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COLUMN: Time to try out some new chairs in SD40
Let’s start with some assumptions.
The New Westminster School District has many great programs. Great teachers, principals, special education assistants, support staff and so on. And of course, great kids.
But the dynamic on school board needs work. Most trustees agree. Most residents who follow school board affairs would agree.
And it’s not about arguing, which is what passionate people often do. Or about politics, which they say creeps in any time you’ve got more than two people in one room.
It’s about effectiveness.
The New West school board isn’t as effective as it could be, as the recent “surprise” $2.8-million deficit, the third in 11 years, makes plain.
Two weeks ago I suggested the board hire a communications person, because SD40 does a poor job sharing information in the community. Misunderstandings are common, and controversial issues tend to blow up rather than dissipate.
While some agree with my suggestion, others have told me such a person will not be effective until a better spirit of cooperation develops on the board.
So how can the board be more cooperative, and hence, more effective?
A good start would be to elect two fresh faces as chair and vice-chair.
For years, those positions have been held for the most part by current chair James Janzen, and current vice-chair Michael Ewen.
Typically they swap roles when they come up for renewal each year.
Both are long-time veterans—Ewen, for instance, with more than three decades of service on the board—who have made a substantial contribution.
But a dynamic has developed and switching things up will open the door and let in some fresh air.
It’s time to pass the torch, and let others have a chance to grow into the role.
One of the newly elected trustees from 2011, either Jonina Campbell, David Phelan or MaryAnn Mortensen, should be named chair the next time around.
All are knowledgeable, hard working and able.
Campbell and Phelan are backed by the New Westminster & District Labour Council, while Mortensen is a member of the Voice slate.
For balance, if a labour trustee is named chair, the Voice trustee should be named vice-chair, or vice versa.
The importance of these two roles cannot be overstated.
In particular, the chair of the board sets the tone not only for school board meetings, but also helps establish the tenor of the conversation and the image of the board in the community.
An effective chair is like a good captain of a hockey team, resolving disputes, building understanding through tools like reflective listening, and striving for consensus.
According to a document from the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, titled “Becoming a Better Board Chair,” an effective chair runs “efficient and productive board meetings,” is a “leader who helps others achieve defined goals” and “is a good policy leader who clearly understands the roles and responsibilities of both the board and of the school division administration.”
Neither Jonina Campbell, David Phelan or MaryAnn Mortensen has had a chance to prove they’re capable of being this kind of chair.
But it’s time they were given a chance to try.
• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.