Halifax can have a viable school board again if the people who run for it are encouraged to look at the big picture, says Calgary Board of Education chair Pat Cochrane.
“It really is, ‘What are we here to do? Do we understand what our role is?’ It imposed discipline on the board; we imposed discipline on ourselves,” Cochrane, in town for a Nova Scotia School Boards Association forum, said Friday.
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Her advice for the next Halifax board?
“Remember that you are a representative of your city. Not of just one small interest group, but of all the people who elected you.”
In 1999, the Alberta education minister fired the entire Calgary board after interpersonal and political conflicts made it impossible for the board to work together. If that sounds familiar, it should: In 2006, Education Minister Karen Casey axed the Halifax Regional School Board after months of divisive, embarrassing spats between members.
Last week, Casey chastised the Strait board after one member got into a verbal confrontation with another.
Unlike Halifax, Calgary held school board elections immediately, and that’s when Cochrane was elected for the first time.
“(Back then), it was, ‘I don’t know whether to congratulate you or commiserate with you,’” she laughed.
The board set out some rules of the kinds of things it wouldn’t discuss, such as school operational issues that staff could handle. Instead, Cochrane said, it focused on issues like declining enrolment and improving test scores.
“We’re just regular folks. Being the voice of our community in our school system, I think that’s a huge thing.”
Mary Delagardelle, head of the Iowa School Boards Foundation, said part of the problem is the low voter turnout in school board elections.
She said Iowa board members found when they started talking about their work differently, voters focused less on candidates with pet issues and started thinking about the best overall candidates.