Improving the School Experience for Students

These past four years have left many parents and community members shaking their heads about the state of public education. And who can blame them? There appear to be gaps in information for the public regarding decisions that are made by boards, and some missing details about what is really happening in schools. It is seemingly more difficult for parents and the public to reach the decision-makers, the overarching leaders of the districts – the trustees. It is even more difficult to get an answer back or to feel supported.

This is the first article in this election campaign where I will tackle some of the bigger rocks to be moved for the public.

What does it mean to improve the school experience for students? It means parental involvement, communication, timelines, space, people, services, health including mental health, food security, and much more. How much control does a Board of Education have? Some, a lot, and none. All of those, are dependent on the issue.

Parental involvement is the first matter to address. And to me is the most important, next to the teacher at the front of the classroom. Parents and family are at the heart of a child’s life. Education is responsible for the student – for just 13 years – but we need to recognize that individual child as a whole person, no matter their age or stage in life. Children arrive at the door daily with the rest of their lives trailing next to them. Some of this they get to leave at the door, some of it they don’t.

Recognizing that parental rights are important in the role of a child’s education is the first step toward guaranteeing a child’s success in the classroom. There is a common saying in education that parents are partners in education. What if we viewed it that education is in a partnership with parents? The professionals provide the learning environment and parents determine which professional provider (public or independent or even homeschooling) they will entrust their children with. In fact, that is what does happen; parents shop. We have students in our schools because families choose public education.

I am very cognizant of the role of parents and feel that as a board of education, we have room to improve. All boards do. These past four years have been tough enough for families and community. I am hoping to return to the era where we, all of the district, communicate better and with more empathy.

We are elected by the public to steward the public funds and to act on behalf of the community. Sometimes sandwiched between the function of provincial government and the needs of our community. It is a difficult place to be in, but if it were easy, you wouldn’t need us.

See you next time~

Shirley

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Trustee Election 2022

MEDIA RELEASE

WILSON, Shirley Seeking Re-Election for 6th Term
Monday, August 29, 2022

Shirley WILSON is seeking to continue her role as an elected trustee for the Abbotsford Board of Education during the 2022-2026 term in the October 15th municipal election.

Wilson, with 17 years of elected service, remains committed to education, families, and community. Dedicated to continued advocacy for the best possible opportunities to prepar students for a lifetime of success, she recognizes the value of experience and corporate knowledge necessary for the district over the next four years.

“Families remain top of mind in my own personal decisions,” says Wilson, “Our community support and recognition of parents as primary educators of their children is vital to educational achievement. I remain committed to our children and families in Abbotsford.”

Wilson believes each student’s success is supported by having the right people in the right places whether that be the teacher in the front of the classroom, principal of school, bus driver, custodian, secretary in the school, senior staff at the board office, or trustee at the table.

Strategic vision and fiscal accountability are cornerstones for the Abbotsford district, with room to improve.

Wilson has always been known as a strong advocate for families whether through her service in the charitable sector or in her elected school trustee position.

With five terms of solid leadership, Wilson is not done advocating for families and community at the board table. In some ways, families are having an even more difficult time advocating for their children – the district’s students – and Wilson is determined to gain more avenues for parental involvement in their children’s education.

Additionally, Wilson is elected as one of seven trustees elected to the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) where she serves as Vice Chair. With 2022 bargaining underway, she continues to bring valued employer experience and Fraser Valley perspective to the human resources and labour relations’ role of trustees.

An Abbotsford Senior Secondary graduate, Wilson’s two children also graduated from the Abbotsford School District.

On the passing of her son Jacob in 2021, Wilson created a financial bursary through the Abbotsford Community Foundation with the first award provided to a future music therapist at the WJ Mouat graduation in June 2022.

Wilson provides event and partnership specialist services to the non-profit sector in the Fraser Valley.

Moving here in 1983 with her family, Wilson enjoys the many opportunities and activities available throughout the community.

Elected in 2005, Wilson has served many roles in the community on behalf of the Board of Education, including two years in the role as Chair, and remains personally active in organizations locally, provincially, and nationally.

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Wilson’s current commitments and contact:

Five-term elected Board of Education Trustee on Abbotsford Board of Education.
Wilson4trustee@gmail.com
778-548-3995

Abbotsford Board of Education has an operating budget of $240 million dollars, serves 20,000 students, employs 2500+ staff, both across 47 school sites, and various support sites.

Current roles:
Trustee, Abbotsford Board of Education
Vice Chair and Fraser Valley Regional Representative, BC Public School Employers’Association (www.bcpsea.bc.ca)
Chair, Board of Education Field Naming Committee (Howe Middle School Turf Fields)
Appointee, Character Abbotsford
Appointee, School District Local Bargaining (Abbotsford Teachers’ Union & Teamsters 35)
Policy Committee (Former Chair)
Finance and Facilities Committee (Former Chair)
Audit Committee (Former Chair)
Education Committee (Former Chair)
For more information please visit https://www.abbyschools.ca/board

External appointments:
Peer Reviewer Imagine Canada (imaginecanada.ca)
ARHCC Patient Family Advocacy Council BC Patient Voices Network
BC Mental Health Substance Use Services Patient Family Experience Council
Abbotsford Character Council
BC 55+ Games (2023)

SOGI and SOGI 123

I apologize for the delay in providing this statement on SOGI and SOGI 123, but here it is!

I find it very frustrating to be asked if I am for or against SOGI. Please read below, and share.  Understand what it is that is being asked.

For clarity, SOGI – sexual orientation and gender identity – is mandated to be included in our Student Code of Conduct, and is as required.  It is embedded our Board Policy 15.  I am not opposed to having the language of the BC Human Rights Code in policy.  And that was the only mandate that Boards of Education received.

It is not a straightforward issue, nor one where most people understand what they might be asking.  Most people have the issues confused about the policy, who and what SOGI  is, what the curriculum is, what the resource is, and what is mandated.

It is combative right now and deemed as anti or pro, and I am disappointed that we can’t have reasonable discussions without claims of bigotry. We need more understanding. The sides are so polarized that if we aren’t careful we will throw the good out with the bad. I think we have to get back to the needs of each unique child.

The SOGI classification is protected, as it should be. The BC curriculum does not contain SOGI outcomes. The SOGI 123 resource is not mandated. There are parts of the resource where I take issue, but we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. So – I can’t say for or against SOGI unless I consider the intent of the question. I am inclusive, for all children, each child, and I recognize we are not in a black and white world.

I don’t think SOGI 123 is the only resource we can look to, anymore than I think Math Makes Sense is the be-all-end-all for match curriculum.  However, there are some appropriate references in the resource (not the whole thing) that are worth reviewing.

We have few other resources available, and need to have more on this very important and sensitive topic. Our Board has not had a curricular resource review for some time. As such, the current Board has not formally reviewed the content, under AP 210 which aligns with Minsterial Policy for Learning Resources.

https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/administration/legislation-policy/public-schools/learning-resources

Inclusion, safety of students and staff, and understanding the facts, is always part of my stance in public education.  If a teacher sends home math curriculum, send home social studies and science. Send it all, hide nothing.  The system needs to include parents in the education of their own children. Parents need to communicate with the classroom teacher and principal of the school in a respectful two way communication. Your children, our students.

 

 

Thank you, Abbotsford

Thank you, Abbotsford, for allowing me to continue to serve as an elected school trustee. I am thrilled to be able to return to the table for the 2022-2026 term. Your support is valued and appreciated.

This was my most difficult election in many ways, mostly because my son, now deceased, was not able to join us in this event. Family remains at the heart of what I do, and I have never made the decision to run without their input. I know he would be proud!

Thank you, Larry and Maddi, and all those folks who made this happen. Lots of love to you all!

~Shirley

Improving the Learning Experience for Students- Part 4

It’s been a short few weeks of an election campaign. Not much time (or opportunity) to share an election campaign for some. And for others, it was a completely full agenda for this election, filled with grand ideas and claims. And yet again, for a few, a tired hat tossed into the ring. But, importantly, each candidate has demonstrated a desire to govern in the Abbotsford school district for the next four years.

The desire to govern, to serve, is commendable. The desire to control – not so much.

What does this have to do with the learning experience for students? Everything. Absolutely everything.

Students, as I have mentioned multiple times, need to feel safe, supported, and understood. They need to be able to get to their school, be fed, and have the best teacher at the front of their class. Our students, your children, need to have the best opportunity available for success.

We hire leaders who determine what each and every student needs. We choose leaders who have your child’s interest, no matter what that might be, as their own vested commitment. Each student, your child or children, needs to be at the fore of every decision.

My hope is that the public chooses leaders – trustees – who consider the whole picture. We need quality spaces, appropriate resources, and thoughtful plans with a focus on students while still thinking about the adults who deliver the best possible services to our students. Whether it be the secretary, the custodian, our IT teams, the teacher at the front of the class, the educational leaders, and everyone else who works in the district, each member of our valued staff makes a difference in the life of a student. Each employee adds to the measure of success for a student in the Abby Schools district.

Who the voter puts at the Board table is important. Consider it carefully.

In the meantime, thank you to all who have faith in me to be one of the seven. It has been a pleasure and I could not do it without you. So in advance of tomorrow, no matter the outcome, you all are appreciated.

To those who have let their names stand for election, kudos! It is not easy to join the race for (re)election., so on that note alone, congratulations. Thank you for thinking of our younger generations. Best of luck to you all!

Improving the Learning Experience for Students – Part 3

The district’s relationship with our community and stakeholders is another key to student success. How we relate and collaborate with others can leave a negative or a positive experience, or worse, a broken relationship.

I have already spoken about the importance of a student feeling safe and not hungry when they are in school. This is key to a student’s success in the classroom. So why do the other relationships matter?

The district has stakeholders – those with a vested interest in the outcomes of our decisions, employee groups – those who work for the district, and partnerships – those we have contractual and/or agreements with in order to improve the services to students in Abbotsford.

Stakeholders, those with a vested interest in our decisions, include UFV, APD, District Parent Advisory Council, and the public. We consult on a regular basis whether through annual meetings with the Board or through our staff.

Employee groups also have a vested interest in our decisions. The Abbotsford Teachers’ Union, Teamsters, the Abbotsford Principal & Vice Principals’ Association, and our management and senior leadership are directly impacted by what we decide and also must implement those decisions.

Partnerships include some of our stakeholder groups (APD) and contractual service providers who deliver much-needed supports to our students, such as safety and food.

We also have a partnership with the city. How this looks now is vastly different than in the past. With multiple joint-use agreements in place, I feel that the Board and Council relationship is somewhat broken. Over the course of time, and many single-term mayors later, the past four years have seen a breakdown I have never witnessed in my 17 years in office. The Board and Council would meet 2x per year to plan together, attend each other’s events, and sit jointly at the Commission (as part of the Master Joint Use). This has diminished to the point where now there is no Commission and the two governing bodies did not meet over the past four years, despite the Board’s request to do so.

Why does this matter? In short, fields. Our community assets are owned and operated by the city and district on behalf of the public. It is our role to ensure that these assets meet the needs as prioritized by our mandates, and differently from each other. Many years ago (16 or so) the city approached the district to construct the first turf field, the one at WJ Mouat school. The city, with a mandate to create sport and recreational space for the community, was short on fields and it is beyond the district mandate to provide fields. We partnered so that the city could use our land, with their financial contribution, to provide a world-class space for sports in Abbotsford. it made perfect sense. We are now at a stage where, having not met face-to-face as asset owners this term, we are at risk of losing our community turf fields. It is time to meet in person, restore the relationship, and improve community access to taxpayer spaces.

Additionally, there are many more issues at hand including the use of baseball fields, recreational centres, and other services. I look forward to restoring the relationship with our city officials.

Regarding our other relationships, they all matter. More on those in my next blog.

Questions from a parent on IB

Thank you for your questions. As you know, I am an incumbent trustee with 17 years of experience on the Board. I have always been a proponent of choice in education, including maintaining long-standing successful programs. Once the Board was made aware of the more recent situation arising with the IB program, a situation the Board was not aware of, we took steps to protect the program.  

1. Do you agree that qualified students in the Abbotsford School District should be able to access the Gr 11/12 IB Diploma Programme and the preparatory Gr 9/10 PreDiploma program regardless of where they live in the district?

Absolutely!.  While there is no official pre-diploma program for IB, building the capacity for students to excel in IB is very important to me. The school has high enrolment and a space issue, causing an issue with cross-boundary students.   Having said that, I remain determined to protect the program. 

2. What have you done, or what will you do, to ensure that all qualified students in the district can have equal opportunity to enter the grade 9/10 Pre-Diploma IB Programme at Abbotsford Senior?

I have continuously advocated and will continue to do so, for the program.  Once I was aware of the recent concerns around the program (certificate and diploma) I worked hard to find out all the issues. and raise them at the table.  The Board feels strongly in favour of the program. My hope is that we bring the Middle Years Program (currently at Abby Middle) straight through up to grade 10 at Abby Senior. I recognize the demand and hope we can fulfill the requests.  

Working with the City

The questions below are from a taxpayer:

Thank you for the questions!

1) How will you work with the City to make transportation around schools safer for students, faculty and staff? e.g., In the urban area, a complete all ages and abilities (AAA) active transportation network and transit investments, including benches and shelters at stops, plus increased frequency bus intervals of 10 minutes or less.

What used to be Traffic Safety is now the Development, Transportation, and Infrastructure Advisory Committee.  Trustees were more actively involved in the past; I was Vice Chair for two years.  While our staff is on the current committee, we are not.  Our voices have not been at the table for four years, yet I believe we should be. I am of the mind that if the city won’t have us at the table, we (the Board) should create our own transportation committee.

2) How will you work collaboratively with the City to resolve the sports field issues at Abby Senior and Mouat? How will you administer these joint assets moving forward to ensure better collaboration.?

As noted, we no longer have a Commission even though the currently existing legal joint use agreement established the joint body of decision makers. I believe we should re-establish the Commission or something like it for the purpose of discussing forward progress with our joint assets.  Also, the Board of Education and City Council have not met in this current term even though the Board has requested it.  This is not acceptable.  I believe we should meet annually to discuss and collaborate on our taxpayer assets in the community. 

The Colbert Questionnaire

These are questions posed by The Stephen Colbert to guests on his show. Simple and fun.

“15 questions to cover the full spectrum of human experience”

Best sandwich?

Toasted BLT on sourdough bread, but with breaded fried green tomatoes, back bacon, leaf lettuce, and a thin slice of sharp aged cheddar. MMMMmmm!

What’s one thing you own that you really should throw out?

I’m supposed to throw things out? I am sentimental and hang onto old cards and letters. Most of those could be tossed.

What is the scariest animal?

Humans. No contest.

Apples or oranges?

Oranges, especially blood oranges.

Have you ever asked someone for their autograph?

Yes. Famous people in sports and the arts. But I like to ask some who seem to be up-and-coming stars, just so I can have it for when they reach fame.

What do you think happens when we die?

Peace.

Favorite action movie?

Indiana Jones – the first one.

Favorite smell?

Just one? The smell of fresh cut grass, or a fire on a chilly night, the smell of the sea, and freshly baked bread.

Least favorite smell?

Manure. I can’t get it out of my nose. And vomit.

Exercise: worth it?

Absolutely!

Flat or sparkling?

Flat.

Most used app on your phone?

Whatsapp and my camera.

You get one song to listen to for the rest of your life: what is it?

Mozart’s The Requiem in D Minor

What number am I thinking of?

11

Describe the rest of your life in 5 words?

I am not done yet!

Parents for French – submitted Q & A

Full NameShirley Wilson
Electoral DistrictSD 34 Abbotsford
E-mailwilson4trustee@gmail.com
Do you support French immersion?Absolutely!  My son went through the program.  I believe the program opens doors and creates opportunity for our youth.
If elected, in what ways would you demonstrate support for French immersion?I will continue to support French Immersion as a program and find ways to bring more teachers to Abbotsford to continue strengthening FI.
What strategies would you employ to keep up with parental demand for French immersion programs within your school district?I am on the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) Board of Directors (Vice Chair) where it is recognized we have a provincial shortage of FI teachers.  Encouraging recruitment and retention, reaching out beyond BCs borders and internationally, and putting qualified educators into the schools are important to protect the sustainability of the program.  
We have schools in our district with k-12 options for students and families.  We need the teachers in place to keep up with demand.
How would you support recruitment and retention of French Immersion teachers?See above.
Would you support a French Advisory Committee at the school district level, with representatives from the various stakeholders, i.e. trustees, administrators, parents and teachers?We have this in place, although currently there are no trustees.  I would like to see the return of trustees to the committees.
In what ways would you support the expansion of online French courses for students who cannot obtain proper access to French immersion classes through to grade 12?We have a virtual program in our district that offers the courses for those who want and/or need the courses.
Anything else you would like to add?I have seen a decline in FI over the past few years, especially during the pandemic.  I would like to see student enrolment increase and see teachers decide to continue teaching the program.  Too many revert back to teaching in English. I will continue to advocate at the provincial level for a greater number of seats for teachers at the university French level.

Questions received from the public

The following are questions I have received in my email, and the answers I have provided. No one is identified here, as privacy is important and honoured here.

1. What do you see as the biggest strength of current board?

Despite the requirements to move operating dollars into capital, we have a solid budget.  We have been, and remain, fiscally prudent. We marry our strategic plan to our budget, which I wanted when first elected in 2005.  It took a long time but it is so important to ensure we have the right $ in the right places.  We know our direction and our focus and put the money where we need to for student success.

2. What do you see as the biggest weakness of the current board?

Communication for sure!  There has been a movement to limit access to the board.  This has to stop. Parents and staff report feeling stifled at the senior board office level, and the board has been asked to limit our communications and to send everything back to the school principal.  I still take calls and respond to anyone who reaches out. There is a propensity for some of the board to say, just let staff handle it.  We need to ensure that we represent our community and not erode our presence or governance.

3.  What is your opinion on the provincial government providing 50% funding to private schools for each student?

Independent school funding is complicated. For a variety of reasons, I have always voted against the motions to stop the funding. Several issues are at play here, including that parents will always have a choice about where to have their children go to school in order to access the educational programming they feel best meets the needs of their child.  If that funding came back into public education, and students followed, we would not have the bricks and mortar space for the students and the funding would take a hit with only 50% of a fully funded student following that backpack, thus reducing the per-student funding overall. It is unlikely that the provincial government would increase the funding overall.   We are already in a labour shortage and finding more staff at this time would be difficult. Research shows that many of the teachers in private schools would prefer to stay there. We have great relationships with our independent schools.  In our community, we have many, many families who have children attending both public and independent.  These schools provide an economic benefit to our city overall.  

4.  What volunteer work, that you are involved with, are you most proud of?

I have done so much volunteer work over the years, mostly in child and family serving organizations, and the work I am doing currently may very well be the one I am most proud of.  I am currently a member of the BC Mental Health Substance Use Services Patient and Family Experience Council.  We are working to reduce stigma and save the lives of those experiencing addiction and homelessness. I am also working with the APD to tell our story on overdose.  I am not sure if you are aware, but my son died from an accidental fentanyl overdose on November 11th.  See Jacob Wilson Recovery Support on FB.  I had the police contact me to tell me he had died – twice.  The second time they couldn’t save him.  Given the state of the overdose crisis, we need to help more youth and the work I am doing will hopefully assist in reducing the number of deaths – increase the likelihood of saving a life – one at a time. 

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I am a resident of Abbotsford, with two children attending schools in SD34. Their future is very important to me. I am considering voting for you as school board trustee, but before I do I need to ask a very important question:

What is your position on Covid mandates and sogi 123 ?

My answers:

Thank you for reaching out with your questions.  I am happy to answer your questions below. 

This link is my most recent commentary on questions around SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) and SOGI 123 (the website containing resources for SOGI in education). My website has other blogs on this topic as well.  

In regards to the COVID mandates, there are several issues to address.  I am unsure which parts of the vast topic you want me to address but let me start with mandates in schools.  Boards of Education had no authority on the mandates applied to the educational settings. This fell to the PHO and she was legally allowed to impose the mandate. 

I am not pleased that schools were closed for several weeks.  When we re-opened we were one of very few jurisdictions in the world to do so.  The social aspect and face-to-face with teachers were very important to the well-being and learning for students.  I was okay with masking in schools although concerned for the children who, for various reasons, were not able to wear the mask.  It is well known that masks are just one measure of safety in the pandemic and not the best. My concern for the safety of our students was high, as was my concern for our staff. Staff – the adults – had a far greater capacity to understand and protect themselves.  Students were the ones I really worried about, and them taking the virus home to vulnerable family members.  I was in fact the first trustee to raise my concerns at the Board table and gained support to continue the blended learning options for our district.  I felt at times that the mandate was too prohibitive.  

Follow-up questions from same Very Concerned Parent:

Thank you for replying, I’m reading your response and going into your website. I’m not clear whether you’re aware fully of the sogi-123 agenda and what kind of pornographic materials the kids are exposed to in schools ? It’s literally shocking and any parent and especially school board trustee needs to be informed about it. It’s pure evil, 

There’s a list of sogi-123 books for K-12 schools, are you familiar with it ?

(Included as an attachment)

Also, is there an event open to public, a chance to meet and ask questions to all the school trustees candidates ?

My answer:

Regarding your question on the trustee all-candidates, there is one (for all municipal candidates) on Saturday at the Legacy Sports Centre at Rotary Stadium from 3-6pm for the sporting groups.  You are welcome to attend.  Additionally, District Parent Advisory Council is hosting an all-candidates for just trustees Monday, Oct 3 from 7-9pm at Abbotsford Arts Centre. 

Regarding the SOGI 123 materials, I am aware of the content and the materials within our schools.  Rest assured that when materials are brought to our attention that the superintendent is also made aware.  We do not allow age and curricular inappropriate materials to be included in the materials for students.  I am aware that some items have been identified in catalogues but that does not mean they are in the classrooms.  We do monitor these concerns as they arise. 

I hope that helps.  Again, welcome to having a conversation.

Improving The School Experience For Students -Part Two

In part two in my series of on learning environments for students, let’s explore the various types of supports for students in the schools.  

I understand that the Tyee has sent a questionnaire out to some candidates to dig a little deeper into their platforms.  From the Tyee:  

“…With the election coming up soon, myself (Katie Hyslop) and my colleague, Tegwyn Hughes, are interviewing trustees in five districts who have outlined their concerns about parental rights in school districts as part of their platforms. This includes the district you are running in, and as such would you be able to respond to the following questions…” 

Although the Abbotsford school district election was one of the five selected, I was not one of those emailed for the interview. However, I have seen the questions. One stood out for me.  

2) What are your thoughts on district supports for students regarding sexual orientation and gender identity including, but not limited to, using the SOGI 123 resources?

If I had been selected I would have answered along the lines of this: 

Ultimately, when a student feels supported and safe in school, they are going to do well.  

In targeting a specific subset of students, making the group that top priority, we tend to forget others who also struggle and need support.  All students need the appropriate support, care, and attention for whatever it is they may be struggling with. For example, students with substance use issues should have access to both internal and external resources to assist in keeping them in school and staying safe.  

 The resources on SOGI 123 provide a variety of ways to support sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI / LGBTQ+) and should only be used in age and material-appropriate ways, as districts and families expect.   

Students who are hungry need to be fed. Students who are struggling with learning disabilities should be provided supports and resources specific to their learning capacity. We should eliminate racism. Students who feel unsafe due to bullying and harassment should be protected and encouraged to speak up and speak out about what is happening to themselves or to others.  

Ultimately, each child is important and will come with their own sense of self when they arrive at school. Each student must be treated in a way that promotes safety and inclusion. And frankly, our schools need to be constantly aware of how issues present for students, no matter what the stigma is.