School board candidates focus on achievement

Chilliwack, School district 33, election, trustee candidates

The Chilliwack school district has consistently struggled with its student achievement numbers. In the 2009-10 school year, just 69.1 per cent of students who started Grade 8 in the district six years earlier completed Grade 12 – 10 per cent below the provincial average. For aboriginal students, the completion rate was 45.4 per cent.

School trustee candidates were asked by The Progress, if elected, what two specific things would they do to increase student achievement in the district. These are their responses:

Kirsten Brandreth:

1)  We need to identify those at risk kids who are not transitioning well from Middle to Secondary School.  It’s known that students enrolled in Gr. 10 have a better chance of graduating so let’s support all of our students in becoming engaged to reach graduation.  Drugs, alcohol and bullying all play an important role in kids dropping out of school.  We need to find ways to keep our kids safe and communication is key.  I would be a strong advocate for the safety & well being of all students.

2)  I would advocate to have Parents access progress reports & term report cards on line. This would improve effective communication from School to Home. Many times our kids at risk of failing are not being identified early enough. If Parents can access their child’s grades on line without waiting for printed copies (a few report cards a semester) that would contribute to student achievement.  I have voiced my concern of the poor ‘C+ or higher’ results

at School Board , and other, meetings.  If Parents are aware that their child is struggling before a term report is issued then Parents can be the driving force to support their child where needed.

Harold Schmidt:

A framework must be established in which successful student achievement occurs: proper nutrition, adequate sleep, sufficient supplies, emotional well-being, good health, etc. Schools have set up breakfast and lunch programs, counselling for those in need, assistance for those lacking supplies,  among other endeavours.  But the most important aspects are a teacher who can share knowledge and enthusiasm for learning and a dedicated student who is willing to make a serious effort in furthering their education.

Over 200 research and evidence based studies (Harry Wong, ‘There is Only One Way to Improve Student Achievement’) have indicated that ‘the only factor that can create student achievement is a knowledgeable skilful teacher: district variables do not matter, school variables do not matter, program variables do not matter; it is the teacher that matters.’ As a board, we must listen carefully to the classroom teacher’s concerns of how class size and composition are affecting the student learning environment and then adjust class size and composition and then secondly, provide teachers with support and in-service training so that they can exhibit ‘best practices’ in their teaching.

However, to use an old adage: ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force them to drink, even if you salt their oats.’ The bottom line in student achievement is the desire of a student to apply themselves diligently to their educational studies. It is not sufficient for a student to only be physically present in a class and expect successful achievement. A student must apply themselves to the best of their ability to reach their full potential. Students must take their education seriously and see a pay-off for their work at school; but it is not a free gift, it must be earned through honest hard work. The board must help create a culture of diligence and effort to achieve high standards.  Students are accountable for their achievement and should be rewarded accordingly.

Don Davis:

I believe that student achievement needs to be a top priority for the School District. After all, our purpose is to educate our students and help them develop into the best persons that they can be.  Every student is different and therefore achievement for each student will also look different.  We need to ensure that we recognize the differences in our students and work to find ways to discover and enhance their strengths and skills.

Improving student achievement in the Chilliwack School District needs to start in Kindergarten and move forward from there.

As a Trustee I will advocate for increased support for our students at the beginning of their public school experience.  Early intervention is a proven approach to help students develop.  We need to focus more support for children in Kindergarten and the primary school years because laying a strong foundation at the start will pay dividends in the later grades.

Many children come to kindergarten who are not yet ready for kindergarten – we have to adapt the system to the children’s needs and we can do this by ensuring that our teachers have the needed Education Assistant  support in the classroom.  Now that we are moving to full day kindergarten, providing timely effective support to our youngest students is more important than ever.

As students grows and mature, their interests and strengths should become more evident.  For many students that are not succeeding, I believe that we have not done enough to uncover their strengths in order that they can achieve success.  On the other hand, the majority of our students are successful in their programs.

As a Trustee, I will advocate for an appreciative review of student achievement.  We need to understand what is working well in Chilliwack schools and schools in other areas.  We need to understand why things are working well and look to find ways to replicate these successes for our under achieving students.  I believe that our School District needs to build on its strengths with programs and curriculum that are proven to work in other School Districts.  We need to keep an open mind to our changing world and to adopting new ideas.

David Russell:

First of all, it needs to be said that student success begins and ends at home. School is a place where students spend some of their day with highly trained technicians who are willing to share their knowledge. Home is where they are taught who they are.

Having said that, what can the school district do for students at risk? First we have to go to where the need is greatest, and that is with our First Nations students. Almost 1 out every 2 students in this group do not graduate.

Michael Audet, our Superintendent, has worked fiercely his entire career to connect with, and work for, First Nations students. My first step will be to check in with him and the team in the Aboriginal Education Department ( and find out what the Board can to do better to support them in their work.

Secondly, we have to look at the rest of our at risk kids. These kids do not suddenly drop out, they struggle from early on and intervention is attempted many, many times. The Student Services department in our district ( is staffed by hardworking, dedicated people who genuinely care about these students. My second step will be to ask them what the board can do to best support their work.

Audrey Stollings:

The first initiative is to commit to adequate E.A.s in the Classroom to assist teachers with children that have learning challenges.

Chilliwack School District must set a policy as to the number of EAs per class based on the number of students who have learning challenges in a class. The teachers and support staff need to have input into which students require additional assistance.

The second initiative would be setting up a student interactive program.  This program would be tailored differently for Elementary Grades than the Middle and Senior Grades.

The Elementary Grades would work on a major class project to involve all students. This would include research and hands on activity. An example could be researching how a volcano works and then building one.

The Middle and Senior Grades would be involved in a group mentoring program with community members to work on the importance of education and how it impacts their ability to obtain gainful employment.

Doug McKay:

As a trustee responsible for big picture perspectives I will continue to ask our educational experts probing questions about what they need to improve student achievement. Based on their responses and recommendations I will make every effort as a member of the corporate Board to provide the financial resources required to ensure an environment that provides our  teachers and support staff the tools to assist students with their learning. My role and the role of the corporate Board is to work closely with the superintendent and his staff to be advocates for improved student learning. Anything less is unacceptable.

Jack Bass:

How to raise achievement rates

• Community Involvement  (I  will seek contribution and direction form the  parents and other stakeholders)

To begin we need to ask – how do we measure achievement ? It has to be  more than high test scores -as important as that is  in a school and to help us measure how successful we are in our programs. We must as a community seek the highest accomplishment the student is capable of doing – and provide the resources to support all their endeavors .

In general terms we want the Board to support  a goal that each student  accomplish all they are capable of achieving. This coming year the school board has a large surplus available for unrestricted use. Those monies can foster courses , activities and resources beyond the

core curriculum. To prepare our students we have to lead in areas like social media and technology with both the material and opportunities to use leading text sources and hardware.

Some students may need  their basic needs to be met before they can focus on extracurricular programs.

Achievement may  be fostered by assisting at the very root of student attention and effectiveness – their physical well being. . I support the  recent  “ Challenge Day “ program of providing a free breakfast  at Sardis Secondary. That direct program has been shown to assure student attention and energy through the school day. This leads to greater student involvement with their school and school work. That program must be supported to gain traction at other district schools.

I taught (for Lakehead University) skills In doing written  community surveys and in conducting  live  community forums.

How many parents have participated in a survey asking what direction they wanted for the school their children attend?

Other than election meetings how many education forums has the school board held to allow public input into the direction of public education. ? It does not stop at school projects. Recently a parent complained of the lack of any  Board involvement in opposing liquor licenses for premises near schools . Surely the Board can be more supportive of the Parent Advisory opposition to two new pending  applications.

I can assist at establishing both these related building blocks – community surveys and forums – to develop a support program based on parent/ public input . Happily there are not high cost items – what we do need is Board commitment to seeking public input and to following the wishes of our stakeholder parents and other stakeholders.

• Teaching Leadership Skills / Mentorship

Math and leadership are skills that can be taught and demonstrated.

Build on meeting  the student needs  through leadership development  will lead to higher  test results and helping build the individuals capable of taking a leadership role in our society.

The basic needs , the foundation ,have been identified  as:

1 .Physical safety – good health, food, shelter

2. Social – emotional well being, acceptance, kindness, friendship, love and being loved

3. Mental –  intellectual growth, challenge and creativity

4. Spiritual – contribution, meaning and uniqueness

Students are hungry for these needs to be met and for many they aren’t being met at home.

Does your child have a written set of goals and the action steps needed to accomplish them?

A social “connectedness” – which young people also need is often undermined by the media messages of what constitutes being “cool” or “hot”. We can help students in a critical examination of their needs compared to media messages.

Leadership skills will encompass the character traits and life skill competencies we want to see reflected in our children. Leadership will not be “ one more thing “ that has to be taught -it will be integrated into all that we do and teach in the classroom.

Every child will know that his or her worth far exceeds any mark on a test .

A recent U.S. study ( likely similar results would be found in Canada )  – states 70 % of drop-outs were capable of finishing high school . The gap can be bridged by teaming recent graduates or soon to be grads with young people identified as being at risk of leaving before graduation.

This is not an expensive program. Our young people are often idealistic and will to assist when given the opportunity. We must give them that opportunity.

Questioning the student – after he or she has left school – is of little benefit . Reasons such a boredom, lack of challenges , lack of connection to other students or teachers can be addressed before we reach the critical state of creating  another drop-out. The costs to our society and the individual  are so great we must begin this program at once.

Louise Piper:

Student achievement struggles are linked to poverty and the complex issues it brings.  When families are seeking the basic needs of shelter and food the parents aren’t thinking about when the next PAC meeting is, or what homework is due.  We need to be leaders in bridging the gap, clearing adversity away from our path to a good public education.  Supportive programs need to be put in place to build trusting relationships with families in need.  Help meet the needs with partner groups so that the families have the energy and confidence to get involved in their children’s school.   I believe that if we can get to this point, a trusting relationship will only flourish and will change adversity into success.

The 21st Century Learner is the term used lately to describe a new way of teaching compared to the industrial blocks of 30 students in a class that we have used since the industrial revolution.    So when a child has a passion or a particular interest in a subject that is outside the normal curriculum, use that interest and build curriculum around it.  I see our staff already doing this and more of it is needed. We need to look at all aspects including time schedules.  There is debate around the length of summer vacation and how it benefits at risk students to return to the classroom sooner.  Our summer learning registration is growing.  I think we need to explore this further and implement a pilot project or dedicate a school of choice where the school calendar can be amended.

Karen Conway:

The primary focus as a board member is to keep the students achievement success the main focus.

Cutting back on or dropping initiatives that do not favor the students achievement success is first. I am in favor of funds for more support staff, and greater teacher to student ratio.

Secondly, there is a profound amount of data that Principal leadership has considerable effect on Student achievement, therefore, we should have a Principal at all schools and focus on initiatives to keep these great educators in our wonderful city long term.

Nicki Redekop:

There is a reason these children are struggling. It may be factors at home or within the school. It will be my job to find out WHY they are struggling; find the common ground for these kids, and seek to implement CHANGE. Relationship is key! Communication and relationship go hand in hand. I believe miscommunication gives people an escape route. “If I can’t understand you, I’m leaving!” Children need to know and fully understand what is expected of them. Their acheivement levels are low because they don’t UNDERSTAND!! Teachers and children together with parents and the school board all NEED to keep the communication lines wide OPEN!

Student acheivement, is, I believe, directly related to those doing the teaching. Our children are in the care of their teachers for 6 hours a day. There needs to be a MANDATORY criteria for the teachers to be routinely assessed. When I am elected School Trustee, I will seek to implement a teacher assessment to keep EVERYONE accountable!!

Vern Tompke:

1.  One key to raising student’s achievement is to increase our focus on getting a student’s parents involved in their children’s education.  Teaching needs to be a three way endeavour – not just a closed encounter between teacher and student.  Parents need to be invited into the education process —  even becoming  normative to see parents actually in the classroom setting.  This will also break down walls between the professionals and the “laity”.

2. Teachers as a group are dedicated and want their students to do well.  At the same time, we need to work with our teachers to help continually hone and improve their teaching skills in their various subject areas.  Standardized tests often contain significant biases but they try to get at objective markers beyond just a relative or sliding scale.  We need to work with our teacher’s body to develop an evaluation system that gives a roadmap for continual improvement – not just an overly simplistic snapshot – that certain groups such as the Fraser Institute provide.

Neil Whitley:

I would encourage the board to initiate a parent satisfaction survey. This would show what we are doing well and where are the areas for improvement. I would like to see feedback directly from parents and students about our schools and programs. Information collected will help guide board decisions that affect student learning. A survey such as this would also provide a benchmark against which future progress can be achieved.

I would encourage the board to develop an annual educational plan with a system of trimester reporting  where progress towards educational goals are brought to the board. All to often, strategic planning processes do not allow for making revisions midstream which may be necessary for positive results.

Barry Neufeld:

Chilliwack has struggled to agree upon and define a clear vision and common definition of achievement. This is necessary to draw valid conclusions about the success of our students and the success of our public education system. We need to agree on what we want to measure if our assessments and accountability is relevant.  An explicit and well-established definition or framework is the first essential step in any attempt to measure, research or draw conclusions about student achievement. If we are first clear about what we want, then we can turn our attention to determining the extent to which we have attained it.

Until we have a clear, definition, it seems easier to assume that final examination scores or Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) results are the only way to assess quality in the BC school system. They may have an important role to play in assessing and evaluating some of the achievements of some students. However, they are  inadequate if we truly care about the achievements of all students. If I were elected, I would encourage trustees, and policy makers at the provincial level, to carefully listen to what our classroom teachers are saying. Rather than a one size fits all pencil and paper test, I agree with teachers who are reccomending a formative assessment that helps students learn in which students are given descriptive feedback about where they are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there. In other words: measure students against themselves rather against the average of all the students.

Silvia Dyck:

The two specific things I would do to improve student achievement are;

1. Maintain and monitor the current programs that are focused on student achievement as articulated in the District Accountability /improvement plan which details the focus of each school

2. When hiring the new superintendent, insure that he or she  has a proven track record on student achievement initiatives.

Karen Jarvis:

Mentoring programs need to be introduced in the system. When students feel validated and cared for as a person there is better chance that students will engage with interest in their own education.

I would visit the schools and find out the details to what the needs are.How can I serve those who provide the education? As a Trustee I need to be available to staff, students, and administration as well as fellow trustees. Investing in relationships is important to student success. I have the time to committ to the task.

Joey Hagerman:

To be honest the first thing that I would do would be to lobby the Provincial Government to properly fund education in this province. That way students would be in smaller classes, teachers could then identify at risk students more quickly and be able to get the ball rolling so that strategies could be put into place to further aid the students as well. With proper funding the district would be able to hire more education assistants as well which would allow for students who need more time and help in their courses to get that help. Also, and I am sure schools are already practising this, is to find a hook for students to want to stay in school whether it be joining a tech program, team, or club. If a student feels a sense of belonging to a school they will more likely stay in school. We have to remember to find what each student is good at and let them know that they can be successful, whether their strengths are in the trades or academic based. This positive affirmation to students about what they are good at goes a long way in making them feel welcomed in the classroom and school settings. We have to remember though that some students need an alternative program of study so that they can learn at their own pace and still be successful. The Chilliwack School District does have those programs and as a trustee I will look into how those programs could be expanded so that they can reach more of our at risk students.

Brett Lawrason:

1. The most important thing that I can do to help improve student achievement as a new trustee  would be to work collaboratively with other Board members and our partner groups (Principals, teachers, parents,students, support staff and community members) in the selection of a new Superintendent. We need to hire a new Superintendent who is a visionary and has the skills to develop a shared vision for the School District. He/she needs have  a proven track record in improving student achievement and their ability to work collaboratively with all partner groups.

We already have a Strategic Plan that has a strong district wide focus on improving student achievement and success. We as a community need to support the new Superintendent and give him/her the opportunity to tweak, modify, retool  and work with our The Strategic Plan so that  it becomes a living document (not just another pretty piece of paper that sits on the shelf) that he/she and all the partner groups can support and believe in. The Strategic Plan needs to become the framework/template that the Superintendent can share their vision and become the mission of all our administrators, teachers and  support staff.

The Superintendent  will need to make these changes/modifications to the Strategic Plan  with the partner groups and utilizing best practice steeped in research and common sense.  All partner groups will need to accept and share ownership, responsibility  and a common understanding of what is needed and believe that we can  help improve student learning, engagement, progress and achievement by supporting the Strategic Plan.

The board then will need to review monthly how succcessful the plan is working and make its’ successes and failures a major component of each Board Meeting. We will do this with a data driven dialouge with the partner groups, not looking for the “blame game” but focussing on what is working what is not and be willing to be honest ask the Superintendent the tough questions, holding him/her accountable and support what works an revamp what isn’t.

2. We as trustees and the Superintendent need to ensure  that all schools develop a School Plan that shows how they are going to meet the strategic goals and objectives  set out in the District’s Stategic Plan. All schools need to be on the same page with their main goal being to improve student achievement/success and having every student a graduate prepared for opportunities beyond graduation.

Each school is unique and may have different needs and ways of meeting the beliefs, strategic goals and objectives set in the Strategic Plan, however, as long as they are on course with the District Plan, we should see growth/improvement in student achievement district wide. We will  also have to work with the CTA and CAA to bring their Professional Growth Plans into sync with the Strategic Plan and School Plans.

In turn the new Superintendent and Board will need to support our Principals/Vice Principals and teachers by giving them the resourses needed to make the plan work. Let principals do their jobs, focussing on being in their schools, being educational leaders, spending most of their time supervising instruction, working with staff, being accessible to parents and students rather than being buried in meetings and completeing paper work.

Give  the teachers the support to make a difference by having an honest coversation about the true facts about problems and concerns they have dealing with class size and compostion issues not just numbers and other issues they are facing meeting the learning needs of all their students. We as a Board may have to rethink our budgets and staffing to help schools and classrooms that have the most severe problems. A little more support is better than nothing and will be appreciated by the schools most dire need. We also need to support projects/inititives teachers and administrators bring forward and professional development activities that  match the strategies in the District Plan that improve student achievement.

In my quality world all professional development activities within the District should be for the sole purpose of enhancing the priorities set in the School Districts’ Strategic Plan. Perhaps this does not seem feasible at this time but perhaps  something we all can work toward.

The more we work together in an effective and an efficient manner the happier we can all be and the more success we will have in improving student achievement.

Heather Maahs:

If I am to pick only two:

1. Student achievement starts in the very early grades. I do not believe it is a coincidence that the rate of low reading skills in the early grades matches the percentage of students not graduating.

We need to use more of the scientifically proven methods to teach students to read and use mathematics in the early grades. This would enable them to have a foundation in reading and math facts that would be the building blocks for all other learning. The research team that worked with the Education Centre found the majority of the students who struggle have very low reading skills. That was the common denominator.

2. Our district has had a good start with providing choices in what kinds of schools we offer in public education. We have a Fine Arts elementary school and a couple of Traditional schools. These schools are very popular and continue to have waiting lists. Our French Immersion programs are also very popular with great results. We need to encourage more choices for parents and teachers of students. The children are not one size fits all and by providing more choices we offer different kinds of learning for different kinds of children. The results and popularity of these schools speak for themselves.

Tammy Brown:

After looking at the 3 year comparison of the achievements for the district for required exams I noticed that almost all required exam passing percentages have increased or stayed the same, with the exceptions of Mathematics 10 Essentials, Social Studies 11 and Communications 12. What concerns me is the decrease in our grade 3 benchmarks and grade 3 RAD which have both declined over the last 3 years. Therefore, I think the board needs to be concerned about this trend.

One of the first things I think the board should look at is split classes and whether there are having a negative impact on our younger students. I know that these types of classes concern parents a great deal and they do not understand why schools make up these types of classes when there appears to be enough students to make up single grade classes. We have some teachers in our district whom are teaching two grades at once. It is my belief that the children, in these class settings, with learning disabilities are not getting the time they may need from a teacher and therefor they fall farther behind. I know we have learning assistance for some of these children, but many fall into a gray area where they are not struggling enough to receive the extra help. If you put a child who is not meeting or barely meeting the requirements for grade 3 into a 3/4 split, then I believe you are putting that child at a greater risk to fail. I believe that classes should be one grade only unless extenuating circumstances apply. If we can improve the success rates of our elementary students, that will allow them to be better prepared for higher grades.

Secondly I would like to see more Literacy programs in elementary schools. Bernard Elementary has a Literacy program this year for grades 2 and 3, where a selected group of students spend 4 days a week in a classroom that is specifically designed to improve their literacy and one day a week they return to their regular classroom. I would like to see this type of program available to all elementary ages students who would benefit from it. As a parent whom has had not one, not two, but three children who struggled with reading in earlier grades, I know how important it is to get children the help they need as early as possible. I was very lucky to have some wonderful teachers who were able to help my children improve their reading skills to the point that they eventually became top of their class for reading in later grades. Without literacy, our children are sure to fail. Again if we prepare our elementary age students then we are giving them the skills they need to be better prepared for Higher grades.

Walt Krahn:

Our greatest challenge is to continue to improve student learning. We can achieve this challenge by:

• Creating a Positive Culture where improvement and success are anticipated via

• Create a positive learning culture where there is respect and appreciation for every individual within our District.  This begins at the School Board level.

• Develop long term District-wide planning built on accurate data, sound research and expertise.

• Encourage and welcome collaboration from all stakeholders (students, staff, parents, and community).

• Develop goals that are achievable and relevant and thereby generate strong ownership.   All students are aware of the goals and are able to articulate the plan.

• Allocate necessary resources to support achievement goals

• Set high, but realistic expectations where success is achievable for the students.

• Teach students what success looks like.  Students should be encouraged to self-assess and track their improvement to maintain optimum focus on their learning.

• Provide on-going monitoring.

• Provide students and staff with honest assessments they appreciate and need.

• Communicate goals and achievement to the entire learning community to build and maintain strong ties of confidence and trust.

• Celebrate successes at all levels.

• Believe in our people.  Provided the opportunity, within a caring culture, virtually every person will learn to their optimum.

• Exploring and Implementing Best Practices in every aspect of our work via:

• Sites are encouraged to conduct a needs assessment to determine work/growth opportunities with the focus on Improving Student Achievement.

• Encourage instructional rounds to improve teacher practices (instructional rounds are used to encourage teachers to see classrooms other than their own for observational purposes only, not for evaluation or assessment purposes).

• Encourage collaboration where teachers share instructional practices and student progress. This encourages teachers to meet after common assessments to discuss student progress and determine strategies in which all students can achieve success.

• Build time and resources into the implementation.

• Provide opportunities for teacher-centered Professional Development where Best Practices are reviewed and discussed.

• Success driven schools build time for teachers to observe other teachers, to develop common assessments, to assess student achievement, to discuss results and to develop common strategies to ensure student success.

Clearly, programs do not produce achievement; teachers produce high student achievement!

Darlene Wahlstrom:

Increasing student achievement in the district is a continuous work in progress.  As board members we need to have ongoing conversation with the Superintendent about student achievement.  It is important to ensure that the strategic plan is being implemented.  It is vital to have conversation with staff, parents, students and the community around student achievement.  All these things combined, in time, will increase student achievement.

Martha Wiens:

The  topic is very complex.  We have struggled with low results for some time.  I  would like to promote a review of  how we look at our results and how they are measured?  Is the student in a position to do well? Are basic nutritional and physical needs met? Are they safe? Is the home  and school environment conducive to good results in learning.

Have we exhausted all imagination, inventing programs, using resources without getting the desired results. How are we measuring the outcome? What are the tools used?  How do we evaluate the findings? These are the questions that must be addressed and answered in the study of our student achievement

Dan Coulter:

I believe that appropriate class size and composition as well as access to extra help will increase student achievement.  We need to allow teachers to collectively bargain for class size and composition as it not only affects their workload it increases the students access to individual time with their teachers.  Giving students better access to extra help outside of class time is crucial to student success as well.  If elected I will work with other board members on improved class size and composition along with access to extra services.