With a school trustee by-election coming up Jan. 9, three local candidates are vying for a spot as the Thornhill trustee on the board of the Coast Mountains School District.
Candidates are Barbara Johnson, Diana Penner and Sandy Watson, running for the three-year remainder of the term from longtime trustee Gary Turner, who passed away suddenly on Oct. 2, 2015.
MaryAnn Freeman and Lorrie Gowen withdrew their names from the running.
Cathy Jackson is the Chief Election Officer for the by-election, and the elected Thornhill trustee will represent Thornhill and the area east along Hwy 16, Jackpine Flats, Old Remo and Lakelse Lake.
Barbara Johnson went to school in Terrace and has been elected twice as trustee filling two part-terms from 1987 to 1989.
At that time, Johnson was balancing full-time work, motherhood, and the school district, but she has now retired and has more time to devote to the school district.
“I think what qualifies me as a trustee is my genuine concern and interaction with the community,” she said, adding that she also has experience as a lawyer with a degree in mediated family law and has previous trustee experience.
In her past terms, she fought for the parents’ right to choose which school their child attends and she negotiated in a teachers strike.
“I believe we accomplish more together with mediation, then we do with an adversarial model,” she said, adding that as a trustee she was one of few at the time who genuinely connected on a positive basis with teachers and school staff.
Living in Terrace, Johnson says the key in education today is focusing on the basics, particularly literacy.
She said that students should be able to spell and read comfortably when they graduate from the system.
“My attitude has always been if you can read, you can learn anything,” she said, adding that she believes cursive writing is still important to be taught in schools.
“I don’t think we do [children] any favours by dumbing down the program,” she said.
In her previous time as trustee and in her work experience, she has learned that working cooperatively is best, and that is her goal in working with school staff and parents.
“We all have to work together, because we all ultimately want the same thing for our children,” she said.
Diana Penner has been a trustee for three full terms from 1999 to 2005 and 2008 to 2011 and says she knows policies quite well.
She considered running for trustee in 2014, but it did not work with her schedule at the time.
A friend of the late Gary Turner, Penner says she knows a lot of the situations in the Thornhill area from the last decade or so.
She feels informed with the current issues, her children have gone through the system and her grandchildren are just entering.
“I have the interest of the students in my heart and I think I could do a good job,” she said.
Her past experience and connections in the system make her feel qualified, and she says her perspective is grassroots.
“I really believe in good basic education and I believe that kids need to be given as much opportunity as possible to be able to find out who they are and their strengths,” she said, explaining that things likes trades, art, and music are important parts of creating well-rounded citizens.
“I think of each child as being a future citizen in my community,” she said.
Living on Brauns Island, Penner said some of the issues she focused on in previous terms on the board were starting the trades centre and bringing in more music opportunities through the Dare to Dream Foundation.
Sandy Watson says she has been highly involved in the school district and Parent Advisory Council (PAC).
She did not run previously because she supported the late Gary Turner as a strong advocate for Thornhill.
Watson has children in the Thornhill schools and has been a PAC chair. She helped start D-PAC (District PAC) and sat on budget and education committees of the school district.
She was also a drug and alcohol councillor for 11 years in Terrace, connecting her to many of the area’s teachers, principals, school staff, and students.
Another qualification is simply where she lives.
“I live in Thornhill, so I understand the unique needs that Thornhill residents have with regards to education,” said Watson. “There are a lot of things that people in town might not understand.”
For example, Watson says Thornhill has limited internet, so online surveys are not always accessible to everyone. Another key issue is transportation and buses, she said.
Running as trustee, Watson says her focus is grassroots.
“It’s not ‘what policies do we need to change?’ or ‘what other consultant do we need to hire?’” said Watson. “It’s ‘what do we need to do to support teachers?’ ‘What do we need to do with the parents and guardians and families to support them in order to support their kids in order to be successful at school?’”
Watson said she believes the focus should first be on early education because if students have good experiences there, they have better chances in higher levels.
But more than anything, Watson says her goal is inspiring involvement.
“My big goal is getting more parents involved and more parents active in their children’s education, because the more active the parent is, the higher the success rate that kid is going to have.”