School District 60 Votes: Meet Helen Gilbert

Helen GIlbert 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: Helen Gilbert

Age: 61

Occupation: Retired and looking to serve the community.

Highest level of education completed: University degree

1. Why did you decide to run for trustee?

In June, I retired after 38 years as a teacher and administrator in School District 60. I am ready to serve the students and families of this district in a new way. Over the years I have worked with dedicated trustees who made a difference for students. I want to continue to make a difference in this district by being a trustee. I believe I have experience and energy that would be an asset in this role.

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

I have been a Kindergarten to Grade 12 teacher and administrator. During my career I have developed an understanding of the needs of students, parents, teachers and support staff. 

When Hudson’s Hope School was built, I was the principal that: helped communicate the need for a new school, worked with the planning team to design the school, helped establish partnerships that allowed for a larger gym, co-ordinated the move from the old school to the new one and did the set up of the new school. This experience is one that I can draw on as the district moves forward with a new elementary school in the northeast and continues to look for a new middle school, high school and upgrades to our existing buildings.

In the past I have also served on health boards and boards of non-profit organizations.

Looking at budgets and allocation of resources was part of what I did. These board experiences helped me develop some of the skills that will be needed as a trustee.

I believe that being a parent and now a grandparent has helped provide insight that will be useful on the board.

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

Helping all students to reach their full potential would be my top priority. This is reflected in the board goals for 2019 and is what should be kept in mind at all times.

Our district has great opportunities for students because we have a talented and dedicated staff. Currently, the retention and recruitment of staff in all areas of the district’s operation is a concern. We are having trouble finding qualified teachers and support staff. The district’s continued support of the AHCOTE program (local teacher training) and training for educational assistants is important. Working with the province to help provide incentives that attract and keep people in the north is something that needs to be explored.

I would also make it a priority to spend time in schools so that I can hear from staff, parents and students.

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

Our school district is one of many in the province. There is a provincial body that acts on behalf of all districts. Our board can provide information on what we would like to see happen and advocate for students. The provincial body will determine the direction that is taken. This direction may or may not be in line with what the district wants. The district does have control though about making sure there is a climate of respect within the district while negotiations are ongoing.

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

In its latest district recruiting video that was presented at the Sept. 24 board meeting, I liked the fact that there is a focus on the opportunities provided in the district that have people choosing to stay. There are teachers that move to other districts and realize that they had supports in School District 60 that they do not get elsewhere.

Advocacy work for incentives that keep people in the north also needs to continue. Information gained from exit interviews from teachers leaving the district could also help provide information that would be useful in building retention strategies.

The district needs to continue its support of AHCOTE.

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

Opportunities provided should continue to be based on needs identified by teachers and staff.

The district does provide a number of opportunities already but at times there are insufficient teachers on call, so, staff can’t attend what is currently offered. Expanding the number of teachers on call would make a difference in this area. With the current staffing shortage this is easier to say than do though.

The coaching and collaboration opportunities provided by the district and the PRNTA mentoring program need continued support. These programs use the expertise within the district to support the learning of others.

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

Independent schools provide choice for families. Public schools are secular and the programs offered reflect this.

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

There are many factors that come into play and there are places where the district has little autonomy. The Ministry of Education sets parameters and has funding formulas in place. Schools are not built based on anticipated enrolment increases. The ministry waits until the student numbers are there and this has resulted in district schools being full to overcapacity.

The district has advocated for new schools and the advocacy needs to continue until new schools are built and upgrades are done. The district has also sought out community partnerships. Partnerships with the community must continue and be built upon.

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

Building positive and respectful relationships with the aboriginal community is an essential element in improving graduation rates. At the Margaret 'Ma' Murray Community School opening ceremony, mutual respect was evident. The Bella Yahey Gathering Centre honours a strong aboriginal woman who was a leader and teacher in the area. Continuing to build on what was demonstrated in this ceremony will help.

The Aboriginal Education Centre provides supports for students and builds positive connections between students, families and elders. Listening to the needs that our aboriginal community identifies will help us build strategies to support aboriginal learners.

The new curriculum that is being implemented increases aboriginal content and should provide meaningful learning experiences for all students. Seeing themselves reflected within the curriculum is another point of connection for our aboriginal students.

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

Students need to have appropriate supports to reach their full potential. They also need to build peer connections. All students can learn but all students do not need exactly the same learning environment all the time. There are students that need to access different learning spaces and use different tools than others. Accepting that students need diverse opportunities and tools to show their learning is essential. Providing this diversity will help improve graduation rates.

Graduation rates improve when students find their learning meaningful and engaging. District programs such as Project Heavy Duty, Dual Credit, Apprenticeship, Residential Construction and Work Experience keep students in school.

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

I realize that the money that comes into the district is targeted in many instances and rising costs are not always factored into ministry allocations. If the district allocates more money in one area, it comes from another. Student achievement should remain at the forefront when decisions are made. If we had additional funding I would like to see expanded opportunities for students that contribute to students having a well-rounded education and support for staff so they can provide these opportunities. Many of our buildings need upgrades.

I would love to see additional funding for libraries or learning centres.

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

At this time I am not aware of an area where we can spend less.

Finish this sentence: Students today …

... face an ever-changing world, they need critical thinking skills, creativity, compassion and resiliency to deal with the challenges ahead.

What were your favourite subjects in school?

Social studies and physical education. The social studies teacher in me implores people vote!

Which teacher had the most impact on you and why?

My Grade 12 history teacher had a passion for her subject that was contagious and she cared. She did not allow students to fail and went to great lengths to help each student in the way that they needed. Students that were disruptive in other classes were not disruptive in hers.

I knew I would be a teacher and I wanted to be like her.

I also had a high school field hockey coach who inspired us all to do our best while emphasizing there is no I in team. I hope that in the coaching work that I have done over the years I have instilled some of the same things she did.

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

Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you; Every person you meet can teach you something.

Want to know more about Helen GIlbert? Call her at 250-785-2236, or email

Connect with Gilbert on Facebook at

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at

© Copyright Alaska Highway News


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