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Resignations spark call for school board trustees
'I'm encouraging people to put their names forward,' says public district chair

Evan Kiyoshi French
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Those wishing to run for a trustee position with the public school board may be in luck this year.

After two incumbents resigned from the Yellowknife Education District No. 1, chairperson John Stephenson is encouraging others to step up.

"I'm encouraging people to put their names forward," said Stephenson. "I'm always willing to talk to people about the opportunity and the kind of time commitment that's required. There is an honorarium that is paid to trustees. Some people are under the impression it's purely voluntary, but there is a stipend."

Stephenson said the board has lost both its women - Mira Hall and former-vice chair Heather Clarke -so he encourages interested could-be candidates to let their names be heard for the seven available positions in the Oct. 19 election.

Clarke - who is leaving the territory to be closer to family in Edmonton - stepped down as chair at the board's last meeting, and trustee Allan Shortt was appointed interim vice-chair. Stephenson said Hall cited a conflict of interest and resigned in early June because she took a job working as an educational assistant at Sir John Franklin High School.

"She originally told me she was going to work at Montessori as an executive director, but she changed her path."

Stephenson said his name will stand for trustee when it comes time to choose.

"The group of trustees that are elected ... will have an organizational meeting," he said. "And at that meeting the chair and vice-chair are chosen."

He said he hopes to continue working to advance the healthy schools program - which encourages physical activity and eating healthy and fostering a spirit of leadership in students.

"I put a suggestion forward will all of my school board chairs across the territory, and with the minister, on the topic," he said. "We have traditional leadership activities of student council, special projects ... what I have in mind is leadership at all levels ... encouraging kids to step forward to engage in their community. I put it on the table to put together an inventory of activities we are already doing. And what is happening parallel to our schools that we could partner with?"

In February, when nearly none of the Yk1 trustees were willing to say for sure they were planning to run again, Hall told Yellowknifer they might be reticent to sign up for another term because the workload had significantly increased since they took office.

One trustee who was prepared to say he's running, however, was 20-year-Yk1 veteran trustee Terry Brookes.

In an e-mail, Brookes stated he's running again on a platform of student achievement, aboriginal education and student well-being. He wrote that getting students a well-rounded education while teaching them a variety of life skills, while teaching them about "culture of health in mind and body." He said the district has made some great strides in aboriginal education and he would like to see the progress continue. He said the elected trustees need to understand the difference between "aboriginal education and educating aboriginals."

The existing mainstream education system tends to be Eurocentric, and there is nothing wrong with that ... but if this model is simply applied to aboriginal students who do not have a historical linkage to this model, then there is a disconnect. Systems of education are constantly evolving ... so our challenge is to continually evolve."

Trustee Allan Shortt - who works for Clark Builders - said he's thinking about running again, but has to wait to find out what his work schedule is going to be like in the relevant future. Incumbents trustees Jay Butler and Blake Lyons couldn't be reached for comment before press time.

Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS) board chair Simon Taylor hasn't decided if he'll be running again, he told Yellowknifer Monday.

In February, Taylor said he was undecided for personal reasons. Trustee Erin Currie confirmed she will be running in the fall election, on a platform of keeping faith in the classroom.

"I probably made the decision for sure about two months ago," she said. "I really like being on the board. I spent the first three years learning how to be a trustee. Now that I've learned as much as I have I want to continue to practise that."

She said students elsewhere in the country are given the right to Catholic education according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but that in the NWT the right is legislated by the territory. She said that means Catholics need to be on their guard and ready to protect their rights.

"We need to ensure it stays in place and a viable option for parents," she said.

Trustees in Yk1 are paid $8,000 per year, while the vice-chair gets $10,000 and the chair gets $12,000. Catholic district trustees receive $7,500, the vice-chair gets $8,500, and the chair gets $12,000.

YCS Trustees Francis Chang, John Dalton, Amy Simpson, Steven Voytilla and YCS vice-chair Miles Welsh, couldn't be reached for comment before press time.

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