real-world experience gained in-school, making a measurable difference in the lives of kids of all ages (K to 12) and backgrounds, including indigenous and racialized communities, children with physical and mental developmental challenges and from traumatic circumstances

Collaboration with local children’s mental health services and protection agencies, developing actionable plans to best serve the interest of the child

Negotiating tough issues and fighting for those I represent, whether it be negotiating contracts as Union Steward or debating fellow candidates in the 2019 federal election – I do not shy away from difficult conversations and welcome the open, transparent exchange of diverse views.

Firsthand, working knowledge of current technology trends, applications, and pitfalls; full understanding of the capabilities and usefulness of the Internet as an educational tool, as well as the potential risks online interactions and content can pose to children and teens.
Community involvement, I volunteer as a soccer coach and previously served on the UGDSB French as a Second Language Advisory Committee (FSLAC).

Previous political experience:
Union Steward with Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB).

Candidate for Guelph in the 2019 Federal election including creation of Electoral District Association. Participation in multiple round-table discussions, debates and interviews. Meeting with and advocating for constituents.

Presented as a delegate to UGDSB Trustees and Public Health

Creator/producer of a podcast focused on Canadian politics.

I have decades of professional and personal experience advocating for the best interests of children and families in various settings, including schools.

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

The board ignored parental concerns over staff at the UGDSB stating “any system built by white people is inherently racist because it was built by white people.” I have tried to get this addressed since 2020 when it was said, but I have largely been ignored.

Mask mandate for JK/SK when not required by province. Then changing the mask exemption requirement in Jan 2022 to require a Dr. note when the Chief Medical Officer of Health specifically recommended against requiring a note. The push for masking in schools even when the mandates were lifted and it was made clear the Board had no legal standing to enforce mask wearing.

At that point, it was entirely personal choice and there should have been no pressure to either wear a mask or not. The Board itself confirmed in March 2022 that boards of trustees do not have the authority to impose restrictions that the Ministry has directed must be revoked. The way the Board handled the messaging on this made it clear that, were it not for the Ministry specifically telling them that they could not enforce the mask mandate, the Board would have continued to do so, against the advice of the Chief Medical Office of Health. I think these impactful choices were damaging and an overstep.

They should not have mandated medical interventions overtop of the MoH. They should not have ignored concerned parents bringing them videos where the UGDSB is making statements like “any system built by white people is inherently racist because it was built by white people.”

Here is a link to that situation.

Upper Grand District School Board: Case Study on Racism and Problem Solving 2020 – Videos

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 damage done to students and our society by closing schools is a mistake I will never vote for while I’m trustee. Our kids deserve access to their education. No compromises. Not even for the faulty promise of health or safety.

Further, the Board does not have the independent authority to prescribe public health measures in response to an infectious disease (confirmed by various consultations the Board had in March 2022). School Board administrators and trustees are not medical professionals. Any decisions and/or mandates relating to public health policies should be left to credentialed health professionals and the Ministry of Education. (https://www.guelphtoday.com/local-news/the-school-board-does-not-have-the-authority-to-enforce-this-ugdsb-set-to-end-mask-madnates-in-schools-5146981)

Mask mandates were yet another mistake that ultimately did much more harm than good. Mask mandate for JK/SK when not required by province, but the board pushed it through anyway. In January 2022 the board changed the mask exemption requirement to require a Dr. note at the same time as the Chief Medical Officer of Health specifically recommended against requiring a note. No one spoke up to stop these unscientific and damaging mandates.

The push for masking in schools even when the mandates were lifted and it was made clear the Board had no legal standing to enforce mask wearing. At that point, it was entirely personal choice and there should have been no pressure to either wear a mask or not. The Board itself confirmed in March 2022 that boards of trustees do not have the authority to impose restrictions that the Ministry has directed must be revoked. The way the Board handled the messaging on this made it clear that, were it not for the Ministry specifically telling them that they could not enforce the mask mandate, the Board would have continued to do so, against the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. I think we should not allow our children to bear the brunt of this pandemic.

I feel these mistakes compounded an already bad situation and made it worse. As Trustee I will speak up for parents who express concern with mandates and other actions taken by the board.

The Board does not have the independent authority to prescribe public health measures in response to an infectious disease (confirmed by various consultations the Board had in March 2022). School Board administrators and trustees are not medical professionals. Any decisions and/or mandates relating to public health policies should be left to credentialed health professionals and the Ministry of Education. (https://www.guelphtoday.com/local-news/the-school-board-does-not-have-the-authority-to-enforce-this-ugdsb-set-to-end-mask-madnates-in-schools-5146981)

That said, there are actions the Board can take which are in its scope of responsibility. For example, continuing with air quality/ventilation upgrades and providing ample support for students, educators and staff who fall ill and need to stay home (regardless of the cause of the illness). For students, this could mean having extra staff available extra help and supports when they return to the classroom. For educators and staff it means ensuring there is adequate supply staff who can cover absences.

Speak to the measures that have been in place for years to deal with infectious diseases in schools.

Keep schools open. Period.

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 will focus on serving the needs of the individual student. I will advocate for reallocating funding to provide for more Special Education teachers, Educational Assistants and Child and Youth Care Workers – people who can work one-on-one, in class, with students who are struggling. While high-paid experts or “consultants” are great in theory, they have little practical, in-school application and one “consultant” could cost as much as three CYCs. We need to focus on allocating resources where they can have the most direct impact on students.

I will advocate for student success and achievement across the board, regardless of race, gender, and/or socioeconomic status. School assistance programs are sometimes designed for specific groups of students, for example, based on race. While I understand the theory behind this, in practice, they are exclusionary. Any student who is in need of academic and/or social support should have access to these resources. Period.

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?

Before the pandemic mental health for students was already in crisis. I can personally attest to this. Teachers didn’t and don’t have the tools they need to provide a stable classroom in the face of increasing mental health impact and no appropriate places to serve these children. I have witnessed violence in schools. I am trained to maintain safety in schools and I left the profession in 2015 because of the bad policies. I cannot overstate the need to address the shortfalls in service for children who have mental health issues.

One of the priorities should be getting the new Guelph south end high school built as quickly as possible, with as much student capacity as possible. This would alleviate much of the pressure that is on Centennial CVI which is at almost 140% capacity, particularly since the south end of Guelph is experiencing rapid population growth.

Consideration should also be given to increasing French Immersion (“FI”) capacity. According to a recent Board report, the French Immersion program has been experiencing a high level of retention (95% of students in FI in Grade 1 remain in FI by Grade 8) and we need to make sure that there is sufficient space for those students.

Dealing with the repair backlog in our current schools should also be a priority. Our kids deserve to be in schools that are safe, accessible and ready for the digital era.

Teachers are telling us they don’t feel safe in their classrooms due to incidences of violence and aggressive behaviour. Students are falling behind because who could learn in an environment where behavioural outbursts aren’t handled properly. Parents and teachers are asking for targeted, in-class support. They are asking for more Child and Youth Care workers (CYCs) and Educational Assistants (EAs). They are asking for highly trained individuals who have the practical tools and experience to support students in crisis and keep classrooms safe.

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?

One of the priorities should be getting the new Guelph south end high school built as quickly as possible, with as much student capacity as possible. This would alleviate much of the pressure that is on Centennial CVI which is at almost 140% capacity, particularly since the south end of Guelph is experiencing rapid population growth.

Consideration should also be given to increasing French Immersion (“FI”) capacity. According to a recent Board report, the French Immersion program has been experiencing a high level of retention (95% of students in FI in Grade 1 remain in FI by Grade 8) and we need to make sure that there is sufficient space for those students.

Dealing with the repair backlog in our current schools should also be a priority. Our kids deserve to be in schools that are safe, accessible and ready for the digital era.

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?

I worked with police officers as they were coming into schools in the early 2000s. The principals and the teachers and the students had nothing but positive things to say about the program and it’s positive impact in the school.

I would be open to exploring a return of SRO’s after comparing incidents in schools now vs the 2017-2019 era. What was the impact of removing SRO’s. I would be interested in what the students and parents think about the loss of these in direct student services and how it’s impacted them.

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 have age limits on playground equipment (i.e. ages 2-5, 5-12, 12-17) because different aged children have different physical abilities. We introduce complex concepts in later grades because older children are more mentally and socially equipped to understand the content than are younger children.

Books with potentially sensitive content should be treated similarly. A book that is appropriate for a 13 year old is not necessarily appropriate for a 7 year old. There should be clear, published guidelines on the age appropriateness of all material in a school library, and parents should have full access to the content and corresponding guidelines.

We need to be careful that anything new introduced to school libraries, whether it’s in the name of equity and inclusion or not, is age appropriate.

We cannot (nor should not) rewrite history; but we should learn from it. By completely removing historical texts or “sanitizing” them simply because they do not conform to current “socially acceptable norms”, the opportunity for learning and reflection is lost.

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?

The point of schools is to educate children.

A solid foundation or baseline is an absolute must. Fundamentals of reading, writing and STEM, a good understanding of the social sciences. Critical thinking and how to think rather than what to think.

Financial literacy will go a long way to prepare students for life after school, from both a personal perspective (i.e. running a household) and a professional perspective.

We should be able to prepare children for our world without pushing identity politics at every turn.

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?

Let’s put the kids first for once, Everyone.

To the unions (for teachers and all education workers), be aware that your members are not the only ones facing the rising cost of living. Millions of people are struggling to make ends meet, just like them, and taxpayer funds/government resources are not unlimited. Do not use your power and influence to create (or exacerbate) an environment of “us vs them”. Be collaborative. Be reasonable in your ask and in your expectations.

To the Ministry… Recognize the value of these workers and have a plan to pay them. The discrepancy between teachers and support staff is wide and should be addressed. Promptly.

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

Accountability for the years lost and the bad decisions made. I can’t be the only one with questions about who was consulted over mask mandates and ever changing covid regulations. I tried to ask while it was happening, but was unsuccessful in getting reasonable answers.

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

https://markparalovos.com
@trusteemarkkp
mark@markparalovos.com

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