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VIDEO: Maple Ridge school trustee candidates square off in Whonnock

SOGI, Indigenous relationships, violence in schools, some of the topics covered
A woman reacts to a Maple Ridge school board candidate during an all-candidates meeting at the Whonnock Lake Centre Tuesday night, Oct. 11. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)

Maple Ridge school board candidates had their chance to shine a spotlight on themselves at a meeting at the Whonnock Lake Centre in Maple Ridge Tuesday night.

There were only two no-shows, Johnnie Day and Kim Dumore, due to sickness and a family emergency.

Each candidate introduced themselves before drawing one question randomly from a jar to answer. Questions were submitted in advance by the public.

Gladys Hewson was first up and was asked how could School District 42 and the City of Maple Ridge cooperate to expand school capacity.

Hewson said the school district and the city need to cooperate more, whether it be mowing the lawns, or using buildings that already exist within the district to use for an outreach program or alternative learning.

“We have so many buildings that aren’t being used properly,” said Hewson, noting that even the schools themselves are only used between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m..

After school hours, she said, the district could then run programs out of them.

“Buildings are the biggest asset the community owns. We need to be using them 24 hours a day, or 20 hours a day,” she said.

Yvonne Desabrais was asked what specific work, community connections, events, or other things have you done to prepare for this election campaign and your time in office, if you are elected.

Desabrais said she is doing drum circles, talking circles, and meet-and-greets, along with organizing an opportunity for all candidates to get together to congratulate each other. She noted that this is her first time running for a position on school board, adding that she is connected to the community and continues to do a lot of work within the community not connected to her campaign.

Desabrais said she has been in the community for 22 years and experienced some of the things that are not so good.

“So I definitely want to work with others, united, so that we can get the work done together in a respectful way,” she answered.

Next up was incumbent Mike Murray who was asked what specific action will he take to get more children to walk and bike to school, and generally be more active.

“I think a lot of that starts with the school culture and Parent Advisory Councils and a lot of discussions about the importance of activity,” he said.

He said there have been many suggestions about how to encourage more activity in students including school competitions and incentives to get students to think about their activity. He also mentioned having a walking school bus where children are supervised walking to school in a group. Murray then said he would talk to people and ask them what other ideas they have.

“Because listening is a large part of this job,” he said.

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Another incumbent Elaine Yamamoto was asked what can School District 42 do differently to attract and retain teachers in a competitive teacher-shortage market.

She acknowledged that it is a struggle faced in the district, noting that there are positions that are still not filled. And she said, the board have asked senior staff to look at this very issue, but the issue is a problem across the province, not just this school district.

“What we have seen in the last while is that our senior staff is actively encouraging mentoring, skilled teachers to take mentoring positions so that we can draw in more student teachers from the universities around us,” she said.

She also noted another area the board could concentrate on are teachers who live in Maple Ridge but commute to other school districts to work, but are hesitant to transfer seniority in order to live and work in the same community.

Another newcomer to the political stage, Gabe Liosis, the youngest to run for school board in Maple Ridge, was asked what do inclusive schools look like.

He started off by explaining this question hits close to home because he came out as a gay man in the eighth grade.

And, he elaborated, that it was really challenging for him navigating those feelings on his own, adding that they were feelings he had experienced since Grade 3 or 4.

“Because it was something that wasn’t talked about I felt like those feeling were wrong, that I shouldn’t be feeling that way. And I wish that when I was in the public school system as a young, in elementary school, or even in high school, that we had things like SOGI education in place, which we have now,” he said.

He said he struggles when he hears people say that we shouldn’t be talking about what it means to be gay or that we shouldn’t be talking about sexual orientation. Or that children should be older before topics like that should be addressed.

“So, when someone says lets not talk about what it means to be gay until your’re older, you’re inherently inferring that SOGI education is not something that we should be talking about,” he said, through the ringing bell, notifying him his time was up.

Brian Dominick was asked what work needs to be done within our school district to further support the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.

“A lot more,” he said right off the bat.

One idea would be to have elective courses in high schools that have Indigenous focus whether it be language, or skills courses, or food preparation.

“Language I think would be a really good one as well. We offer French and Spanish, and to offer some Indigenous courses, I think, would be a fantastic compliment to what we currently have,” he said, before being pressed for more comment by the moderator.

“I think we should consult with the Indigenous communities more and ask them what they would want Reconciliation to look like more,” he said.

Incumbent Pascale Shaw was asked what she thinks is the cause of violence in schools and how can it be remedied.

Shaw said there is not enough space, staff, or meaningful programming for all children to be successful.

“It is a huge issue and we really need to have a brave conversation about inclusion and what that looks like. Because when we have children in our school system who are not receiving what they need, they can’t succeed,” she noted.

Shaw said that whenever the conversation is around inclusion, people shut down and they don’t want to have a conversation.

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“And that needs to stop,” she said, noting that the board recently established a committee that was launched after a budget decision to hire another administrator in student support services, to talk about this problem.

She noted that violence in schools is not just a Maple Ridge issue, but provincial issue, even world issue.

Changes need to be made, she said, and the start of the conversation are with the people on the front lines and who are involved.

The final Maple Ridge school board candidate to pick a question was Karen Redkwich. She was asked how can the school district work to build better relationships with Indigenous groups and First Nations in our community.

Redkwich said she agreed with a school district report that concluded that, “this work will have many complex moments, that will require skill, empathy, unlearning, relearning, reflection, courage, and the relinquishing power to navigate through them”.

“That statement to me kind of says it all,” she said.

She said that building better relationships can’t happen overnight but requires a constant process including: ongoing consultations; transparency; authentic communication; resources and structure materials; professional development opportunities; Indigenous peoples perspectives; diversity; and a financial commitment by the district.

“All of those need to remain open, and ongoing, and continuous,” she said.

Redkwich acknowledged what happened in residential schools was horrific. She said as educators they need to embrace the opportunity to educate, reflect and engage in genuine and meaningful conversations about these experiences in order to create future successes.

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A red card is held up during the all-candidates meeting notifying the candidate they had one minute left to talk. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)

Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

Colleen Flanagan is an award-winning multimedia journalist with more than 15 years experience in the industry.
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