When my children were in school, I didn’t know what trustees did or who the elected official was in my area.
Our education system has a variety of demands and is affected by economic backgrounds, unique student needs, teacher-student ratio, and programming, to name but a few.
Policy decisions, educational choices, testing, and quality are among the reasons why the decisions of a school board trustee matter. The decisions they make affect your child’s education.
Sherry Adams, Edmonton Public school board trustee for Ward I, is on her second term as a trustee. She took the time to talk about the school board and her role as a trustee.
She said the school board, “[Sets] the vision and course of the school district by setting a strategic plan which ensures educational and organizational success. Two important components of our work are to hire and hold accountable a capable superintendent and to oversee and approve the yearly budget and capital plan.”
Adams explained her role as a trustee means “[Ensuring] a quality education for every student.”
A trustee’s role can be complex. He or she must reflect community values and communicate with school principals, school councils, and the community to know about challenges and triumphs. A trustee also advocates for financial needs to the provincial and municipal government, and works with those governments.
Communities in the inner city face unique challenges.
“Our programing and the professionalism of our teachers and staff remain strong in our inner city schools, and we have strong partnerships with many agencies to provide wrap-around services to children and their families. Decreased enrolments in the mature neighbourhoods, however, present challenges to maintaining our inner city school buildings,” said Adams.
She continued, “For the last 27 years, I have been personally involved in supplying supports for schools in low income, high needs communities. I continue to advocate for community partners to come alongside and help meet some of the practical needs that our inner-city kids and families have. It is very important to continue to build strong partnerships to make a difference.”
A trustee can also help parents with school-related issues if they’ve had no success first working with teachers and the principal.
“[Parents can] contact their trustee, who will bring [an issue]to the attention of the very capable and conscientious district staff who, in my experience, are willing to go the extra mile to seeing (sic) problems and misunderstandings satisfactorily resolved.”
The school board deals with its share of challenges. Adams shared two of these issues in Alberta:
“Defunding of independent, charter and home school programs moving toward a unification of provincial school boards,” said Adams. “Balancing the desire of parents to be aware of what is part of their child’s educational experience with a student’s desire for privacy and personal protection.”
The school board sometimes addresses complex issues, like GSAs (Gay Straight Alliance).
According to Alberta Education Guidelines: “If [students] tells us about their sexual orientation or gender identity, but isn’t ready to tell anyone else, we must respect their privacy until they’re ready to share. Our goal in these situations is to help students feel safe and supported. We encourage students to talk to their parents and work to bridge that conversation by giving students the support they need.”
“GSAs serve to create empathy and provide personal support for all students around the LGBTQ experience and issues,” said Adams. “A major reason gay-straight alliances were created was to engender empathy for fellow students. At the same time, I believe that the safety of all students depends on schools informing and involving parents as much as possible, unless doing so would be harmful to a student.”
Students also have a voice and can participate in the school board in the form of a student senate.
“Each high school can elect up to two students to be on the senate. The trustees meet with the senate throughout the year and the senate reports to the public board three times a year. Three students from the senate are selected by their peers to be student trustees and each have an opportunity to participate in a public board meeting.”
Adams said the senate has been effective in giving students an opportunity to communicate ideas and concerns as well as create initiatives for student well-being.
Of course, Adams has her own goals as a trustee. She’s currently focused on “Improving the educational experience and proficiency of our First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students.” She also wants better mental health support and early interventions.
Edmonton Public school board
Edmonton Catholic school board
Featured Image: Sherry Adams is the Edmonton School board trustee for Ward I. | Supplied