School boards elect chairs, vice-chairs
Putting students first is a key priority for each new chair of Niagara’s English school boards.
Both elected by their trustee peers in recent days, Sue Barnett will lead District School Board of Niagara and Frank Fera has been chosen chair of Niagara Catholic District Catholic School Board.
Fort Erie-Port Colborne trustee Dave Schaubel will serve as DSBN vice-chair and Fort Erie-Port Colborne-Wainfleet trustee Dino Sicoli as Niagara Catholic vice-chair for the next year until trustees vote again on both positions.
Barnett, a trustee for Welland for many years and who was chair in 2015, said the best possible education for students is at the top of her priority list.
“We’re preparing kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet,” she said in an interview Thursday.
Learning environments and making sure educators have the resources they need to give their classrooms the best possible experience is something that will be addressed through advanced thinking, balanced budgets and school conditions, she said.
“Happy teachers mean happy students,” said Barnett, also an advocate for special needs education, an area she says can continue to improve through cutting administrative costs.
Aging facilities are not too much of a concern for the new chair.
“We’re on top of it. There’s ongoing maintenance constantly,” she said.
By 2025, all three-storey schools without elevators will need to have one installed — one of them being Ross Public School.
“That’s right at the top of our list in Welland,” she said.
Commotion caused by outdated parking situations at many DSBN buildings is also a matter that needs to be focused on, as many have already seen reconfigurations take place. Schools built decades ago were not made for the number of parents who elect to pick their children up at the end of the day, she said.
“Congestion at our schools has been a major problem,” she added.
No accommodation reviews are currently on the agenda for 2019, but one in Wainfleet did recently wrap up following a final decision made by the last board — agreeing to merge Winger and William E. Brown public
schools with St. Elizabeth, a Catholic school, under one roof.
The Catholic board has yet to give the project the green light. Asked if she sees the new board reopening the file, Barnett said it’s possible, but unlikely.
“Normally, we don’t go back and revisit it — unless somebody is really passionate about it,” she said.
Frank Fera, a Catholic board trustee for Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake since 2000,
who served as vice-chair in 2009, will lead the board of trustees in 2019. Enhancing Catholicity and positive communication with unions that represent teachers are two main priorities he listed in an interview.
He feels clearing a “rift” with unions will better serve the student experience.
“It’s the students who give us purpose and hope,” he said.
Facility maintenance is an issue he feels has been addressed
through regular maintenance and upkeep.
“We’re doing OK with our buildings,” he said.
Asked about the potential amalgamation of St. Elizabeth in Wainfleet with two public schools, he said the same formula with Loretto Catholic and Kate S. Durdan in Niagara Falls has already proven to be effective.
“We have that in place already, and it’s working out quite well,” he said.