School District 60 Votes: Meet Erin Evans

Erin Evans is seeking a seat on School District 60's board of education to represent Area 5, which covers Fort St. John, the Upper Halfway, Halfway River First Nation, Wonowon west, Charlie Lake, Pink Mountain, and north to Mile 225 on the Alaska Highway.

There are five candidates for the area, and voters will elect three of them to serve as trustees on the board.

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Alaska Highway News has sent out a questionnaire to all candidates who filed for a seat on the board, asking them about their experience and education priorities, how they'd handle teacher negotiations, improve teacher recruitment and retention, balance rising enrolment with the need for more schools and more.

Responses are being published as they are received. The answers below have been edited for spelling and grammar only.

Name: Erin Evans

Age: 42

Occupation: Social Worker.  I am an instructor at Northern Lights College, where I teach the Social Services Worker Diploma program and I have a private practice that I maintain in community development and counselling.

Highest level of education completed: Master of Social Work degree (MSW)

1. Why did you decide to run for trustee?

I have always been interested in policy and policy development. In 2009 after I completed my Bachelor of Social Work, a friend said “why don’t you run for trustee?” I didn’t know what it was so I did some research on it and ran. 

2. What experience and skills would you bring to the board of education?

I come from a long line of teachers. My great grandmother, grandmother, several uncles, cousins and husband were and are teachers in the province. I firmly believe that public education is the backbone to any society. So to have a just society we need to have a good public education system. I wrote my master’s thesis on literacy and the impact literacy skills have on someone’s life; so I have a lot of knowledge and experience in the literacy field.

I am also a strong advocate for the education system and I have stood up and advocated for policies at the provincial level for some of our most vulnerable students. I also understand that sometimes advocating happens over a cup of coffee, talking and discussing the issues. I have a background in community development, and anti-oppressive social work practice and this has served me well at the board table, over a cup of coffee and in a room full of people speaking into a microphone to debate for or against a policy.

3. What would be your top education priorities if elected, and why?

My top priority – currently it would be capital funding. We have 20 /22 schools that have rated poor or very poor in terms of their condition. We have done a very good job in our district maintaining these buildings well beyond their lifespan. We need the money to replace some of our schools and also to put major renovations into some of our schools. We are also looking at capacity issues and in the next few years our middle and high schools will be overrun with students. We need to ensure that our next school is a middle school and there is a high school to follow shortly thereafter; along with replacement and renovating.

We also have the lowest paid CUPE members in the province and that needs to change. Our CUPE staff work tirelessly to support our students by ensuring our buildings are clean, the buses are running and the teachers, administrators and students are supported. We also need to ensure our teachers get a fair shake, and are paid what they are worth, and supported properly. Kids come to school with more complex needs and teachers are not social workers, they need the tools in the classroom to be able to teach our kids in the ways they know how to. In order to do this they need more support. Teaching is a noble profession. Over the last 20 years wages for teachers, and support staff, have eroded. The cost of living has increased but salaries have remained stagnant.  This needs to change. 

My other priority is to showcase better the great things we do in our district. We are well-known globally for the things we do, but we are not always that great at sharing that in our own communities. I would also like to continue some of the great collaborations we do with partner groups and partner governments, as that is important. Public education does not exist without municipalities, regional districts, Indigenous governments, media, and other groups. We need to ensure we continue working with others, listening and learning.

As a trustee, I feel we need to do better with our Indigenous students and communities and work alongside them to improving student success. I am getting very winded. I could go on and on. I am very passionate about public education!

4. What approach will you take with teacher contract negotiations in 2019?

I will take an open approach. It’s an interesting position to be, advocating for public education, and also being the employer. As an employer we do have a corporate board and even if we want to do things we can only advocate to the Public Schools Employers Association and to the government what we want to change; at the end of the day it is up to them. This is difficulty particularly when you see the need. We are all fighting for the same pot of money that comes from our taxes, and it is hard to decide who should get more and who should go without; without causing more burdens to the middle class.  My approach is to listen and advocate, to be honest and respectful. 

5. What can the district do to improve teacher recruitment and retention?

Since 2009, I’ve been making side comments and sometimes direct comments about our website. It needs to be changed and updated. When I am researching community organizations, I go to their websites. If I was looking to move into a community I would look at the employer’s website. Frankly, ours needs to be updated; it’s hard to navigate. That’s the first thing.

We do a lot of recruiting in our district and we do it with the PRNTA. We already showcase the beauty of where we live and great communities we work in. For retention we, do have teacherages in the more remote locations, and this helps. We have been advocating the government for some incentives for districts like ours across the province. I think the government is listening, and we won’t stop advocating for these things until we are heard. A simple loan forgiveness program I think would help.

I’m not originally from here and I stayed because of the beauty and the opportunities in this part of the province. I believe if we can get them here for a few years, they tend to stay here. We have also advocated for more seats in the AHCOTE (Alaska Highway Consortium on Teacher Education) in order to provide opportunities for local residents to become teachers without having to leave the community. We also offer the EA/TA program at the college as well, and the other trades and training opportunities at Northern Lights. We have great partnerships with the college, industry and communities and this also helps recruit local people in positions within the district. 

6. What can the district do to increase professional development opportunities for teachers and staff?

We do offer a variety of these opportunities within the district. One of the things I would see us do more of is use the talent we have within our staff. We have teachers who are musicians, who are mathematicians, who are artists, who are specialists in a variety of areas. I would like to see us use this local talent more and develop it more. I think this would provide more opportunities for professional development within our district. As we are also close to SD 59 and 81 sharing events would also help with opportunities for staff. 

7. What role do independent schools play in the education system?

Independent schools offer a choice for parents. Our public system is secular, so if a parent wanted a religious education the private system would be for them. 

8. What can the district do to balance class size and composition rules, rising enrolment, and the need for new schools?

This is a very tough question. We are a district with increasing enrolment. We have to be mindful of teacher’s rights and students rights. It is a balancing act to ensure our kids are taken care of and the teachers and support staff’s needs are also being met. This is one of the plethora of reasons why we have split classes, more so than when I was kid in the system. This is a challenge and I think our staff do the best job they can balancing these issues. 

9. What can the district do to improve aboriginal graduation rates?

First and foremost, in order to improve Indigenous graduation rates we need to ask our indigenous students, their families and communities what is needed. I am not Indigenous and I wouldn’t want to presume I know what is best. The education system in the past was not good for indigenous people in this country; it led to all sorts of abuses, and I don’t want to minimize the impact the education system had and has on the erosion of indigenous communities.

So we have to ensure our schools are safe places and places of respect. We live in a world where education can be the key to be successful, problem solve and critically think. It can be a tool to use to bring back custom and traditions and language. And it can be a place for healing. But if it’s not safe space nothing will happen. And if we don’t work with and walk behind our indigenous students and communities, then it isn’t a safe space and graduation rates won’t increase. Our students and families know what they need; we just need to listen. 

10. What is your philosophy on special education, and how can graduation rates be improved?

My grandma was a special education teacher. I used to love going into her classroom and watch her work. I remember her talking about integration in the classroom before it was a thing. I found out this last year that the model my grandmother used when she was teaching, became the model for integration. Again, support students and support students. Not all students can be in a classroom for a full day because of their unique needs.

I have worked with people whose anxiety can be debilitating; they can make it to the building but a classroom environment will be overwhelming for them on some days. Those days they need a quieter space with specialized support; the other days they can be in the classroom with little or no support. I think we need to be mindful and provide support to students that meets them where they are at.  Not all of our students graduate with a Dogwood, some graduate with an Evergreen certificate.  In our district we do well, can we improve yes absolutely. But as I stated above, families and students know what they need to succeed, we need to listen and support; and if need be advocate. 

11. What programs or services do you think the district can spend more on?

Hmmm… all of it! Our budget is limited, but if it wasn’t limited… Oh boy! Kids and parents would no longer have to fundraise for sports, band or field trips!  Everyone could go to Cuba and do a cultural exchange. 

12. What programs or services do you think the district can spend less on? 

Nothing. 

Finish this sentence: Students today are…

... independent, resilient, creative, smart, and I think better prepared for the world than I was. 

What were your favourite subjects in school?

Drama. 

Which teacher had the most impact on you and why?

My grandmother, even though she wasn’t my teacher. I loved how she interacted with her students and their families. She also did everything to ensure her students had what they needed to be successful and she created a safe space for them. Her students remember her to this day and she’s 96!

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in life?

I don’t think you have enough space in your paper for me to answer this fully. So I will say to be mindful, to listen with respect and dignity, to critically self-reflect, and walk with or behind people not take over or take charge.

Want to know more about Erin Evans? Call her at 250-261-3718. 

Connect with Evans on Facebook at facebook.com/EvansTrustee.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

© Copyright 2018 Alaska Highway News

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