Election Time – Decision Time

With election day 2018 fast approaching, it is time to share my decision that I will not be running for re-election. I have always believed in self-imposed term limits, and with the encouraging sign of some highly capable candidates stepping forward, it is the appropriate time for me to step aside.
On the way out, I’ll share some random thoughts:
In 2008, I was asked to run for election for School Board. With a firm commitment to public education, I did put my name forward. Going in to the election, I believed that the main items needing to be addressed were:
• the replacement of NWSS (who didn’t?)
• to bring to an end the community faith-sapping and financial resource-draining debacle of the District Business Company,
• to address the District’s significant deficit in IT capacity, to enable our students to excel in the digital age,
• to bring long needed rigour and discipline to the financial planning, control, and reporting process,
• to bring Board focus to policy setting and to end the Board’s micromanagement of the District’s operations.

With the collaboration of the Board, excellent vision and leadership at the Superintendent position, the support and long-suffering patience of the community, in the past five years these issues have largely been addressed.

The District has had significant progress in recent years in the capital plan. With the completion of Qayqayt School and of Fraser River Middle School, the commencement of the replacement of NWSS, the announcement of a new Richard McBride School, the seismic upgrades of F.W. Howay and Lord Tweedsmuir Schools, by 2020, over half of the students in New Westminster will be going to classes in new schools, and all students will be in seismically safe schools. Further, the construction of the Board Administration Building has allowed the District to eliminate a burdensome lease and has allowed for these resources to be put back into classrooms.

Increased capacity for elementary school children in Queensborough is now the number one Capital Plan priority for the District. Portables simply are not an acceptable way to meet the demands of growth in the community.

The New Westminster School District has historically held the belief that the pathway to success in education comes in many forms, and a major strength has been the provision of a vast and varied array of programs and services. This enables students to select from a wide range of choices. The new curriculum in B.C. provides an excellent platform for that to be expanded upon even further.

New Westminster has been a leader in providing a diverse and inclusive place for all students and staff. While much has been accomplished (the Universal Design for Learning Initiative, SOGI and Sanctuary School District policies come to mind), much remains to be done.
Special needs education is in need of a major infusion of resources. It seems that in times of limited funding and cutbacks, special needs cupboards are always the first to be raided. In many districts these accounts still have not recovered from the last round of cutbacks. As I have stated on several occasions, I’m not a big fan of the term “special needs”. To quote Ellen Notbohm, “Every child getting what s/he needs is not special”.

Three issues that are still high on my list of things to be completed: Supports for: 1. Students’ mental health, and 2. Nutrition. 3. A comprehensive communications, family engagement strategy.
• in-school capacity to support our students with mental health issues. The replacement of NWSS provides an excellent opportunity for the District to partner with the Fraser Health Authority to provide the dedicated space and the necessary resources to accomplish this.
• the District, on a proposal brought forward by Trustee Campbell, fully supported by the Board and the community, embarked an ambitious and national ground-breaking School Nourishment Program. This program, to be available to all students, is an exciting development. I’m optimistic it will receive broad support and be expanded upon.
• effective communication and family engagement are key components necessary for optimal education outcomes. Discussions with parents/caregivers clearly show that there is a need for clear and timely sharing of information.

In education, as we provide opportunities for our students to prepare for, and to meet, the many challenges they face, in many cases for jobs that do not yet exist, we as a district also face many challenges. Academic and cultural relevance is paramount, and I believe we have an excellent Senior Staff leadership team in place to meet and exceed these challenges.

A heartfelt thank you to the students, staff and Trustees of the District, I have learned immensely during my ten years with the Board. Thanks also to the community for the support and for the opportunity to serve.

To the incoming Board, my best wishes, it is an exciting time to be in Education.

Thank you all.

Casey Cook