On October 22, 2014, people living within the boundaries of Ward 1 of the Seine River School Division will be going to polls to choose three school trustees for their region. Wards 2 and 3 have already been decided (Jessalyn Cahill, Christine Roskos and Jennifer Stefannson in Ward 2; Theresa Bergson, Wes Keating and Ed Mantie in Ward 3) but with four candidates in the Ward 1 region, we took the opportunity to ask the candidates a few questions on behalf of our association members. Candidates Wendy Bloomfield, Gary Nelson and Greg Reid thanked us for giving them the opportunity to answer these questions. Candidate Neil Reavely did not respond to our request.

The Questions
1. What education-based qualifications, skills and knowledge do you bring to the position that would make you an effective trustee?

Wendy Bloomfield: I consider myself to be a life-long learner. I have a college diploma as well as a Certificate in Adult Education from the University of Manitoba. I continually attend workshops, conferences, etc. to broaden my knowledge, especially in the area of education. My experience in the worlds of child care and family services give me a very broad understanding of the issues facing children, families and schools.

Gary Nelson: My twenty-one years as a school trustee on the Seine River Board has probably provided me with the greatest resource for knowledge with respect to my role as school trustee. I also bring my knowledge and experience gained from profession as a union representative which included seventeen years as the Education Officer for the Manitoba Nurses Union.

Greg Reid: I hold both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Social Work degrees. I have recently applied to commence work toward a Masters in Public Administration (MPA). I worked as a Social Work Clinician and Manager in the mental health field for 18 years before transitioning into healthcare administration. I have worked in healthcare for 23 years. I am currently Executive Director-East with Southern Health-Sante Sud (Regional Health Authority). In this role I am responsible for all healthcare services in the East Area of the region, and am a member of the Senior Management Team. I have been a Trustee on the Board of Seine River since 2002, was re-elected in 2006 and again in 2010. I have been an active member of all committees and currently serve as Chair of the Human Resources Committee of the Board.

2. If elected what do you see as your first priority?

Greg Reid: I am looking forward to re-election as I believe that we have built a solid foundation in Seine River on which we can continue to grow. I am excited about the emphasis our division places on staff development and the importance of data collection and basing our decisions on evidence. I believe that the Board has a solid relationship with both teachers and all staff in the Division, but I believe these relationships can be strengthened further in order to benefit all stakeholders in the Division. My priority would be to continue to advocate for more discussion and consultation with stakeholder groups both within and without the division in order to allow us to take the next step as a Division and community of learners.

Wendy Bloomfield: I am looking forward to re-election as I believe that we have built a solid foundation in Seine River on which we can continue to grow. I am excited about the emphasis our division places on staff development and the importance of data collection and basing our decisions on evidence. I believe that the Board has a solid relationship with both teachers and all staff in the Division, but I believe these relationships can be strengthened further in order to benefit all stakeholders in the Division. My priority would be to continue to advocate for more discussion and consultation with stakeholder groups both within and without the division in order to allow us to take the next step as a Division and community of learners.

Gary Nelson: I am very proud of the culture that exists in Seine River School Division and I like to believe that I have played a part in building that culture. My priority is to maintain and build upon the great culture that we have in Seine River. A culture where our children can learn in a safe and respectful environment from educators who have the necessary resources, skills, supports and passion to help those children succeed.

3.  What are your thoughts on the transferring of teachers, administrators, and other divisional employees from school to school within the workplace?

Wendy Bloomfield: The short answer is that sometimes transfers need to happen for various reasons. I remember a teacher who was transferred against his will (over 20 years ago) telling me around the second month of the new school year that it was the best thing that happened to him and that he really couldn’t “see the forest for the trees”. I also believe though that transfers must take into consideration our core ethical values of honesty, empathy and respect.

Greg Reid: I believe that a certain amount of transfers will always be a necessary component of school divisions based solely on the nature of the business. However, I do believe that decisions around transfers should always be done in consultation with the individual’s impacted. Ultimately, we need to do what’s best for the students in our schools, but we also need to do so in a careful and balanced manner. There is always the risk of too much upheaval if transfers are not weighed carefully, considering all individuals impacted.

Gary Nelson: Transfers can be a positive situation but I believe a key element to that is having buy-in from the individual being transferred. It is easy where transfers are initiated by a request from the employee, or as a result of a promotion applied for. Seine River School Division has a significant footprint and you don’t want to end up in a situation where a transfer results in significant unwanted travel to go to work. I believe our administration has been cognizant of travel and other concerns that have arisen when looking at staffing assignments and have worked with staff to come up with win-win solutions. Administration does have the right to transfer staff but from my perspective it must be fair and reasonable in its application and shouldn’t create an undue hardship for the employee. If an employee felt a reassignment or transfer was unreasonable they would be within their rights to appeal that decision to the Board and I would encourage them to use the process available to them.

4.  What is the board’s role in ensuring teacher wellness for our members?

Gary Nelson: The Board and Division have an important role in this and I believe Seine River School Division has been a proactive leader in education on this matter.

We established our Regenerative Leave Program many years ago. I know it has extended the careers of many of our teachers who have had the opportunity to step away from the demands of the classroom and focus on their health or personal issues that may have been compromising their health. I believe we are the only School Division that offers such a leave. I also believe it has been of great value to both our staff, the Division and our students.

Recently we created a Safety Officer position to ensure your workplace environment is a safer place to work and to identify potential hazards or practices that might put our students and staff at risk.

We’ve provided the SRTA with significant, annual dollars to support its self-directed Professional Development Fund. Again I believe Seine River is the only Division to create such a partnership with its Teacher’s Association and I think it has been of great benefit to both the teachers and the Division.

Greg Reid: The Board’s role in ensuring teacher wellness is ensuring that the resources are made available in order to provide a comprehensive Wellness Program. The Board needs to demonstrate that wellness is a top priority at all times, which will be achieved by ongoing communication around wellness and the importance of it, the allocation of resources to wellness programs, and Board Representation on a Divisional Wellness Committee.

Wendy Bloomfield: Firstly the Board needs to ensure effective policies are in place that follow Workplace Safety and Health legislation. Policies such as respectful workplace, conflict of interest and staff recognition are important to ensuring the wellness of all employees. Two particular policies that I believe are very important to teachers’ wellness is the Regenerative Leave policy and the Inclement Weather policy. The SRSD board and administration often take a lot of “heat” from other divisions for these two policies, but we will continue with them as the Board believes they are simply the right things to do.

5. What are some of the strategies you have for encouraging and maintaining communication between the board and teachers and the community?

Wendy Bloomfield: Communication is an area that I feel we struggle with from time to time. We are currently in the process of reviewing our communication policies and strategies to ensure they are effective. We are also reviewing the Community Education Committee as it seems like the interest in this committee has waned over the last few years. This is a “work in progress” however it is definitely a high priority for the Board.

Gary Nelson: I am one person working with the team on the Seine River Board and the Seine River School Division. No one person can do it alone. When you have a team like we’ve had where there are no secret or political agendas, where people can feel trusted and respected to share their opinion and have open dialogue on issues that can be very difficult; positive relationships are built. We have to work at maintaining that culture and those kind of relationships every day.

At our first meeting of the School Board this September, I suggested that we attempt to meet with the SRTA before the Board election to see if there was an opportunity to conclude a new teacher’s agreement. I felt that an early resolution to the matter would be positively received; I also feared that if there was significant change to the Board composition, that negotiations could become very long and protracted. I was pleased that the entire Board agreed with my suggestion and that the SRTA positively responded to our request. We now have achieved a tentative agreement and look forward to the possibility of having this matter concluded before the election.

I again appreciate the opportunity you have provided to share my thoughts and, subject to the wishes of the electorates of Ward 1, I look forward to another four years with the great team we have in the Seine River School Division.

Greg Reid: The Board, along with the SRTA and SRPA, have made some strides in recent years in maintaining communication both with the community and between each other. While these strides have resulted in better communication and improved relationships, we need to do more. I would advocate for more robust opportunities for communication between the Board and teachers; including but not limited to regularly scheduled meetings with jointly determined agendas, opportunities for consultation and feedback on key divisional decisions, joint forums to engage communities in meaningful dialogue regarding the strategic direction and planning for the division, and continued connections of the Board with parent level leadership in all schools.

Thanks to the candidates for taking time to answer our questions.

Don’t forget to vote on October 22!