School board trustee candidates have their say at Kagawong all candidates meeting

KAGAWONG—It was a packed house at the Park Centre in Kagawong on Saturday, August 18 for the Billings Township all candidates meeting. Moderator Jack Clark of Gore Bay welcomed attendees on behalf of meeting organizers and a full slate of candidates. 

“In our democratic system,” he noted, “probably one thing that is more important than most in voting is to vote responsibly and intelligently and informed. Your presence here today suggests that you take your responsibility very seriously.”

With two candidates vying for the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) trustee seat, three mayoral hopefuls and seven candidates for councillor, there was a lot of information packed into the two hour meeting. Each candidate was given three minutes for opening remarks; this was followed by a question period after which candidates were given one minute for closing remarks. School board trustee candidates Linda Erskine and Margaret Stringer were given the floor first.

Linda Erskine and her husband Michael have resided in Little Current since 1990. Ms. Erskine has worked for the same organization for the past 16 years, initially on the Island but now travels to Sudbury. She has also been a board member with the Manitoulin Legal Clinic for the last 17-18 years and chair for the past 10 years. Ms. Erskine waited until her children had grown up and passed through the school system before running for trustee so she could represent all students on Manitoulin.

“I stand before you now as candidate for trustee because I feel passionately that the children and youth on Manitoulin Island are being shortchanged in their education and development, as are many rural schoolchildren under the Rainbow board,” Ms. Erskine began. “Without late buses running regular routes, only kids with parents who can afford transportation can access and participate in extracurricular activities after school. How do the young people who miss out on these opportunities develop the same skill sets as those that do (participate in after school activities)? How do the young people who miss out on these opportunities develop long term relationships as those who do participate?”

Regarding meetings and board activities, Ms. Erskine said she believes “in camera meetings should only be used to discuss issues as set out by the legislation governing boards. I also believe that it is vitally important that boards be transparent and accountable in their processes and actions.”

“If you vote for me, I will be a very hardworking candidate for the youth of this Island,” she said.

Ms. Stringer and her husband Jim have lived on Manitoulin for the past 35 years, raising three children “who have all benefitted from attending elementary and secondary school on the Island.”

Ms. Stringer is a retired educator with 32 years experience, including as a teacher in Gore Bay and Mindemoya, principal in Little Current and Manitowaning, working with the First Nations communities of Aundeck Omni Kaning, Sheguiandah and Wiikwemkoong, and as assistant principal responsible for special education programs and services.

“Throughout my career I’ve advocated for students, whether as a teacher advocating for students and resources, as a principal collaborating with community partners to offer student opportunities or as a system principal recognizing and allocating services, resources and staff to support schools.”

“I’ve developed good working relationships with parents, staff and community partners and administration,” she continued. “I know that relationships are key to having the ability to speak frankly and directly when issues need to be addressed. What this means for families is I can be an effective advocate when those difficult but necessary conversations need to take place because those relationships exist.”

“My focus will always be on students first, their health and safety, their wellbeing and their student achievements,” said Ms. Stringer. “I support the uniqueness and diversity of our students and I believe their learning environments need to be caring and safe, peaceful and positive, respectful and enabling to allow them to achieve their potential. Finally, I believe the students of Manitoulin have the right to the very best education that’s no different than anywhere else in the province.”

In response to a question about their top two priorities if elected, Ms. Stringer stated that accountability and transparency were her top two. “There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to have our board meetings, any public board meetings, live-streamed. The technology is there. It’s a matter of getting that coordinated in order to offer that publicly and I would think that is something the board can do fairly easily.” Live-streamed meetings would allow parents to be more informed and more involved, and “can be an all around more collaborative approach to our work,” said Ms. Stringer.

Ms. Erskine said the lead in schools would be one of her top priorities, with the other “ensuring that the children on Manitoulin get to take all the courses that they want and need in order to go on to post-secondary in programs they want.” She believes the board can use existing technologies to have Manitoulin students participating in Sudbury classes through distance education. “There’s no reason why our kids on the Island miss out on courses,” she said.

In closing remarks, Ms. Stringer stated, “In my view the key role of trustee is to support the needs of Manitoulin students. I believe that my experience in the education system puts me in a unique position to fulfill my role. As trustee it will be critical to listen to parents and community to be able to represent them effectively and to be their voice. I believe strongly in accountability and transparency and with that in mind as trustee I would move that all public board meetings be livestreamed. If elected, I intend to be an advocate for the students, speaking up for the necessary funding, services and staffing to come our way. It would be an honour and a privilege to serve the students, parents and community of Manitoulin.” 

Ms. Erskine noted that, “We need to keep our kids safe. We need to make sure they’re treated equally to the other kids in this board. We need to ensure that they get the same opportunities. We need to ensure that our kids have the same benefits as kids in Sudbury. I’m not a teacher although I’ve taught at the college level and I see what comes from the kids who don’t get the same opportunities when they’re adults trying to get a job.”

The second half of the meeting was for mayoral and councillor candidates. Ian Anderson, Barbara Erskine and Margaret Tuomi are vying for the position of mayor. The seven candidates for four council seats are Sharon Alkenbrack, Brian Barker, Paul Darlaston, Michael Hunt, Sandi Hurcomb, Sharon Jackson and Eric Parsons. 

See next week’s Recorder for the second installment of this story.