Editor’s note: responses received after October 10 have been added to this article but are not part of the printed newsletter that went out to schools October 11.
On October 24, 2018, people living within the boundaries of all three Wards of the Seine River School Division will be going to polls to choose three school trustees for their region. The candidates in each region are (alphabetically by last name, incumbents noted by asterisks):
Ward 1: Wendy Bloomfield*, Gary Nelson*, Neil Reavely, Warren Reavely, Greg Reid*
Ward 2: Jessalyn Cahill*, Vicky Kiansky, Sean Maguet, Christine Roskos*, Jennifer Stefansson*
Wards 3: Theresa Bergson*, Wes Keating*, Ed Mantie*, Trina Wall
We took the opportunity to ask the candidates a few questions on behalf of our Local members. Ten candidates chose to respond, and their responses are summarized below, in random order.
Q1: Which three areas of education require immediate action in the Seine River School Division?
Wes Keating: Meeting the ongoing challenges faced by of EAL students in many Seine River Schools is a priority. Concentration on improving literacy and numeracy is another ongoing challenge and enhanced early childhood programming has been producing results and needs to remain a priority.
Vicky Kiansky: Because I am a new candidate seeking election, I have not had the pleasure of being directly immersed in the issues of the school division over the last four years. However, the areas I believe we need to focus on include:
- First and foremost, we need to address the topic of mental health among our students. With one in five children and youth affected by mental illness, I believe this is something we cannot ignore and that needs to be incorporated into our schooling. We need to remove the stigma of mental health issues and put the right supports in place for our students.
- We need to ensure the safety of our students and address the growing concern of bullying. Now more than ever, with the use of social media, bullying has grown to include a variety of measures that are more difficult to monitor. We need to ensure children fully understand the impact of bullying and put solid policies into place to address these circumstances.
- We need to prepare students in standardized subject areas such as math and literacy but also build character and teach skills for children to succeed in life. In Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed, he argues that non-cognitive skills such as perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control are the qualities that lead children to succeed. We need to incorporate these skills into our classrooms. We need to feed creativity and build a new school culture.
All three of these items require the development of efficient and effective policies and I believe my six years of experience as a policy analyst would be a valuable contribution to the board. Good policy begins with the right people at the table – trustees, educators, clinicians, parents, government, local community and children – communicating and working together for the best interests of all children.
Jessalyn Cahill: If the SRTA sees areas requiring immediate action I would ask the SRTA to please make these items known. I do however, think there are areas that already have some attention and require on going and additional attention. If I could pick only three, at this time, I would say student engagement at all grade levels, critical thinking and decision making skills at all grade levels, and improved vocational training starting at middle school going into high school.
Ed Mantie: I believe the entire teaching staff has done a great job in Seine River. We have made great strides in numeracy and literacy and continue to improve in other area’s of the education field. I don’t know if there are 3 area’s of education that need immediate attention in Seine river. I believe we are doing the best we can with the finances that are available to us at this time.
- Focus on enhancing literacy in numeracy by investing in teacher training and coaching – similar to the investment made in the reading recovery teachers.
- Focus on innovative ideas to aid in the maintenance of proper mental health. One idea is the development of an inclusive sports program to provide opportunities for all students to participate in community level sports at a less competitive level. This will allow students to feel a sense of belonging, rather than the exclusion and rejection they feel when they get “cut from a team” and do not get an opportunity to participate in a sport. This may also mean providing transportation options for parents who may not have the ability to take their child to extra-curricular activities.
- Focus on the development of critical thinkers and active community members through enhanced learning opportunities. Connect students with community members to give them mentorship and exposure to career opportunities, involve students in governance at the board level, provide tangible experiences students can learn from, along with access to focused career counseling to prepare them for their lives beyond SRSD.
Christine Roskos: Math – numeracy, French immersion, Band / Music program
Greg Reid: I believe three the following three areas require immediate action in SRSD.
- Continued and increased focus on wellness for students in our schools. This includes supports and links to specialized services as well as continued work to address stigma of mental illness and bullying.
- Continue our efforts on evidence-based Literacy and Numeracy.
- Continue to work on collecting, analyzing and utilizing data to move our division forward in innovative ways.
Sean Maguet: Just a disclaimer here, I am not a current school trustee member and my daughter just started Grade 2 at Dawson Trail after attending ELI for Kindergarten and Grade 1 so I may not be up to speed on any potential issues or concerns right now for the teachers within SRSD but if elected I would welcome the opportunity to meet with/hear from the teacher’s association and will make sure I am aware of all concerns in short order. Having said that, I am a firm believer in focusing first and foremost on the basics so my 3 areas would be: (1) Reading (2) Writing (3) Math.
Theresa Bergson: I feel that funding is an area that our division should continue to pressure the province for. Space issues are another concern. Transportation time lines.
Gary Nelson: I do not believe there is any area of education in Seine River that requires immediate attention. That being said I believe there are always opportunities for improvement. Three areas that I would like to continue to build on are building greater resilience in our children and increasing awareness with respect to mental health, enhancing opportunities for our children to have greater exposure to the arts in our schools and expanding full day kindergarten into all of our Early Years Schools.
Wendy Bloomfield: Firstly, as a member of the current Board, I believe it will be extremely important to continue to fulfill the Board’s four priorities:
- Expand evidence based decisions that support excellence and innovative practices focussing on literacy and numeracy.
- Continue to support and strengthen all arts programs: Visual, Dance, Music and Drama.
- Enhance Students; emotional, cognitive, physical and social-well being.
- Enhancing early childhood education.
Secondly, although contained within Priority #3, I believe the very large, and somewhat emerging issue of student well-being and mental health issues impacting student learning must be given additional consideration. More and more, children’s learning is being affected by issues such as poverty, nutrition, family relationships, social media, etc. Although schools cannot and should not be the only institution trying to address these issues, we are a big player and must consider the impact on students, schools, staff and communities that these issues are playing. Thirdly, although not necessarily a bad problem, as a growing school division, we need to constantly monitor, be flexible and come up with innovative solutions to address overcrowding is some of our schools and classrooms. We need to be open to looking as alternative school and classroom configurations, in addition to continue to lobby government for additional classrooms and ancillary infrastructure. It’s not just enough to keep adding portable classrooms, we need support for additional multi-purpose, gym, library, and washroom facilities.
Q2: Do schools have adequate facilities? If not, what improvements need to be made?
Wendy Bloomfield: As mentioned in my third priority above, SRSD must continue to monitor class sizes and ancillary school space requirements. This is not always easy to manage however as school enrolment increases / decreases and changes from school to school and community to community. We also need to stay on top of maintaining school buildings, both functionally and aesthetically, again not always an easy task to accomplish when the priority for scarce resources must be channelled into schools and classrooms.
Vicky Kiansky: I believe there are always ways to improve our facilities to ensure our students are receiving the best education in environments that are conducive to learning. The fact that the Manitoba government’s 2018-19 budget includes more than $129.5 million for public school infrastructure capital projects, including major additions and renovations, infrastructure renewal, and modular classrooms, makes it clear our facilities are not adequate. As a society, we are always evolving and learning new things; our schools and classrooms need to grow with us. The Provincial government has been keen to invest funding into the physical aspects of schools and we need to take advantage of this. We need schools that are accessible for all students with all abilities. With the right funding, we can develop spaces to support children with additional needs, such as calming rooms, ensure all classrooms have air conditioning, and provide proper desks and chairs for all students. While a school building is only one of the tools we use to deliver our programming, we all know the right tool can make the job so much easier.
Wes Keating: In an ideal world there would be no portable classrooms and every school yard and gymnasium would be well-equipped. All students and teachers would have the latest in technological equipment. Seine River School Division makes every effort to stretch landscaping dollars as much as possible and ground improvements are being made at a number of schools. Seine River also needs to be constantly upgrading technology.
Christine Roskos: Some of our schools are not accessible to all and although we are working toward achieving this, more work needs to be done. Having more space to increase our industrial arts program and adding various programs to ensure we meet all of our students needs
Jessalyn Cahill: I think there is plenty of room for improvement in our facilities. I would like to see space created, somehow, for middle-years Home Ec. and Woods classes and more vocational options at the high school level. I believe there is some room for accessibility improvements. I would like to see accessible playground equipment and outdoor spaces. Going forward when gyms are created I would like to see adequate viewing areas to accommodate fans. I would like to see more outdoor classrooms. I would like to see more natural light in existing classrooms and hallways. These are just a few ideas.
Sean Maguet: The short answer is schools in SRSD do not have adequate facilities. All the schools are older and don’t have enough space. Some of this is due to rapid population growth within the school division I’m sure and I have no doubt that your association has been told this and promises made that it will be looked into. Well I would love to say that I can change this if I get elected, unfortunately a lot of what we can do is tied to our ability to convince the provincial government that we need funding for new facilities. I would say that in working with your association, tweaks I’m sure can be made to the budget to help with issues your association deems important on smaller matters. What I can work on for the bigger matters is working with your Association to ensure that your concerns are addressed/met when our division can come up with some new facilities and that the province is clear on what is expected in any new facilities. I would hate to get a new facility without the input of the Association and then when it’s built, you guys are left asking why were we not consulted.
Theresa Bergson: The facilities in Seine River have not been adequate at many of the schools for a long time. This issue being we are at the mercy of the PSFB and the choices that are made at provincial levels. Our staff and students make due with what we have and I commend the creative ways that they have.
Greg Reid: Much work has been done to improve our facilities over the past several years. However, many of our facilities are aging and will require continued significant attention in the years to come. In particular, we need to continue to ensure our facilities are accessible and safe for everyone and that we are in the best possible position to offer the very best opportunities to our students and staff. I would like to see us engage students, staff and the community in identifying priorities for our facilities.
Gary Nelson: With the continuing rapid growth of our student population we are constantly struggling for adequate space and facilities. Unfortunately we do not have the sole right to make those decisions as the Province ultimately determines what capital projects and improvements are made. The recent La Salle School expansion was nice to see but was neither what the Board wanted nor what I the community needed. I believe the Province should have constructed a second Middle or Early Years School as the current school property was undersized for the original 180 student capacity school and we will La Salle will continue to be one of the fastest growing communities in Manitoba.
Jennifer Stefansson: With the growing communities in our division, schools in SRSD are very crowded. Portables have been brought in to accommodate. With unlimited funding it would be ideal to see school expansions and additional space to host vocational programs. Although funding is an issue, I truly believe that SRSD does a fantastic job in the budgeting process by allocating funding to the areas of highest need by ensuring dollars are not allocated to facilities at the cost of education.
Ed Mantie: Most of the schools in Seine River do have adequate facilities. There is always room for improvement but this is not always possible because financing is not necessarily available from the provincial government. As we all know, getting new schools and or making improvements sometimes takes longer that we would like because of this. We are trying to up-grade facilities where needed, when we can, in an appropriate timeline.
Q3: Should student achievement test results be used to evaluate teachers?
Christine Roskos: Yes I believe student achievement results should be used as a learning tool to help teachers become better. Evaluation should not be used negatively but done in a positive way so that we can focus on the areas that we need to improve and use the results to self reflect.
Theresa Bergson: This is a tough call. Date collected regarding student testing results should be used to evaluate the need for the student. I do not believe that as a whole used to evaluate the teacher. The results should be used to see if there is a need for the student or classroom to help improve their success. However if the classroom or student is under performing, then perhaps the teacher also may have need with teacher skills, or may need some coaching to help them find different ways to help that student or classroom. There are duties that the teacher has to do, and if they are failing to meet those responsibilities then invention should occur but never as a punishment.
Gary Nelson: No, student achievement tests should be utilized as a resource for educators to help students to achieve and reach their greatest potential.
Jessalyn Cahill: In short, no. I do believe achievement test results can be used to evaluate teaching systems if the data is used properly.
Ed Mantie: Generally, I don’t think teachers should be evaluated by the achievements of students. The learning ability of students varies as we know. If how ever, there seems to be a trend of lack of achievement over a given period of time, then an evaluation might be warranted.
Sean Maguet: I believe student achievement tests can be a tool in helping to evaluate teachers but just a small part of evaluating teachers. Children learn at different speeds and results could vary from year to year based on the students a teacher has from year to year. I would like to look at other tools to supplement the evaluation of teachers. Surveys given to the student’s themselves and their teachers could be one other potential tool.
Jennifer Stefansson: I do not believe that student achievement test results should be the sole evaluation of a teacher’s ability. Using test results as a teacher evaluation tool may entice a teacher to teach only to the material being tested, at the potential expense of other rich learning experiences. I do believe that students should be measured to ensure there is awareness of the achievement and in cases where required curriculum material are not being met, the measurement can be used to ensure proper supports are in place to support student learning. Student achievement test results should be used to ensure students have the necessary resources they need to learn – they should be used to build up the team, rather than to take down the leader.
Wes Keating: Certainly not! When I went to high school (quite some time ago) the best teachers didn’t always have students with the best test results. A marginal student (not to mention any names) benefited the most from a truly skilled instructor. Exam marks aside.
Greg Reid: Test results are one important measure for student achievement but they are but one indicator of success. While students who are successful academically will have benefited from instruction, not all student success is measured through testing.
Vicky Kiansky: Teacher evaluations should serve two purposes: assess teaching ability and support professional growth. Achievement test scores do not provide an accurate reflection of the work a teacher does or their teaching competence, nor does it provide any feedback or opportunity to help teachers improve. A more appropriate evaluation of a teacher’s success would be multi-faceted. This could include classroom observation, looking at how much a child has progressed, and how well a teacher’s methods line up with current research. Evaluations should also be more of an informative feedback process with ongoing constructive conversations that link to professional development to continually improve teaching methods rather than a final score. These can be done by peers to open up discussions about what works for them, share ideas, and collaborate. Evaluations should encourage and help develop even better teachers to increase student learning, which is truly what we are trying to accomplish.
Wendy Bloomfield: Never! Student achievement test results must only be used by individual teachers, school and division administrators and trustees to analyze trends for the sole purpose of assisting to determine where different or additional resources need to be put. I am also 100% against publishing school by school test results. There is so much more that goes into student achievement test results than just a number. Together teachers, administrators and the Board need to utilize test results to make evidence based decisions to further enhance student learning.
Q4: Which learning and working conditions do you deem negotiable? Which do you deem non-negotiable?
Sean Maguet: Well I have not been part of the school board in the past, I don’t see why anything would not be negotiable? I go into this open-minded and willing to listen to all points of view. I can’t promise that the Association will always agree with my point my view but I am willing to listen and if I disagree with something I am willing to explain why. However I would say it is not good practice to say something is non-negotiable.
Wendy Bloomfield: I think classroom configuration is negotiable. When we look across SRSD more innovative approaches all the time. From strategic multi-age groupings to co-teaching, it is important that we work together to develop strategies to deal with large grade groupings, difficult class compositions, etc. I believe staff participation in divisional professional development and school staff meetings are non-negotiable. In order to continue the momentum of continual professional learning and to ensure all staff are aware of and buy into current happenings in the division, we must expect full participation from our staff.
Gary Nelson: I’ve worked in labour relations for over forty years; everything is negotiable in my view, but often unattainable.
Christine Roskos: Non negotiable would be a staff room – our teachers/school staff should have a place that they can take a break and recharge. As we move into more co-teaching arrangements I also believe time for collaboration between staff is also non negotiable. Having strong leaders in all of our schools who help create positive working environments is also non negotiable. Sorry I can’t think of any negotiables at this time.
Wes Keating: Learning and working conditions put forward by the SRTA in their annual budget proposal to the board are helpful in a collaborative effort with the board at budget time as well. While I wouldn’t deem salary increases as non-negotiable, I would suggest that aspect of the teachers’ contracts is very much in the hands of another level of government at this point.
Greg Reid: I would see most things as negotiable between two parties in an environment of mutual respect. The following items are non-negotiable.
- Safe Environment for students and staff free from discrimination and harassment.
- Equitable treatment of everyone
- Promotion of wellness for everyone
- Cultural Safety
Theresa Bergson: There are many contractual working conditions that are stated during contract negotiations. I believe that SRSD has always bargained in the spirit of both parties. There are several personal non- negotiable items I believe should be observed.
- students and staff should feel safe
- students and staff should feel valued
- each student should have achievement to their own level
- there should be positive parental communication
- A teacher should be willing to continue education to lend to their own education.
Jessalyn Cahill: I believe most conditions are negotiable to some point. However, there are managerial items that should remain. I believe we should maintain items that keep the system working collaboratively maintaining good professional development and information flow, keeping teacher and student well-being as the highest priority.
Vicky Kiansky: I believe safe and respectful learning and working conditions for both students and teachers is non-negotiable. This requires proper protocol and policies that are supported AND enforced by the division. Professional development is also non-negotiable. In our ever-evolving world with constant research and information, it is imperative that teachers continue to pursue professional development to teach with the best information we have today. Our children will benefit most from properly educated and well-prepared teachers who are passionate about teaching, accommodating to different learning styles, and tireless in their pursuit of success for each child.
In terms of learning environments, physical education and appropriate breaks are non-negotiable. Studies show the value in physical activity for children and it is important we support their physical health which promotes better learning.
Items that are negotiable include extra-curricular participation and required recess duty. There may be better ways to address these needs within the school and I would love the opportunity to collaborate with the SRTA to find what works best for BOTH teachers and students.
Jennifer Stefansson: I feel the school assignment within a division should be negotiable between the division and the teacher. The basis behind a school recommendation decision should be delivered to the teacher, however, the final decision should be negotiable. I feel non-negotiable conditions include providing a safe, inclusive, collaborative atmosphere, free from politics and favoritism. Schools should be a place that students and teacher want to be at each and every day – creating this atmosphere should be a priority and a condition that is non-negotiable.
Q5: If elected, what will be your first priority as a school trustee?
Ed Mantie: My first priority has been and always will be to put students first. There is always more work to do. With our current leadership team, we have a good grasp on dealing with most education issues that arise. I believe Seine River School Division is recognised as a leader in the field of education because of the strong work ethics of the entire staff.
Wendy Bloomfield: My first priority would be to continue doing what I’ve always tried to do as a trustee in SRSD for the past 35 years — to work collaboratively and respectfully with all stakeholders; to continue to ensure that the reason we do what we do is for the students; and to be diligent in my own professional learning and understanding of emerging local, divisional and provincial educational issues. Thanks SRTA for distributing this survey to all SRSD candidates and for the chance to provide my input.
Jessalyn Cahill: If elected my first priority has not changed since I began as a trustee eight years ago. My priority is to represent all stakeholders, including teachers, boldly and enthusiastically at the board table. That being said, I have some changes I would like to see. I would like to see more middle years options. I would like to see more vocational training at the high school level. I would also like to see the division recognize employees at an annual retirement gathering.
Wes Keating: The Seine River School Division has four priorities and I hesitate to pick one as more important than the others. Early years Literacy Intervention with LLI and Reading Recovery is most important. But I certainly want to see a continuation of the development of all arts programs, including music and drama. Having the division provide funding for musical instruments for middle years band was something I was very happy to see happen during my last term on the board, as it makes that program much more affordable for all parents.
Theresa Bergson: Continue to be a voice for our students and staff of the SRSD. To be critical of budget needs.
Greg Reid: To continue to build on the strong foundation we have built over the years in SRSD, with a goal of becoming the best School Divison in Manitoba, including but not limited to the following examples:
- Continued focus and re-evaluation of Board Priorities
- Positive relationship with all employee groups
- Commitment to staff development for all staff
- Continued focus on evidence-based decision-making
- Community/School-Based Autonomy
- Continue to foster a culture of listening to all stakeholders to inform decison-making
Sean Maguet: My first priority would get up to speed on what the current issues are within the division. This would include meeting with fellow trustees and administration within the school division but would also include meeting with important stakeholders such as yourself and PAC committees. My overlying concern is the education and well being of our children and what is best for the children will always be my first priority. The people who have the most contact with the children are obviously teachers so I want to ensure that SRSD supports our teachers in whatever we need to ensure our children meet their full potential.
Jennifer Stefansson: If elected, I would like to further investigate how we, as a division, can work together to promote positive mental health. I’d like to explore opportunities and costs to develop programming that will benefit all students and staff in our division – whether this is through the development of inclusive sport programming, an art option in early years, or via other means. I think we have work to do to ensure all students feel that they belong and that they are contributing, valued members of our society.
Christine Roskos: My first priority as a school trustee would be to increase our knowledge as to what our schools are doing and offering our students with respect to mental health and to find out want supports and resources our parents and community members require to help support the students. I would also like us to think outside of the box when it comes to the band program in some of our middle schools – should it be mandatory? Is there a way we can collaborate with neighbor schools to have a successful band program for those that want to take band and offer an alternative to the students who do not want to take the band program?
Vicky Kiansky: If elected, my first priority would be ensuring all decisions made by board are in the best interest of the children and community we are serving. I would accomplish this vision by convening a collaborative education policy committee to inform policy decisions. This committee would consist of:
- educators who see the children every day;
- clinicians who have the expertise and specialized education in their field;
- parents who are passionate about their children and want to see them achieve success;
- government who has a vested interest in educating the future;
- local community who will be hiring our children as future employees; and
- children who know their own needs best.
Throughout my career, I have learned the value of having the right stakeholders and experts at the table to make the best, most effective decisions. We all know that it takes a village to raise a child. The board has an important role in guiding the direction of schools and it is important to acknowledge that they cannot do it alone.
I would be honored to collaborate with the educators of the Seine River School Division for the benefit of all children. You can read more about me and my priorities at fb.me/vickykiansky.
Gary Nelson: To thank those who supported my bid for re-election. After that to ensure that we maintain a strong Board that is committed to collaboratively build on the strengths we have in Seine River School Division and not stray from the great culture and vision that has been developed here.
We’d like to thank all of the candidates that took the time to answer our questions. We encourage all SRTA members to vote in their regions on October 24!