School board Trustee Carol Gibson has never sought the media limelight, but has remained one of the most dedicated elected officials in our city. Earlier this year Carol decided that she would not be running for re-election, choosing instead to enjoy retirement and spend time traveling with her husband. Contacted by Vancouver Courier schools columnist Naiobh O'Connor, Carol did an email interview. Naiobh's piece is available to read here. Carol provided CityCaucus.com with the full responses, which we share below.
When I started my job as a Vancouver School Board trustee in 2005 a colleague asked me how I measured success in the role. My response then is similar to what it is today. Given the role, I know I have been successful when I pose a question to staff and they respond with fixed eye contact, indicate sincerely and verbally that it is an excellent question and that they will think about it and get back to me.
Why does this represent success for me?
Organizations are typically change averse. Forced change is typically destabilizing and resisted by individuals. If a question engages individuals to investigate, to inquire and to examine current practice, it will facilitate dialogue and permit individual people to themselves inquire whether there are different ways to accomplish a goal. Follow through is absolutely necessary. However, if the Board is challenging staff to take a new direction, one way to have it happen is for staff to bring it forward as their own.
I have been fortunate during the two terms to have represented the Board to BCSTA, BCPSEA, Vancouver Diversity Committee, Vancouver Heritage Commission and to the Metro ESL Consortium. I have represented BCSTA to the Inter-ministry Committee on Youth Crime and Violence as well as to the Teacher Qualification Service Board. Toward the end of my first term as a trustee, I was also asked and agreed to serve on the BC College of Teachers.
What I bring to all of these roles is an analytical approach to problems, experience to work with complexity, understanding of multiple competing interests, an understanding of governance and a pragmatic professionalism that is bred in the bone.
As a trustee I am not certain you can ever say definitively "this, I accomplished." I am always working with others, with the Board, with competing interests, with staff, with parents and the community. What we accomplish happens through the individual and unique contributions of each of us and all of us.
One of the most challenging aspects of being a trustee is understanding the role and balancing competing priorities. The role has two aspects and balance is critical.
On advice to future school trustees
If I were to offer advice to prospective school trustees it would be as follows.
Remember that school boards are co-governors of public education with the Ministry of Education.
This is a "partnership" with an inherent power imbalance as the Ministry controls the funding. However, as the current Minister has so wisely stated, the actual control over the funding is with Treasury Board. Boards need to ensure that, regardless of governing party or the specific Minister, the Board works jointly with the Ministry to present to Treasury Board the best case possible for increased funding for public education.
We cannot do this if we continually pick unnecessary fights with the Ministry or a Minister. More critically, we cannot do it if we pick fights on behalf of stakeholder groups who are more than capable of representing their own interests to the Ministry.