Chris Ford works at the airport as a flight services specialist in air traffic control. He is married with one child and volunteers as a coach in his spare time.
What do you think are the top issues facing School District 27?
The single biggest issue facing the district is rebuilding the fractured relationship between the teachers and the district. Last year’s vote of non-confidence was an indicator of contentious communication and a lack of trust between both parties. This must be repaired immediately.
We must also address the educational infrastructure in our community. Our schools are packed to the gills, and aging at an alarming rate. Six schools in the district have been closed since 2013, reducing capacity by 1,500 spaces. Our facilities need upgrading, and according to a June 2017 internal audit, “…Cariboo-Chilcotin has not taken full advantage of the Ministry of Education funded capital programs available.”
Both of these lead directly to the issue of teacher recruitment/retention. A better working environment (emotional and physical) will lead to happier teachers (making retention easier), and send a message around the province that our district is a great place to work (aiding recruitment).
Why do you want to be a school board trustee?
Over eight years ago, my wife and I were given the opportunity to move to Williams Lake. We came with the thought that this would be temporary, moving on after a few years. Then we got here and fell in love with the city and its people. It is a great place for families, so we chose to raise ours here.
I believe in giving back to the community. I have volunteered with my son’s hockey, soccer, and lacrosse teams, this year taking on the presidency of the Williams Lake Bighorns Lacrosse Association. I have also volunteered in the schools, coaching volleyball programs at Cataline, Columneetza, and the GROW program, and available for field trip chaperone duties.
After the vote of non-confidence, I wanted to do more. I have a background in education, coming from a family of teachers and working as a substitute teacher myself. This, coupled with my university studies in political science, gives me a unique perspective on the issues facing our district. I believe I can build a strong sense of team between the teachers and the district. With everyone pulling together, we can move the district forward in a positive direction.
How would you go about improving relationships within the district in light of last year’s vote of non-confidence by the CCTA?
The easiest way to improve any kind of relationship is communication. I’m a big believer in open, positive communication. If there’s an issue, let’s talk about it. However, if you come forward with an issue, come forward with a possible solution as well. It’s very easy to sit on the sidelines and point out problems. It’s more difficult, but far more constructive, to bring forth a solution and implement it, or collaboratively work together towards an answer that benefits everyone.
I have already begun building some relationships by visiting schools, meeting with school administrators, teachers, and Parent Advisory Councils. I would continue this practice, while expanding the scope to visit all schools in the district. Regular meetings and constant availability for conversation can often head off concerns before they become problems. I will be available to listen, discuss, and explain my own thoughts/decisions.
What are your thoughts on how the province funds districts?
Simply put, we need to invest more money in our education system in BC. According to a Fraser Institute study in 2017, B.C. spends less per student on education than any other province in Canada. As a percentage of our province’s GDP, district funding decreased from 2.8 per cent in 2001 to 1.9 per cent in 2016. Had education funding been kept at a constant percentage, that’s 2 billion dollars extra for school funding. It is a testament to our teachers and system that average student outcomes for BC students are in the top 3 in Canada.
However, BC ranks among the worst in Canada in income inequality. This can lead to stifled economic growth, increased crime, and decreased health. The single best solution for decreasing income inequality is a better education.
Would you support the closure of schools when their population drops below a sustainable level?
The decision to close a school should always be a last resort. Schools are often the educational, social, and emotional centre of a small, rural community. The effects of a school closure on those communities can be devastating.
More concerning are the effects of extended bus rides on children. What is the value of our children’s time? More time on the bus means reduced time for homework, activities, rest, or play, key factors in a child’s emotional and social growth.
However, there is one factor that can outweigh this. When a school’s population drops to such a level that the student is being negatively affected by their lack of peers, diversity, and opportunity, a school closure may be considered.
What would you like to see in local schools that isn’t there now?
One of the benefits of increased funding would be an increased presence of Educational Assistants. There are more kids in our schools with special requirements, and we need to respond to those needs. The Educational Assistant’s key role is to support the teacher working with individual, or groups of, students. With proper usage, Educational assistants can help the teacher achieve higher student outcomes across the entire classroom.
The other thing I’d like to see is something that has just started at the 150 Mile House elementary school. They are having activity nights at the school, with a drop-in fee of $2, going towards the Parent Advisory Council. Programs like this can be a fundraising opportunity, but also an opportunity for community building that pays much bigger societal benefits.
What could be done to attract and retain teachers in this district?
With contract and salary negotiation on a provincial level, we need to be creative in our methods of attracting teachers. Many rural school districts are facing the same issues as ours, so how can we make our district stand out?
We have to realize that we’re not just advertising a job, but rather advertising a lifestyle. As someone from the prairies, I can personally attest to the allure of living in B.C. Our combination of a wonderful city with a lower cost of living than the Lower Mainland or Okanagan can be a big draw. We can also look at extra compensation. This could be student loan forgiveness, contributions to furthering education such as a masters degree, or help with moving expenses. For more remote locations, we should take a look at the subsidized housing, and how we can make it more attractive for a teacher willing to teach/live there.