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Four school trustee candidates see challenging times ahead

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Four candidates are running for two positions as Whistler’s school board trustees in the upcoming school board elections, which run concurrently with the municipal elections.

Their jobs, if elected, will be to sit on the school board for the Howe Sound School District, ensuring that the local community has a voice in education at the board table.

The organization has 500 employees, about 4,500 students and stretches from Squamish to Pemberton.

The new candidates seeking election are Don Brett, Bea Gonzalez and Richard Wyne.

Incumbent Andrée Janyk is also seeking re-election after six years of school trustee experience. Her current co-trustee Alix Nicoll has decided not to run again.

"I think it’s important to have someone who creates some continuity with this community to the board," said Janyk.

"When you get involved in projects, you want to see them through."

One of the major projects that she recently spearheaded is the naming of the district’s charitable number.

The Success Foundation is a way to bring more funds into the district she said.

"Ultimately we can support programs like early reading and early mathematics that will increase the ability for our children to perform."

Believing communication to be key to the collaboration between schools and parents, Janyk was instrumental in developing a district Web page as part of a communication plan.

Another project she has worked on in the past six years is the development of the foreign student program which has grown from five to 90 pupils.

She also developed the district’s mission statement, Always Supporting Learners.

If elected she is hoping she can bring to fruition even more ideas.

"I think at this point in time I will still be a valuable contributor and I will create that consistency that I think this region needs at the board table."

Janyk said she has always been passionate about education having three children who have or are graduating from Whistler Secondary.

In addition to being involved with the Parent Advisory Committees in West Vancouver and Whistler in the past, Janyk has also been elected three years and running by her fellow trustees to the British Columbia Public School Employers Association.

"I’ve been very active at the provincial level in the hopes that I can bring more information back to this district and ultimately help this community," she said.

She is also president of the Whistler Youth Soccer Club and coaches the high school boys and girls soccer teams.

The upcoming years are going to be a very important and active time in education, she said.

The challenges for the future are keeping pace with the changes the Liberal government is introducing to education.

"The ministry is stepping back from being directive to asking people to be more accountable and giving back more responsibility to the school districts.

"I think we’ll have to be more proactive than reactive and I’ve always been a proactive person and I’m ready to take on the challenge."

New school trustee candidate Don Brett agrees this is a critical time in the educational system in B.C. He has been living in Whistler for the past three years with his family and recognizes that there are significant changes coming from the provincial government.

During that time he has been very active at Myrtle Philip as the school’s District Parent Advisory Council representative and previously served on the school’s Parent Advisory Council.

These provincial changes, like accountability at the district level and school planning councils at the school level, need to be streamlined.

"The key task here is to pull together these various elements of change, manage the change and ensure that you have a cohesive set of performance goals," he said.

"The whole goal here is to do a better job with the kids."

He said he is not criticizing the job of the board in the past but the coming years will present new challenges.

"All of this relates to organizational goal setting, monitoring and review and improvement and it’s all new to the school district," he said.

In order to have a more cohesive organization Brett says there must be common language developed to talk about school board issues.

This common language will make it easier to agree upon set goals.

Brett says there are important educational issues going on in other parts of the district too, not just in Whistler.

"The profile of the communities in this district is very different from Squamish to Whistler to Pemberton. A good trustee has an obligation to ensure that the entire district is within his or her view."

Brett has two children in elementary school and one in high school.

His family moved to Whistler after spending three years in Sweden, where Brett was working for an international bank.

"I think the organizational skills, which I have developed, are critical to the success of the school district and that is what I bring," he said.

Living and working in Sweden also gave Brett the chance to observe another school system.

The Swedes, he said, don’t start formal schooling until they are seven years old, yet the population is highly educated with a high literacy rate.

"That says to me that alternative approaches to school can be successful and perhaps the difference is in how well you execute the alternative schooling," he said.

Brett left the banking world when he came to Whistler, choosing to develop a wood working business and teach skiing.

Another new candidate, Bea Gonzalez, said she now has the time to devote her energy and attentions back into the community after spending the last four years concentrating on her family and her career.

The best way for her to get back involved in the community she said is as a school board trustee.

"I like to be involved in the community and for the past couple of years I’ve been really busy with family and work obligations and haven’t had the time," she said.

Gonzalez is a self-employed accountant with a 10-year-old daughter and another child on the way.

"Now things have changed in that area and I do have the time so I want to get involved in the community again and I thought this would be a very interesting place to focus my energy."

The major issue that she would like to tackle if elected as a school board trustee is the lack of a French immersion program at Myrtle Philip school.

The current course is only available for children of Francophone descent.

"I think it’s a real shame that it’s not open to everybody, that it’s only open to people with Francophone parentage," she said.

"I hear a lot of parents saying the same thing."

Gonzalez is bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish, and recognizes the advantages of being able to speak two languages.

She has taught Spanish in Whistler.

The goal is to teach a language when kids are under 12 years old. After that it becomes harder to learn, she said.

"When you’re an adult trying to learn a language it’s a completely different thing than the way children learn languages," she said.

Gonzalez is also concerned about the logistics of the school boundary issue in Whistler.

"Right now all the after school programs are at Myrtle Philip so the kids can get there by themselves. But if your kids are at Spring Creek and gymnastics is at Myrtle Philip, how are they going to get there?" she asked.

Gonzalez said her work experience would stand her in good stead as a school trustee if she is elected.

Before becoming a self-employed accountant she was the senior accountant at the Whistler Health Care Centre.

"Accounting for a non-profit organization, especially government funded, is quite different from business accounting," she said.

"And so I have an understanding of how that works and how the generally accepted accounting principles can be applied in a non-profit government funded situation."

Prior to the past four years in which she has been bound by time constraints, Gonzalez was involved in community events and did a lot of fundraising and silent auctions. She also served on the board of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment and the Whistler Children’s Centre.

Rounding out the four candidates running for school board trustee is Richard Wyne.

He decided to run a few months ago after reading a newspaper article about the relatively high numbers of kids in school who do not meet standards for reading, writing and mathematical skills.

The statistics were not related to Whistler or the Howe Sound School District specifically but Wyne still found them very disturbing.

"In some areas our kids are to the provincial standard and in some areas they are not. And that was the thing that was the catalyst for me," he said.

"The only way that I think I can be a part of the development and implementation of good things in the education system would be for me to be on the trustee board."

Wyne is concerned about the quality of education that is available to all Whistler residents.

"If you want a French education then you should have a French education available to you. Right now it’s only kids that have French surnames who can get a French education even though we are a bilingual country."

The school boundary issue is another cause for concern for Wyne.

Only those kids within walking distance of Myrtle Philip and living north of the school should be allowed to go there, he said.

"I think that we have too much vehicle traffic in this community as it is to support the infrastructure of the roads. We certainly don’t need to be putting more cars on the road."

On a larger scale within the district, Wyne says the Liberal government has shaken things up in the education system.

"We definitely see a Liberal government that is concerned with one thing and that is the dollar, the bottom line."

And so any new school board trustee has to be a great advocate for the students and the teachers and their concerns.

"In my opinion there is nothing more important than education."

Wyne is not a parent and therefore has not been involved in the local Parent Advisory Committees. But since coming to Whistler in 1989 he has been involved in a number of community activities.

He was the education co-ordinator for the Blackcomb Ski Patrol, teaching mountain safety and avalanche awareness in the local schools.

For the past nine years he has been an Avalanche Rescue Dog Handler with his rescue dog Ella.

He is also a councillor at the Whistler S.A.F.E. (Sexual Awareness For Everyone) Clinic.

Speaking about his fellow candidates Wyne said:

"This year I truly believe that the voters can’t go wrong with the four people that are running. If I were running for council I couldn’t say that."

Whistler will vote for two school trustees on the same ballot as the municipal candidates.

The polls will be open on Saturday, Nov. 16 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Myrtle Philip school.