Friday January 13, 2023 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated Jan 15, 2023]
UPDATE 3:45 pm January 13, 2023: “The SD62 Board Chair has been given permission from the Board to bring greetings to the schools they visit as on behalf of SD62 and will deliver some letters and drawings to students,” says SD62 communications. [Editor’s note: The board did not want to formally back a Ukraine student exchange brought forward by their chair. It’s a work-around that parents, public and the Minister of Education and Child Care Rachna Singh should note.]
SOOKE SCHOOL DISTRICT NEWS | by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
Some local south Vancouver Island TV news coverage last night (by two different stations) implied that the Sooke School District (SD62) is working with a Langford fundraising group which aims to provide on-the-ground support to Ukraine schools.
The TV coverage included brief interviews with SD62 Board Chair Ravi Parmar and former SD62 Board Vice-Chair Bob Beckett (former Langford Fire Chief) who is heading up the Ukraine initiative along with Langford’s former mayor and a large Langford-based fundraising group which has also aligned itself with GlobalMedic.
However, the SD62 board did *not* support a motion for student exchange in a war zone; at their latest board meeting on December 13, 2022 they sent the matter to their Resources Committee to review and discussion.
At their December meeting, several trustees were concerned about sending westshore/Sooke students into an active war zone and felt that, essentially, ‘charity begins at home’ (i.e. many needs in the local community, including Indigenous, need addressing in real time). Parmar himself said that the Ukraine schools with which a sister-city type bond has been built have conditions of no electricity or heat and can only offer part-time instruction (at best) because the schools don’t have sufficient bomb shelter capacity.
The item about the pros and cons of student exchange with Ukraine at this time was *not* on the next Resources Committee agenda (or discussed in any way) on January 10, 2023.
The SD62 Resources Committee is chaired by recently elected trustee Amanda Dowhy (elected in the Milne’s Landing / Sooke zone of SD62), who is Vice-Chair of the full board. Back in December she played both sides of the fence regarding the Ukraine motion, and then the item did not appear on the agenda for the Resources Committee this week.
Dowhy did mention at the January 10 meeting that the committee agenda was discussed in detail with Parmar and senior staff.
It was originally SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson who recommended the motion be discussed at Resources Committee (with Education Policy Committee being the other option).
The next SD62 public board meeting comes up January 24.
As there are four years between school board elections it’s easy to lose track of who supports what; this is one reminder of how public education trustees have a lot of influence in our communities as well as being influenced by outside forces.
===== AS PUBLISHED DECEMBER 14, 2022: =====
School board meetings are never dull. Last night the School District 62 (SD62) board was presented with a motion to have the superintendent develop at least the beginnings of a substantial international exchange program, primarily with Ukraine in mind.
Not only is Ukraine very far away, it’s an active war zone. The cost factors of the program would be significant including the time and energy commitment for staff and parents.
The SD62 board of seven trustees is almost entirely new (only two incumbents were ran for re-election in October 2022).
Near the end of the meeting, Board Chair Ravi Parmar told his new board how deeply disappointed he was at their opposition to his motion. Four trustees voted against, after Parmar excitedly and mistakenly thought only three were against and at first declared the motion passed.
Normally by Roberts Rules of Order the chair asks for those in favour, then those opposed. Parmar jumped directly at who was opposed, which perhaps partly contributed to his miscount (at first he seemed to miss one vote by a trustee participating over the livestream and not in the room).
Not to committee first:
The motion had not gone through (or even emerged from) either of the two main committees (Education Policy Committee or the Resources Committee). It was brought directly to the December 13, 2022 board meeting agenda by Parmar, clearly hoping to see it pushed through based on the good works it would presumably achieve.
Parmar said he brought Item 10.1 (Governance / Global) forward as “allowing students (to travel) and creating opportunities for them to become global citizens”.
Parmar said he ‘echoed’ Vice-Chair Amanda Dowhy who suggested this be the start of “many conversations” on how to develop global citizenry.
A tense discussion:
Discussion around the board table took two rounds.
Dowhy said the motion doesn’t have enough substance yet to be an actionable plan that would need dollars and policy behind it.
Not necessarily recognizing the workload that would be imposed on the superintendent if the motion were to pass, Parmar said: “I don’t see any significant cost implications with regard to this (motion), but there could be in the future. This would be brought back by the superintendent at a future meeting with a bit of a framework.” He played on the fact that the previous board considered a similar motion, and that one elementary school (Willway) so far had expressed interest.
Parmar acknowledged there “would be a lot of trauma associated with it” (i.e. SD62 students attending exchange classes in Ukraine) but that there are a lot of Ukrainian refugees in our schools as well.” But that’s hardly a balanced equation.
This past summer it was reported on CNN: “The race is on across Ukraine to build new bunkers. Not for soldiers on the front lines, but students in schools.” And this week on CTV as part of a report about bombs that had been directed at Kyiv being intercepted: “Ukrainian officials believe (the war) is putting the physical and mental health of nearly every child at risk.”
Parmar said that SD62 students as well as “students around the world” would be supported by SD62, which seems a far reach beyond the school district mandate.
Dynamics of the new board:
Kudos to the new board for seeing the broader implications of the motion. This was only the second full board meeting for trustees who were elected on October 15 and sworn in on November 1, and are in many ways still getting their feet wet at the board table.
In particular, there were two trustees who raised red flags:
- Trustee Ebony Logins was concerned about the trauma of directly exposing Vancouver Island students to an active war zone in a foreign country and rephrased the old adage that “charity begins at home”.
- Trustee Trudy Spiller picked up on the theme of being attentive to local needs in the community, and added her focus on the needs of Indigenous youth and families in this west shore region.
Clearly being strategic (as in wanting to not fall in disfavour with the board chair), Trustees Cendra Beaton and Amanda Dowhy supported a shift of the motion to committee, as was suggested by second-term Trustee Allison Watson. Newly-elected Trustee Russ Chipps (who is also Chief of Beecher Bay First Nation) thanked Spiller for the ‘reminder’ about the local Indigenous needs.
It was Beaton, Chipps and Dowhy who were ‘hand picked’ by Parmar in the recent 2022 school trustee election campaign, likely expecting their alliance afterward.
Now to committee:
Item 10.1 on the agenda was about Governance, presented by Parmar, and his motion read: “That the Board of Education for School District 62 (Sooke) direct the Superintendent to develop a SD62 Global Stewardship Program for the purpose of initiating opportunities to support SD62 students becoming global citizens.”
After Parmar’s motion was defeated (with Beaton, Logins, Spiller and Watson against), Watson’s motion (to send the proposed preparation of a global citizen program to the Education Policy Committee, which she chairs) was passed.
Complex politics: Dowhy voted in favour of the original motion, after initially expressing that the motion was substantially incomplete.
The motion to explore what would effectively be a proposed Ukraine exchange program will now go to the Education Policy Committee, thanks to a motion by Watson.
SD62 Superintendent Stinson apparently thought the Education Policy (EP) Committee was the better of the two committees for discussing this idea, though Parmar said he’d heard a lot of chatter (prior to the board meeting) about the idea of heading to Resources Committee.
A notable backdrop to all of this is the ongoing fundraising initiative led by the former mayor of Langford, Stew Young, together with former SD62 Trustee Bob Beckett, as part of a humanitarian mission to Ukraine.
Young and Beckett visited Ukraine this summer (along with a CTV reporter as videographer and a volunteer from GlobalMedic), and struck up a working relationship with a municipality there.
Since then, they’ve conducted further local fundraising events (in addition to funds raised directly from the business community from April to June) through a group administratively headed up by two former Langford city council candidates (Shirley Ackland and Shannon Russell-Willing), including another gala dinner in November as a way of weaving the targeted relations with Ukraine into the broader business community of Langford.
Schools here and there:
According to comments made at last night’s meeting, there are schools in Ukraine that can’t open because they don’t have adequate bomb shelters, while other schools are having half the students into the classrooms for one portion of the day, then the other half, as a way of working around minimal resources including heat and light.
SD62 has schools in Langford, Colwood and Sooke, with students attending also from Highlands, Metchosin and the Juan de Fuca region. The SD62 student population was 12,249 FTE at the last official count (September 30, 2022).
Ministry of Education and Child Care:
The Ministry of Education and Child Care says that “Boards of Education are responsible for administration of education programs including international education programs (if offered by the school district).”
Further, the Ministry says: “As this is a local governance matter, SD62 would be best positioned to respond to questions around their proposal.”
School district load:
There is an overall sense that this new board wants to be ‘taking care of business’ at home in its own back yard.
The fast-growing SD62 school district is still clearly consumed with facility growth and all the resultant catchment and staffing issues. Growth is one of the three planks of their current four-year SD62 2021-2025 Strategic Plan, as it was in the previous three-year 2018-2021 Strategic Plan.
Earlier this year, K-12 schools also became loaded with responsibilities for child care, i.e. “from cradle to post-secondary” as SD62 Superintendent Stinson put it earlier this year. As well, K-12 schools address a career focus at all grade levels now, as outlined in detail at the most recent SD62 Education Policy meeting.
Indigenous supports — including now four courses with Indigenous content as part of graduation requirements, are an additional area of attention.
SD62 is also putting considerable effort into spending the $1.25 million ‘windfall’ cost-of-living student and family support funds received from the provincial government at the start of this 2022-2023 school year (and this month matching that with a cost-of-living support fund for SD62 staff).
The livestreamed meeting:
Last night’s board meeting livestream did not provide any full-room views. The online experience varies depending on who is handling the camera for each meeting.
The start of the livestream was delayed to about eight minutes after the 7 pm start time (the only thing missed being an introductory speech by Parmar), as apparently the board chair had not said ‘go live’ (cue to the camera operator to start livestreaming).
Ah, the delights of staging for live video… a used snack plate with napkin sat alongside Parmar for the full meeting.
Cake to celebrate the 40th anniversary of SPEAC (district parent PAC) was to come up after the livestreamed part of the meeting, that being one of the perks to attending meetings in person.
Public comments on this article: [Reader comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org]
- “Not a good idea. Ukraine is far too busy to be protecting visiting students right now.” ~ Sue Stroud
- “Wow what a great article, good job. We have issues to deal with in our own School District (re the focus on Ukraine).” ~ Wendy Hobbs
Holiday season message from SD62 Superintendent (December 16, 2022)
SD62 sends Ukraine project idea to committee (December 14, 2022)
SD62 staff can dip into $25K cost of living fund (November 29, 2022)
‘Best Board in BC’: diversity and lived experience (November 2, 2022)
Five brand new trustees on SD62 board (October 21, 2022)
BC announces inflation-response support for students and families (September 7, 2022)
Langford mayor heading to Ukraine with GlobalMedic team (June 8, 2022)
Langford achieves $50,000 fundraising goal for Ukraine (May 6, 2022)
Support for Ukraine in Langford (April 5, 2022)
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke has been the editor of a series of publications on the west shore since 2008: MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), Sooke Voice News (2011-2013), West Shore Voice News (2014-2020) and Island Social Trends (online since mid-2020).
Ms Brooke has attended nearly all SD62 board and committee meetings since 2014. | SD62 NEWS ARCHIVE
Mary Brooke was a school trustee candidate in the October 2022 election, in SD62 Belmont Zone (Langford, Colwood, Metchosin, Highlands). She is the mother of four now-grown children who attended schools in SD61, SD62, and SD72.