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SD#22 School Board Trustee Candidate Responses

SD#22 School Board Trustee Candidate Responses

What do you believe to be the pressing issues within our School District?

Julie Melanson

I believe we need to ensure there is effective communication with stakeholders, including building effective mechanisms to include meaningful participation in Board processes, strengthening relationships between the the Board and their staff groups CUPE5523, VTA and Principals and Vice Principals Association (when staff feel valued and included, they are much more likely to feel that they have a stake in how an organization fulfills its mandate), and developing a District climate action plan (organizations across the province [including other school boards] understand that collectively we have run out of time to analyse this further- it’s time for action)

Christie Tujik

I believe going forward the school district would be wise to put money aside in the area of Mental Health related to COVID. I think in the next couple of years we will see the affect the pandemic has had on our children and staff.

I also believe the school district may need to revisit some of its other policies to make sure they are up to date. For example, the school district has worked hard over the past few years to update its transportation policy.

The district budget is always one in which we need to make sure we are doing our best to make sure funds are being implemented in areas of need. I feel the budget process could be more transparent. Where are the funds coming from? Where are they going? If not used, what happens them?

Philipp Gruner

My platform is built around 3 specific overarching themes and I believe we can build upon these topics: Financial oversight, Relationships, and Transparency.
One of my main suggested initiatives is the creation of a financial subcommittee that is tasked to regularly review financial performance, work with administration to collaborate on creating the annual budget and provide meaningful participation into the budget discussion for partner groups and the public.

The most significant relationship challenge currently lies between the school district and the DPAC. For a variety of reasons, I believe both groups simply misunderstand each others’ intentions, and a new trustee may be in a unique position to try to resolve and/or mediate a solution to the current situation. After speaking with the two primary partner unions within the district, there is a feeling that the communication between the school district and the unions could be improved.

I believe information from the school district is available, but it is very difficult to find. Transparency is not just about providing information; it is also about providing information that is easily accessible. I believe there are innovative opportunities to improve accessibility to information within School District 22.

Jenelle Brewer

I think SD’s most pressing issues are:
Increasing demands for schools and educators to be community services and limited funding for these initiatives.

Uncertainty around how long the current regulations related to COVID will be in place and the subsequent challenges to budget forecasting as the funding was identified as a one-time grant.

Demands on staff have increased stress for everyone as we implement COVID protocols. For some, even just being in the school environment creates stress and anxiety.

Individual Education Planning (IEP), as more students have additional learning needs identified, the lineup builds for access to assessment and support resources. Cutting wait times for assistance must be a priority.

COVID created some additional demands, but mostly it revealed just how much the community and economy rely on schools, and sometimes to be more than it’s designed for. We need to work with the community to make sure that schools can continue to deliver quality education while assisting the community in general, and without creating an unnecessary burden for Teachers, Administrators and Support Staff.

The impact from reduced enrolment from International Students both as it relates to budget and educational programs.

Based on what you have observed in SD22 Board Meetings, what operational changes do you see needed in the structure of these meetings?

Julie Melanson

When in person meetings were held, I went and listened to two students present on climate change. I was surprised that there was no room for discussion after their presentation. I would like to see more room for discussion either within the meetings, or prior to the meetings.

My suggestions: 1. have the agenda package out earlier, at least as a provisional document (if a pressing issue arises after the info package is made public there could still be an opportunity to include it in the meeting). 2. include a standing report from stakeholders section in the agenda of each meeting (CUPE, DPAC, PVPA, VTA will be given 5 to 10 minutes to bring forward questions, concerns, ideas, etc)

Christie Tujik

In this current COVID environment where the meetings are being held virtually, I think the school district is not taking advantage of this opportunity for parents to attend meetings easier. I believe if they work with DPAC and the PACs, they could advertise this fact.

I also believe the agenda needs some more movement. If no one asks questions in the first question period, then those minutes should be added to the last question period of the agenda. This gives the audience a chance to listen and absorb the information given (especially during meetings with hot topics such as transportation and budgets).

It would be nice to see the answers in the minutes from the questions asked by the attendees of the board meetings. I know for me; I may have not asked the question but would also like to know the answer.

Philipp Gruner

There are 2 primary changes I would seek support from the other trustees.
The first one is the sequencing of making the board meeting agenda available. Currently, the agenda and material are released Monday afternoon ahead of the Wednesday board meeting, essentially only leaving one and a half days for interested parties to submit written correspondence to be included in the meetings. Particularly for busy parents and volunteer groups, that is not enough time to submit and participate in a meaningful dialogue. I would introduce a motion to change this sequencing to give the public and partner groups at least 5-6 days to review agenda material and submit correspondence.
The second focus would be around the consideration of written correspondence and verbal commentary during the board of education meetings. I have witnessed questions being raised at the beginning of the meetings which were not referred to when the material was discussed. I believe there should be a more structured approach towards comments and responding to those throughout the course of the meeting.
Another step to consider is to permit specified partner groups to participate in board debates as it is currently conducted at SD#23 Board of Education meetings.

Jenelle Brewer

The change I would like to see would be to create a proactive process where stakeholders would have an opportunity to review the agenda and submit items for the Board in advance of the meeting. The current model of permitting a thirty- minute process for people to raise topics is inadequate. This can create inequality because not every voice may have the opportunity to be heard. A process where stakeholders can submit agenda items will permit the less-vocal attendees an opportunity to present their concerns. The process can be delivered online creating a proactive approach to this governance model. While some issues will still require research and time, this model will prepare board members and administration to be able to consider the issues and be prepared with a timely response.

Please describe your past experiences either working for or on a governance board. What made you effective in your role?

Julie Melanson

I am an effective board member on a governing board as I tend to stick to the point when discussing matters while keeping the broader picture in mind. In this case, I will always be asking, what is in the best interest of the students?

In past positions, I have worked through difficult situations between staff and board members, and found the most effective solution to this was through conversations with all parties involved.

My approach is very much a collaborative approach, working with others to get the best result, and not about who gets the credit. A good example of this was working with the Okanagan Rail Trail team to create the society and to work together towards the purchase of the land. By working collaboratively we were able to achieve the goal of the purchase in the short timeframe that we had.

Christie Tujik

I have had the opportunity to be on a few governance boards, whether it be a DPAC rep, PAC executive or member of an environmental board. I am most effective when I have had a chance to listen to those involved and hear all points of view. Then I can ask questions to get more input and make an informed decision.

Philipp Gruner

-City of Edmonton Appointed me as Board Member to Northlands (A non -profit organizations with over $ 100 Mio. in annual Revenues. -President of DKK – A German language pre-school in Edmonton (3 Locations with 6 teachers) -President and Chair of the Vernon Immigrant Services Society (VDICSS) (12 Employees and Government funded Non-Profit organization) -13 Years working as a Senior Executive for a NYSE listed Publicly traded Company (Attended and presented at Board of Director meeting regularly throughout my 13-year tenure) I believe my authenticity and proper preparation for board related meetings and activities made me an effective participant in those roles. Understanding the audience and approaching fellow colleagues and board members the right way are all strategies I employ to be as effective as possible, regardless of if I am in front of a governance board or part of a governance board. I have always been a hands-on type of individual regardless of position or title. I am a firm believer that leaders should try to understand the material that is before them, especially if it’s a subject matter that is not a natural strength. I also try to be as authentic as possible in everything I do.

Jenelle Brewer

My experience includes two terms in an elected position on the Okanagan Indian Band Council, which is similar to City Council. The differences for on-reserve governance are the responsibilities for education, a school, social development and health, a daycare, and Title and Rights. I participated in governance training, strategic planning, capital planning, and held a seat on the Aboriginal Education Committee for School District 22. I have a bachelors degree in Business Administration.

Where I think I am effective in a governance role is in my prioritization of planning, developing policy, and building partnerships with stakeholders; these are examples of my belief that planning creates an environment for proactive decision making.
Additionally, I like to be knowledgeable and, fortunately, I enjoy reading legislation and policy documents. Moreover, I tend to operate from a visionary perspective. As such, I approach decision-making using critical thinking, assessing risks, while seeking out as many resolutions as possible for the situation at hand.

Finally, I am an effective communicator and an active listener; and I’ve brought these attributes to the other boards I’ve sat on. These include North Okanagan Columbia Shuswap United Way, O’Keefe Ranch, and as the Treasurer of an Independent School Board.

If elected, how will you work with the present Board of Trustees and new Superintendent to make this School District more transparent?

Julie Melanson

Many of these people are new to me, so I would start out by getting to know them so I may understand and value each person’s strengths. I would aim to work with other trustees and the Superintendent to develop an expanded role for standing committees (specifically a finance committee that includes stakeholder participation, and a standing committee – including student participation – to develop and oversee the implementation of a climate action plan), ensure that in camera meetings are covering only topics that meet the standards for what should be excluded from public accountability.

Christie Tujik

If elected I would take any and all opportunities to ask questions of the current board and new superintendent to get their opinions on what gaps need to be filled. I am not going to know everything right off the bat. I have a willingness to learn, passion and drive. I do believe we need to brainstorm as a collective group. I think the boards best resource is our partner groups (VTA, CUPE, DPAC) They are always willing to give feedback and information.

Philipp Gruner

My approach to transparency would be focused on accessibility. We have such great opportunities at our fingertips by utilizing social media platforms, working pro-actively with mainstream media and utilizing our PACs and DPAC within the district to distribute important information, minutes and/or agenda’s. Board meetings should be recorded and made available to watch at any time. Our families all have busy lives and strategies such as these allows the public to participate on their own terms and schedules. Most of those initiatives are very low-cost activities but greatly improve the accessibility to information to the public. I am excited to see Dr. Perkins’s ideas, best practices and lessons learned on how she achieved transparency and accessibility to information within her former district (SD#8). After doing some research into SD#8, they employ some unique and interesting strategies such as the use of high school student trustees who participate at trustee meetings and Dr. Perkins issues a monthly Superintendent newsletter. I believe the inclusion of students in Trustee meetings is a wonderful idea to also incorporate the perspectives from students. Finally, Dr. Perkins will need the support and an open mind from the Trustees on new and improved ideas.

Jenelle Brewer

Policy development defines and guides the Board’s decision-making process, this creates a mechanism of accountability. The board’s responsibilities can be clearly defined to ensure the protocol for lines of communication is followed. The ability to access the Board is an important part of the communication process, including images and an introduction of who they are, so the community is informed about who is representing them. Annual reports are a friendly way to communicate to stakeholders what was achieved and what the future goals include. The Mission and Vision Statements should be at the top of every meeting agenda to set the tone for every decision that gets made across the district.

Technology has created the ability to broadcast and/or televise the board meetings, this should continue to facilitate easier access to meetings. I would like to see the meetings recorded and available for public viewing if this not an available option already.

It is difficult for Boards to evaluate the senior management position; I would like to see the 360° evaluation method implemented for leadership positions. This process would provide a confidential process for the employee being evaluated to receive feedback from employees or key stakeholders that interact with them.

What will you do to ensure that there is regular and meaningful consultation with all partner groups (VTA, CUPE, DPAC, and community)?

Julie Melanson

If elected, as an individual trustee, I intend to connect with the leadership of stakeholder groups on a regular basis. As mentioned above, I would like to see an expanded role for standing committees that include stakeholder participation and for increased and predictable voice in public meetings.

Christie Tujik

I will say it again, the board best resource are the partner groups. Meaningful consultation can only happen if the board is willing to listen. Is the board letting PACs and other groups know they are willing to hear and be open to suggestions? Making these groups aware they are always welcome to present to the board and attend board meetings.

Philipp Gruner

There are opportunities within the district to create and set up more subcommittees to help and provide more engagement with the community. At this month’s board meeting, it was evident that a well thought out and prepared technology strategy was presented, without prior engagement or consultation with the VTA. The VTA has asked on numerous occasions to have a technology subcommittee created, as it was in place the past, to collectively talk about the requirements and expectations of new initiatives. More standing committees with the involvement of the above- mentioned partner groups will help in meaningful consultation within the community. SD#23 has adopted an approach where partner groups are able to participate in board meeting debates which is a strategy, we should look at for SD#22. As a trustee, I would also try to reach out to partner groups on a regular basis ahead of board meeting to find out about current potential challenges and items that need to be addressed at a board level. Regular PAC and DPAC engagement are also important to ensure school specific and parent concerns are heard and brought forward accordingly during meetings.

Jenelle Brewer

This is always a challenge, in my experience, there is always a good intention to hold meaningful consultations with stakeholders. That said, finding a way to do that so everyone is heard is a difficult part of the governance process. The bottom line is that the board needs the input and feedback of these independent partner groups to be effective.

There are challenges with coordinating schedules of people with a multitude of responsibilities and demands on their schedule. A champion is required to make sure this happens; someone must be responsible for scheduling and communicating the meetings and organizing them.

Here are the solutions I would bring to the table, appoint the champion, create an annual schedule, ensure they are communicated, and the meetings are added to calendars, and collaborative agendas are created.

I would like to seek out ways to give a voice to underrepresented people. I would like to see a mechanism for broader reach to Indigenous, immigrants, LGBTQ, youth and the disabled. I am open to listening to the concerns of others and would love to hear if some solutions or models working in other communities.

BC has the highest cost of living in Canada. For young families, the cost of housing and the cost of quality childcare are the top two cost pressures. What will you do to make Vernon more affordable for families? How will this be reflective in the budget processes at the School Board?

Julie Melanson

One area that is particularly relevant is busing costs. We need to find ways to invite MORE participation in district busing – it is safer, more efficient and significantly reduces the Districts carbon footprint. I would like to see more exploration of this topic.

The other issue that creates significant costs for young families is child care. The school district needs to work collaboratively with CUPE and the VTA to find solutions to using school facilities to support families that are struggling to pay for child care. Senior levels of government are ramping up investments in this service, and as a trustee I will work hard to see that we are at the front of the line to gain services, particularly for families that are struggling financially. One initiative that SD22 is considering (at the last board meeting) is the Seamless Day Model of child care that is being championed by CUPE. This model seeks to leverage the $10 a day child care commitments from senior levels of government, and it has a great deal of potential. If it or something like it is to be successful, though, we must ensure that there is solid work with schools, teachers, and support workers to ensure that all legitimate concerns are addressed so that a good idea does not fall by the wayside because of imprudent implementation.

Christie Tujik

Yes, BC has the highest cost of living in Canada. When my children were younger our family decided it would be best for me to be a stay-at-home mom. Childcare cost the same as our mortgage payment. I believe the school district can continue to look into items to help with keeping costs down for families. For example, to continue to stay on top of transportation costs, school supply fees to name a couple. I further think the district may want to do more inquiring into possible child care spaces in schools as was presented by CUPE at the April 21 board meeting. The board has a trustee who attends meeting with the City of Vernon. With this continued partnership we can give input to the city where we believe some cost saving measures can be put in place.

Philipp Gruner

This is one of the reasons why I’m proposing to implement a standing financial subcommittee with representation from CUPE, VTA, BCPVPA and DPAC. Within this committee we can work collectively and collaboratively leading up to the budget approval and ensure financial burdens on families are kept to a minimum or eliminated all together. While transportation and bussing are now accessible to all students within the district, there are still some inequities that need to be addressed in the very near future to reduce transportation costs for families. We also have an opportunity to actively work with our local MLA to address provincial funding issues within our communities. We should use our local representative proactively to get messaging around funding to the Minister of Education. I commend the work that has been done by the current board, administration and stakeholders around creating new affordable childcare spaces at Alexis Park, Ellison and Mission Hill. These childcare spaces will help families within our school district to access more affordable childcare options. I would be supportive to expand this program to other areas and schools within the district.

Jenelle Brewer

As a single parent with the sole financial responsibility for two children, I can relate. I often would have to work two jobs to make ends meet, even as a management professional. The cost of living is expensive and continues to increase. As far as funding goes, speaking from an Indigenous lens, there are grants for students who require more services through Indigenous Services Canada. I suspect similar grants are available through the Province for other groups. I recognize that looking and applying for grants is a time-consuming process. But organizations can hire contractors to apply for grants, and while there is a cost for that service there a large potential upside that I think outweighs the risk.

By applying this type of approach, we can help families access resources they may not be aware of and make school and related activities more affordable.

In the end, the budgeting process just needs to be a collaborative process with key stakeholders. My experience on governing boards has taught me that the process needs to allow the people delivering and receiving services to be an active voice in the creation of a working budget.

How will you help foster respectful and productive negotiations in the upcoming round of local bargaining?

Julie Melanson

One of the key roles of the Board of Education is as an employer to ensure that we are fully compliant with our statutory and collective agreement obligations. I understand that there are a number of grievances active in our District. I believe it would be important for the Board to sit down with the leadership of our unionized employee groups and hear directly from them. We need to work as a middle party to find common ground and to see where we can facilitate greater understanding. Trustees cannot get involved in day to day operations, but we can take more seriously our role as the body that is ultimately responsible for strong employee relations.

In some school districts, trustees are directly involved at the bargaining table. This can be very helpful as it provides an opportunity for trustees to engage more directly in their role as employer. We can see first hand what the priorities are of the staff unions and see where we, with give and take, can make accommodations that strengthen both the circumstances of our unionized workforce and the educational outcomes of the students in the Vernon School District. We have a role as managers to be thoughtful and prudent.

Christie Tujik

In the upcoming round of local bargaining the best way to foster respectful and productive negotiations is to listen to all parties, ask questions and get the facts. People feel disrespected if they feel they are not being heard.

Philipp Gruner

Having personally been involved in the negotiating committee of eight collective bargaining agreements, three of which I was the lead negotiator on the employer side, I believe I can bring a solid understanding and knowledge of collective bargaining. The way I understand the bargaining process in BC, wages and monetary items are negotiated on a provincial level while terms and language are negotiated at the local school board level. Throughout my career, I’m proud of the fact that we have always reached a mutually beneficial agreement while maintaining labour peace (no strike or lockout). It is not uncommon that bargaining committees are created in times of labour negotiations to help support and provide guidance to human resources and administration throughout the process. It is difficult to comment on this question as bargaining proposals have not been exchanged yet but what I can commit to at this time is to keep an open mind and look through the lens of both sides when discussing the upcoming rounds of bargaining. I hope that my experience in bargaining with some of Canada’s largest unions will benefit SD#22 in the upcoming negotiations.

Jenelle Brewer

When negotiating, it comes down to respectful and transparent relationship building, this one of the big things I learned in my previous roles. Relationship building requires both parties to establish a dialogue that is focused on achieving goals and lives in reality.

When negotiating, there must be clarity around roles and responsibilities, and an understanding of the issues on both sides and the goals of each party. In my experience, once there is that understanding, the negotiation process is much easier because everyone understands each other and what they are working with.

In my mind the goal is to provide the best education for School District 22, the employees are the key people that will implement the plans and support the Board to deliver its goals. Fostering good relationships is essential to being a productive organization and allows us all to focus on the delivery of education.

The federal government promised to implement all 94 Calls to Action in the TRC’s report. What role do you see you have in the truth and reconciliation process, especially as it pertains to education?

Julie Melanson

It is very important to have the needed supports in place (Educational Assistants, School based resource teachers, related professionals like speech pathologists, ESL teachers, etc). We need to make sure to take a team approach for this work and to listen to the folks on the front lines. It is a given that the need for these students will be increasing. If funding is going down it will require creativity and efficiency and support for those in the roles to ensure there is continuity within the team. The board can also support requesting additional funding.

Christie Tujik

In the past few years BC has updated their curriculum based on the fact that each child learns differently. If this holds true there is more work to be done to better support the children in this district with disabilities. With each budget process the district should make sure we have enough support for those who already have IEPâ€TMs. We need to take steps further by fighting for more funds at a provincial level to test more children and educate those who help support them.

Philipp Gruner

This is a subject that is very near and dear to me personally, as our family is directly affected by these decisions. We have also experienced some of the challenges families face when disabilities are discovered and brought to the schoolâ€TMs attention. Through my current professional position as CEO of Vernon Immigrant Services, we see a new level of mental related disabilities within young children due to trauma from situations that they fled from in their home countries. The current support mechanisms in place are not enough. Administration is put in a very difficult situation year after year trying to allocate resource teachers and educational assistance within the school to help children who are in need. The number of students requiring assistance almost always outstrips the available support staff due to the current funding qualification for certain disabilities. As a board of education, I believe we need to continuously lobby and push the provincial funders, to enhance funding and widen the qualification criteria for students requiring support. We also need to ensure our teachers and staff are equipped to handle trauma related challenges.

Jenelle Brewer

I have raised a child with a disability who needed an IEP. I understand the level of resources required to develop and implement one of these plans, and the level of parent commitment required. I have experience with someone with a disability, so I understand the commitment it takes from all parties to raise a successful individual. However, I do not see people with disabilities, I see people with potential, and these supports are essential to help them build on their strengths for a successful future.

I find Vernon is not a place that is disability-friendly from an access perspective, I would like to ensure that the schools create an environment so people with physical disabilities are not limited to participate because of limitations of physical access. Let us not forget that not all disabilities are visible one’s anxiety, autism, other diagnoses can be invisible, and we need to be mindful of that and support all students to have access to quality education in our system. The School District has a 145-page Mental Health and Service document, I would like to see that condensed and distributed widely for families to access. Again, are there grants to support these initiatives?

SD22 is a key economic driver andsignificant employer in the community. What is your experience in providing guidance, direction and oversight of a budget of this magnitude?

SD22 is a key economic driver and significant employer in the community. What is your experience in providing guidance, direction and oversight of a budget of this magnitude?

Julie Melanson

While the magnitude of this budget is large, I’ve worked with smaller budgets where every penny counted just as much. While a large budget may seem daunting to some, having a standing committee and listening to experts will provide the guidance, direction and oversight which is greatly needed.

Many boards have a standing budget committee with participation from stakeholders. It has been called for here for years, and, with a new Superintendent, now is the time to implement this idea in SD22.

Christie Tujik

My experience in providing guidance and directions comes from my many years in retail management. I have managed small retail stores to the 2nd largest Mark’s Work Wearhouse in Canada. No matter the size of staff/employees who work for you, the only way to guide is to do. Most people will follow your lead if they know you are willing to do the job as well. You also must be willing to listen. Sometimes you are not the only one with a good idea or plan.

With the above-mentioned positions I also have 9 years in banking experience with schooling in Business Administration for Accounting. However, at the end of the day it is not about if I have dealt with a large budget, it is how I will oversee the spending of a budget of this magnitude. The school district employs a Secretary-Treasurer as well as many other managers to assist in this process. As a trustee it is our job to make sure we are providing funds in areas that will better aid in our children’s education and make sure the public’s interest is being represented through the budgeting decisions we make.

Philipp Gruner

Over the past 20 years, I enjoyed a great career as an Operations Executive for a multinational Canadian based company. At the height of my career, I was responsible for over 1300 employees (both unionized and non-unionized) and a budgetary responsibility of over $300 million. Within my scope of work, I was responsible for many different areas including maintenance, construction, operations, labour relations and strategy amongst others. As the most senior executive for the Canadian Division, I was responsible for the Canadian financials including budgeting, capital planning, forecasting and monthly operational profit and loss reporting. As we were a publicly traded company, a lot of my time and efforts were spent on financial activities to ensure the Board of Directors received accurate information at regular intervals. Currently, I am the Chief Executive Officer at Vernon and District Immigrant Services. I am responsible for all aspects of operations including finances, strategy, board of directors and employees. I would also emphasize my experience in leading large teams and staff will hopefully benefit SD#22 as an employer. I have a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) and recently completed my Provincial Instructor Diploma (PIDP).

Jenelle Brewer

My experience on the Okanagan Indian Band Council has prepared me for this role. As a member of the elected Council, we were responsible for a multimillion-dollar budget. This role requires sound financial literacy to participate in budgeting, the audit, and to be able to read and understand the financial statements of a multi-disciplinary team. Over the last five years, I have worked with the OKIB accountants and auditors to increase my ability to read and understand the financial process of an administration with a multimillion-dollar budget.

Above all else, I recognize that budgets are about three things:
Priorities – Budgets make clear what’s important and help clarify gaps in addressing those things that the community truly needs.

Accountability – Budgets help organizations be responsible for keeping the promises they make. When things don’t happen, people ask why? Budgets and financial statements answer that question.

The Future – Budgets don’t just speak to the present, they protect the future. As good stewards, a Board has the responsibility of making sure the spending today sets us up for tomorrow. The promise we make is that next year will be as good or better as this year. Budgeting and responsible stewardship help keep that promise.