School board trustee candidates passionate about education for Island youth

Rainbow District School Board trustee candidate Margaret Stringer (left) listens as Linda Erskine (right) responds to a question from the audience at an all candidates meeting at the Kagawong Park Centre on August 18. photo by Lori Thompson

KAGAWONG—An all candidates meeting held Saturday, August 18 at the Kagawong Park Centre kicked off with school board candidates Linda Erskine and Margaret Stringer.

Ms. Erksine moved to Little Current in 1990 with her husband, Michael. She has worked for the same organization for the past 16 years, initially on Manitoulin but currently travelling to work in Sudbury. She has been a board member with the Manitoulin Legal Clinic for the last 17-18 years and chair for the last 10 and has been volunteering with organizations on the Island since moving here.

“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 school children under the Rainbow Board,” said Ms. Erskine. She noted how a lack of late bus transportation created a divide between children who can access and participate in extracurricular activities after school and those who can’t. “How do the young people who miss out on these opportunities develop skill systems as those that do? How do the young people who miss out on these opportunities develop long term relationships as those that do?” she asked.

Ms. Erskine also spoke about board operations. “I believe in camera meetings should only be used to discuss issues as set out by the legislation governing boards,” she said. “I also believe that it is vitally important that boards be transparent and accountable in their processes and their actions. If you vote for me I will be a very hardworking candidate for youth of this Island.”

Ms. Stringer and her husband Jim have lived on Manitoulin for 35 years, raising three children here. She is a retired educator who worked within the RDSB as a teacher in Gore Bay and Mindemoya, as a principal in Little Current and Manitowaning, and working with the First Nations communities of Aundeck Omni Kaning, Sheguiandah and Wiikwemkoong. Ms. Stringer also worked as assistant principal responsible for special education programs and services at all the board’s elementary and secondary schools.

“Throughout my career I’ve advocated for students,” she said, “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. To all the common thread has been making a difference for kids and the satisfaction in knowing I helped a student, a staff member, parent, community to do the same.”

Ms. Stringer believes that relationships are key to working effectively within the school system. “I’ve developed good working relationships with parents, staff and community partners and administration,” she noted. “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,” she continued. “I value equity, diversity and inclusiveness and I believe in the fair and respectful treatment of all people. 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.”

Trustee candidates were asked about lead levels in drinking water at Island schools and what they would do to protect student health. Ms. Erskine responded that, “as a parent and a person who lives in Little Current, I was quite upset when I heard this. I think the first thing the school board is going to have to do is deal with that. Until they do deal with it they’re going to have to bring water in for the children. They can’t be washing their hands. They can’t be drinking that. They can’t be having anything to do with the water system. If I’m elected, that will be one of my first priorities.”

She continued, “I really think that the issue of water across this province goes beyond education but it has to start somewhere. The school in Little Current is not the only one that is dealing with this issue. You’ll notice that most of the schools that have issues are rural schools.”

Ms. Stringer stated that she had done her homework on this question. “I was having the same questions Linda was having. If you go to the RDSB site and Google ‘drinking water reports,’ it took me a while to find it but I found it; you can find out information about what’s going on with the drinking water and you can find it out specifically by each school, and exactly how many taps and whether it’s standing water. In other words, they take the test without it being flushed and then after they flush it.”

“I come from a background of Health and Safety Level 1 training regionally and my workplace training and my experiences as a teacher and as workplace site trainer has really made me quite vigilant about things like this,” Ms. Stringer continued. She noted that all the schools having problems with standing water were fine after the lines were flushed, but “there’s definitely some things that need to be done.”

The candidates were asked what their top two priorities would be. Ms. Stringer stated that accountability and transparency were her top two priorities. She feels that all public board meetings should be live-streamed. “That way parents can be involved, can be watching board meetings and strategic planning meetings,” she said. “They can be more informed about what’s going on and I think it can be an all around more collaborative approach to our work.”

Ms. Erskine said the lead in the schools would be one of her top priorities with the other being to ensure that the children on Manitoulin have the same access to courses that students in Sudbury have, providing Island students with the same post-secondary options. “If they’re not offered here because there’s not enough students, they can use technology and have the youth participating in a class in Sudbury through distance education,” she said. “There’s no reason why our kids on the Island miss out on courses.”

In closing remarks, Ms. Stringer thanked organizers and all those involved. “I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to share my thoughts and beliefs about our educational system and I appreciate your thoughtful questions,” she said. “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 added a final comment before closing. “I really think one of the things the board needs to be looking at, not just this board but all boards, is keeping kids safe from cyberbullying and teaching them how to not get pulled in online to doing unsafe things,” she said. “That part outweighs a lot of the things that parents and other people are concerned with in the healthy lifestyles sex education program. 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.”