Five candidates are running in the School District 20 byelection to fill the vacancy for Areas I and J.
Voters in RDCK electoral Area I and part of Area J including Pass Creek, Shoreacres, Thrums, Glade, Tarrys, Brilliant and Ootischenia will go to the polls on Jan. 25.
We asked each of the candidates the following questions and gave them a total of 400 words to complete their answers.
Why did you decide to run?
Jennifer Burton: I decided to run mainly because of the countless conversations I have had with parents in our community. My own experiences with my children have been echoed over and over again by other parents and so I hope to bring that collective voice to the table.
Nicole Hergert: Public education is one of our most important assets and we must get it right. I have a vested interest, both as a parent and as a community member, so I want to bring my skills in consultation, careful deliberation and excellent communication to the table to ensure we offer the best education possible.
Holly Martin: I’m looking for more of a challenge. I see this as a chance to make significant contributions to the educational system, and to positively impact the future of the students in my community. I have a vested interest in the decisions the school board is responsible for making, and would be grateful for the opportunity to effect positive change.
Talin Verigin: I decided to run in the byelection because I want to be involved in our community and contribute to the team that builds a high-quality education system. I recognize that our students are our future.
Karen Waldal: I decided to run as I am a passionate and dedicated advocate who has been involved in community service for most of my life, and believe the role of trustee is a natural extension of the work I am already doing within SD 20 on behalf of students, families, staff and administrators.
What kind of experience do you have in the field of education?
Burton: As a mother of children with special needs, I have worked hand in hand with everyone from educators and their support teams to representatives from various ministries related to public education and professionals who are also part of the bigger picture. My experience is a reflection of the parents and families who need to have a seat at the table and need their voices heard.
Hergert: As a social worker I have worked with students and teachers promoting inclusion, and I have done a lot of community education with people with disabilities. I first connected with the local schools, before my children were in school, to redevelop the community garden to provide outdoor learning opportunities. I also married into a family of teachers.
Martin: I have worked as a noon hour supervisor at both A.S. Matheson (Kelowna) and Kinnaird Elementary. I started the hot lunch programs at A.S. Matheson, Kinnaird Elementary and facilitated the inception of the hot lunch program at Twin Rivers/Castlegar Primary. I’m also the treasurer with Castlegar Minor Soccer Association and the team manager for my son’s school soccer team.
Verigin: Although most of my work has been in the electrical and security technology field, I also held the position of substitute instructor for the security systems technician program at BCIT for about five years.
Waldal: I have experience in the field of education in my job as West Kootenay community engagement manager with the Take a Hike Foundation and in my voluntary role as one of SD 20’s certified Mandt instructors, providing classroom staff training in communication, conflict resolution, and crisis prevention and intervention.
I have also been involved in community-based education, locally as support and education co-ordinator for Alzheimer Society of BC and Bridges for Women co-ordinator, and was also involved in planning and delivering environmental education in SD 23, BC Parks, and the Regional District of Central Okanagan for over 12 years.
What qualifications do you have that would make you a good fit for the school board?
Burton: As a business owner in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I have had to develop exceptional communication and marketing skills and techniques that I believe are crucial to engaging any institution tasked with public engagement.
Hergert: I have a master’s degree in social work and community development. The focus of my work has been community consultation, problem solving and advocacy through many years of experience with non-profit boards and organizations.
Martin: I’m able to see the bigger picture, and set goals in order to reach a desired outcome. I’m a strong advocate and pride myself on being objective, open-minded and fair. I’m extremely detail oriented, and organized which is necessary to be successful in this role. I’m also an excellent listener and am supportive of ideas that may differ from my own. I encourage other viewpoints and feedback.
Verigin: I feel I am uniquely qualified. I am a local boy who grew up in Pass Creek, participated in the Russian bilingual program at Twin Rivers Elementary and graduated from Stanley Humphries Secondary. As a Rotary Exchange student, I attended a subsequent year of high school in Denmark and after returning to Canada became certified as a journeyman electrician and as a journeyman security technician.
I also hold a certificate of project management and a certificate of business management. I am currently employed as a communications technician at Teck Metals Ltd. Community service is important to me and I am a member of the Tarrys Volunteer Fire Department and have volunteered in local community events. I also was a member of the Columbia Basin Trust youth advisory committee and a Big Brother for Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver. All of these experiences have helped me understand the importance of ensuring we have a strong public school system.
Waldal: My work and community experience has allowed me to develop and refine skills and experience in budgeting, facility management, long range planning and forecasting, project management, human resources (including union negotiation), occupational health and safety, fundraising, advocacy, policy development and building organizational and community capacity. I think these skills, combined with the fact that I am already connected to students, staff and administrators throughout the district, will be of great asset to the board of education of SD 20.
How many school board meetings have you attended prior to the election announcement?
Burton: Four or five. At all meetings I have attended, I was shocked at the low turnout. One of the things I would like to focus on is an increase in community engagement. I believe that by utilizing things like social media and marketing, we can engage a larger percentage of those invested in our public education system.
Hergert: I have attended several school board meetings. I was particularly interested in outdoor education opportunities and developing the pond at Robson Community School. I am also active on the Twin Rivers/Castlegar Primary PAC, the Canadian Parents for French group and the Russian preschool parent committee. With the preschool I have been working to promote the Russian language program to families in the area.
Martin: I recently became aware that anyone can attend school board meetings. Since discovering this I attended my first meeting in November.
Verigin: None, but I have kept myself informed by reading the board minutes and agendas online and I attended the December board meeting because I was interested in the outcome of the “portable classroom versus Grade 7s at SHSS” issue.
Waldal: My first board meeting was in December, after the election announcement. Since that time, I have reviewed the long-range facilities plan, the board meeting minutes from the last two years, and am currently working my way through the standing committees’ meeting minutes.
How would you determine budget priorities, keeping in mind that the majority of the district’s budget is tied up with salaries?
Burton: As I will be new to this role, I plan to lean on my other board members for guidance and tutelage until I learn more about the budgetary side of this position.
Hergert: These guiding questions will help me to set budget priorities: Will students be safe? Will students be guided toward adaptive learning to succeed in an uncertain future? Is this idea sustainable for educators? Does this serve the needs of the community and society? Does this create resilience in the system? Are there unintended consequences? What are current best practices? What can we learn or adapt from other jurisdictions?
Martin: While it is difficult to speak to this point without fully knowing what is involved, I can commit to actively soliciting feedback from families in Areas I and J that I’m representing to help determine what is a priority. Thinking outside the box, compromising and collaborating with the key players will help identify realistic solutions. I’m eager to put my skills to work for my community.
Verigin: I would support budget decisions that help the district achieve its strategic goals. I understand that with limited resources goals must be prioritized. I would support programs that would further student achievement including academic programs, language programs, trade programs, as well as programs for students with special educational needs. Also, because students in this rural electoral area are all transported to city schools, another area of interest for me is supporting a sustainable and safe school busing transportation system.
Waldal: I would determine budget priorities based on the best interests of students, after ensuring I have thoroughly researched all possible budget scenarios and in consultation with stakeholders throughout SD 20. I would also look to other districts who face similar challenges of serving diverse communities in rural areas to learn from their experiences.
You will only be one person on a board of nine — how will you work with the rest of the team?
Burton: As my campaign slogan states, “Together we are stronger.” I have seen first hand that the path to success for my own children in our school system has only come through collaboration and cooperation with all members of the team. I know that my own skills and abilities will be unique to me, and likewise will be true to my colleagues. I believe that by recognizing and supporting each other’s strengths, we can achieve things together that are simply impossible alone.
Hergert: The spirit of collaboration characterizes my life and work. I have great respect for those already working in education and I will bring the voices of families and the community to the board — and help demystify the processes. I enjoy debate and dialogue; I am not afraid to assert myself and I am willing to change my mind when presented with new information or perspectives.
Martin: I will listen to other’s ideas and be respectful to other’s values and beliefs. The decisions that I make will take those ideas and beliefs into account, in addition to my own. I’m confident that I will bring valuable ideas and solutions to the table.
Verigin: Respectfully, as we may all have differing views and there may be opinions voiced that I would not have thought of.
Waldal: I have worked in team environments for most of my career, and I have served on several different non-profit boards as well, so I understand the importance of teamwork, open communication and collaboration, and the need for using a creative solution oriented focus.
How do you see your relationship with the district’s administrative team?
Burton: I have had nothing but excellent experiences working with all members of the administrative team. I believe them to be highly intelligent professionals who have a tremendous amount of value to contribute. One of my motivating factors for pursuing this position is to increase awareness of the public as to what kind of a resource we have in them.
I also am encouraged at the idea of getting greater opportunities to work along side them and ensure they are constantly aware of the things that the parents and families in our region need to know.
Hergert: We are all in this together. My role as trustee is to provide higher level oversight and set direction. The district’s administrative team executes the work — and offers a reality check from time to time! Mutual respect and trust in each other’s abilities and intentions will be vital.
Martin: I’m very personable, supportive and compassionate. I believe that supporting the members of the team creates a respectful and productive working environment. I also feel that open communication is one of the fundamentals to building strong relationships, which in turn promotes a healthy workplace. I respect the diverse set of skills that each member brings to a team, and will work collaboratively with each person.
Verigin: I would expect it to be one of mutual respect as I would be expressing my community’s opinions as well as my own and expecting the district administrative team to provide all necessary expertise and operational information.
Waldal: I currently enjoy a very positive and collaborative working relationship with members of the district’s administrative team, with my primary contacts being superintendent Bill Ford and director of instruction Katherine Shearer.