Connie Buckler and Cheryl Lovell are on the Board of Trustees with the Greater Essex County District School Board and Connie is the current Chairperson. Both are incredibly active on social media and I was so happy that they agreed to share their thoughts with readers of this blog. So often, comments from a trustee are sound clips for the media.
Here, they get into details.
It should be noted that these are their personal thoughts and that they don’t necessarily speak for any other entity.
Doug: I’ve known Cheryl for years but have yet to have the pleasure to meet Connie. For the readers, could you give us a little bit of background about yourself?
Connie: Would be a pleasure to meet you face to face as well Doug. I am currently serving my second term as a Trustee with the GECDSB representing the Lakeshore and Tecumseh Ward. I am the Mom of 3 beautiful grown daughters and the wife of a retired EWEMS.
Cheryl: Before retiring from a 35 year career as an elementary educator, I taught all grades from K to 8 with most of my years in grade 7 & 8. My specialist areas included: Family Studies, Special Education (Behavioural), Computers, and Design and Technology (S&T).
I was born and raised in Windsor, ON. My husband and I have been married for 43 years. We have two children and two grandchildren.
Doug: What makes a person want to become a trustee for a school district?
Cheryl: Many times during my years of teaching I often wondered what a Trustee did. This most often occurred soon after some new idea or strategy from the “Board” was being introduced to the system. I can remember saying (along with others), “How in the heck did the board come up with this concept?”
At the time of my retirement, people were filing for the fall municipal elections. The timing was perfect to find the answer to my question so I decided to enter the race for school board trustee in the hopes of making a difference for students. Being a trustee is a perfect blend with my passion for education.
Connie: I have always been a passionate learner wanting to know more about just about anything. Once my girls entered school, I was right there with them, volunteering and serving on the school councils. It just seemed a natural fit that once the girls were grown, I would continue to learn and serve, with the strong desire to truly make a difference in Education.
Doug: Ironically, if I decided to run as a trustee, I would have to run against a former student of mine. I wouldn’t have a chance!
You can’t have done any reading without running into a few recurring issues in education these days. I’d love to hear your thoughts about them and where you see them addressed in the school district.
First topic – Closing of schools. I can remember the closings of Blytheswood, Sun Parlor, Century, J.L. Forster, just to name a few. As we know, there are many more. There are certain logistics like capacity, busing, community, etc. that are resolved by the administration. They act on the direction and motions of the trustees.
How do you prepare yourself for the decision to vote yes or no? It can’t be easy.
Connie: School closings are most certainly one of the most difficult roles we have as trustees. Our board has the unfortunate designation of having the oldest buildings in the province. We simply can’t keep up in the renewal needs. We also have a large number of empty student spaces draining funds from our budget that could otherwise be used on programming. We know and understand how passionate people are about the schools their children attend, we have all been there as well, with our own families; but schools are just buildings. It’s the people and programs that truly serve the students, not the buildings. As a board, our focus has to remain on providing the best educational programing and experiences for our students. We move forward with the vision to right size our budget to provide just that every day.
Cheryl: No trustee likes to see a community school closed. Since trustees are responsible for setting the school board’s budget, following Ministry of Education guidelines and policies, it can be difficult to represent the interests of the community, parents and students in this matter.
To prepare for this very difficult decision a trustee needs to do their homework. A variety of concerns such as: inadequate funding, increased operating costs, declining enrolment rates, or prohibitive costs for building repairs need to be investigated. It is also important to remind ourselves that we are responsible for all of our students within the system.
I truly believe it is the caring, hardworking and dedicated staff within our buildings that makes a school the best place to learn – not the building itself.
Doug: There’s a topic that’s near and dear to the heart of this old Computer Science teacher that’s had huge press over the past few years – Coding and Computational Thinking. In particular, there’s a push for coding and computer science for all students. Doable? How or how not?
Cheryl: Computer science prepares students for future jobs in the computer field, including coding, engineering, and data mining. Similarly to the Technological Design and Skilled Trades sectors, Computer engineers are predicting a shortage of workforce in these areas.
I believe K-12 students need to be introduced to computer coding—designing and writing source code for computers. Coding offers a direct influence on other areas of education, such as reading, math, problem solving and critical thinking. It prepares students for the future they are facing.
In our schools, coding currently is driven by staff who have the expertise to teach it. Not all educators have those skills. In many schools coding is offered as a club activity. We don’t teach reading and math with volunteers. Coding shouldn’t be either. With the new Ministry emphasis on Math, some of these promised funds could be used for the professional development educators may need.
Offering Coding to all students is doable but it will take time, money and expertise to implement.
Connie: We certainly have a number of staff working on coding with the students and I hear more and more about it every day. I recently attend EdCampSWO 2016 with over 500 educators at Tecumseh Vista. How exciting it is to have the teachers give up their Saturdays to learn. We are so fortunate; and a great deal of the learning was Tech centered in the coding and makerspace area as well as a primary focus on Math with Mirian Small as the keynote.
Doug: Speaking of which, one of the other recurring topics these days is Makerspaces. Where do you see them fitting into your school system? What is the value for the student?
Connie: I have to be really honest here and admit I don’t know much about Makerspace or how it can provide value for the student. This will become an area of learning for me in the very near future.
Cheryl: As trustees it is our hope that all students will become “thinkers”, engaged in their own learning. Libraries are an important resource in promoting this cause. Students using libraries often research information on how to do something. I like the idea of libraries using Makerspaces as an emphasis on teaching students to reflect, think creatively, and to find solutions before settling on a predetermined solution or product. Makerspaces are a place where students can use technology to come together and be creative. Any opportunity to bring students and communities together to create and share and support one another is a good thing. Makerspaces are here to stay and our students need to understand how to be a part of them.
Doug: There is another topic that is everywhere you turn and that’s student performance in Mathematics. You’ve just received a report from your Mathematics Task Force and there’s been an announcement from the Ministry of Education about a renewed focus on the discipline. How does a school system address this?
Cheryl: The Greater Essex County District School Board’s Math Task Force was a massive undertaking which brought together a diverse group of stakeholders including experts from the field of education and mathematics to formulate a plan and process to address improvement in Math performance. The report was delivered at the public board meeting on April 5, 2016. It was strictly coincidental that this report came out on the same day the Ministry of Education announced their renewed focus on Mathematics with the requirement for students to participate in one hour of math class time each day, and a commitment to additional funding.
All school boards welcome this additional funding. In our board, it will allow us to better implement the 14 considerations/recommendations outlined in the Math Task Force Report and allow more educators to receive the professional development and training they want and need to help them in this challenge.
The Math Task Report is available for review on the GECDSB website.
Connie: Always wanting to be ahead of the curve, we at the GECDSB, just completed the work of the “Math Task Force”, which was realized by a motion from Trustee Jessica Satori and the full support of our board of Trustees. It was extremely timely and coincidental that the work concluded the same week as the Ministry announced the funding and plans to address our Math concerns. The report of our task force aligned perfectly with the Ministry recommendations and we have already begun much of the work within the Task Force. Our board is well positioned for the future in Mathematics .
Doug: An introduction to the GECDSB Math Task Force is available at this link:
https://goo.gl/03bkf7 (Opens in your presentation package – Impress, Powerpoint, etc.) More results about the task force can be found here – https://goo.gl/o8Grhg
Doug: How do you feel about professional learning opportunities for teachers? What does it look like in the year 2016? What do you see as the big priorities in professional learning?
Connie: I believe that I see on a daily basis, our teachers as lifelong learners. We are all always looking for ways to learn and improve. As a trustee, of course I am not always privy to the daily experiences of the classroom, so my perspective is much more global. I do see Special Education and the manner in which we serve our exceptional students as a continuous learning and improving strand. Of course Mathematics and Technology will always remain at the forefront; we must always remain cognizant of our literacy to prevent the swing of the pendulum once again.
Cheryl: Professional learning opportunities are extremely valuable to educators. As to what this will look like in the coming year – it is hard to be specific. Professional learning is an ongoing process and is deeply personal to each individual. The Ministry of Education has allowed one additional Professional Development day in 2016. Ministry funding will be provided for areas related to Math and Mental Health & Student Well Being.
During my teaching career I found that occasions to focus on collaboration and shared knowledge with my colleagues were invaluable. Much of my professional learning also was self-directed and could be integrated in a meaningful way into my practices. Teachers are professionals and will seek the learning they feel will best help them to serve their students.
Doug: Both of you are incredibly active on Twitter. In my Hootsuite setup, I have a column for GECDSB Educators and it’s constantly flooded with messages from the two of you. Why would a trustee want to be this active?
Cheryl: Social Media connects people that otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate. There are many forms of social media but Twitter and Facebook are two I use most often. As a trustee I am very proud of the work of our Educators and students. Any opportunity I have to “brag” and share that work is a good thing. I see each retweet as an acknowledgement and demonstration of appreciation for the time and effort taken by the original author. I always hope that each post will connect educators globally.
Social Media also allows me to engage with my community about important education initiatives, keep ahead of important news, and follow the latest trends which impact our schools.
Connie: I believe in the power of social media. I learn so much daily as a result of my activity, especially on Twitter. It is encouraging to me to see the daily experiences of the classroom actively displayed on Twitter, and I will retweet in the hopes that parents and loved ones enjoy the same experience. I also believe it bodes well in my role to engage the public in the importance of education and what we are doing and sharing daily. We do great things at the GECDSB and everyone should know about it.
Doug: How about for educators? What do you see as the benefits for them by using social media?
Connie: Once again I will sing the praises of EDCAMPSWO 2016 and all of the wonderful educators who lead up and support this stellar learning opportunity. So many of the educators I was fortunate enough to chat with, boasted of all they had learned from each other as a result of Twitter exchanges and the sharing of information. In education we are our own best resource on a daily basis. What a great vehicle and platform for that exchange.
Cheryl: For educators, Twitter and Social media does much the same as it does for trustees but to a greater extent. Teachers can use Twitter to enhance student engagement and learning in the classroom, such as sharing photos and videos of interesting aspects of learning.
Importantly Twitter provides a means to quickly share good news and urgent alerts with both the community and families about student accomplishments, reminders of important events, activities and dates.
Twitter is a great place for educators to promote their programmes.
Doug: The Thames Valley District School Board is one of the districts in the province that has its own chat. They use the hashtag #tvdsbchat. What are your thoughts about a school district doing / supporting this? It could conceivably include educators, parents, students, people from all over the world. I think it takes a real dedication to openness to be able to discuss issues of the day in this format. So often, we might not find it or it’s hidden behind a district’s great firewall.
Cheryl: I am a supporter of Chats. They allow people to communicate their ideas with people of shared interests. Chat rooms for educators can provide an opportunity to seek help, support one another, and learn from one another. Chat rooms set up with the community, students and or colleagues can all be valuable as long as someone is willing to manage the room.
Connie: I have not heard about this practice from the TVDSB. Geez, I love that I learn even as I am trying to share. I will have to research this through my colleagues at the TVDSB and see how this is working for them. As I stated in the last question, it is my belief that we are each other’s best resource and any vehicle that provides for the conversation can be seen as a win.
Doug: There will come a time when you won’t be a trustee any longer. How would you finish this sentence. “Three things that happened during my time as a trustee that I’m most proud of are …”
Connie: I would be honoured if I had made a difference in the life of even 1 child, that would have to be first and foremost, that our board remained the standard for student achievement and parent engagement, and that I have served my ward and students well
Cheryl: The power of a trustee lies within the board collective – not an individual trustee. For this reason it is difficult to accomplish all the things hoped for. When my time as a trustee is completed I hope that education for all of our students in all our schools will be a better quality than it was when I started.
I personally am very proud of the work I have done in representing our Greater Essex County District School Board Trustees at the Ontario Public School Boards Association, Board of Directors table for the past five years. It is here I have brought forward the concerns of our board, and worked long hours on the Provincial Policy Committee. It is through this work I have been involved in promoting positive changes in Ministry policy and legislation that impacts students. I could not have done this, to the same degree, at the local level.
As a teacher and trustee I have always been passionate about Special Education needs. I am proud to have been the provincial trustee representative for six years on the Minister’s Advisory Council for Special Education. This position has allowed me the ability to voice concerns for our most vulnerable students.
Lastly, I have always tried to listen to those people who elected me to this most humbling position as Trustee. I am proud to have served with integrity and have always tried to make my decisions based on what will best serve our students. My hope is that others will feel the same.
Doug: Ladies, thank you so much. This was a really interesting and unique experience for me. I enjoyed reading about the educational thinking from the trustee perspective.
You can follow Connie on Twitter at @ConnieBuckler1 and Cheryl at @cheryl_lovell.
All of the interviews I’ve done for this blog can be found here.