Jeff Richert 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.
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: Jeff Richert
Occupation: Insurance sales
Highest level of education completed: University degree
1. Why did you decide to run for trustee?
I decided to run for trustee because I have always been passionate about our education system and I want to be a part of the decision-making body that can influence policy and make decisions that are in the best interests of our childrens' educational needs. The solutions to our problems do not come from the top down, they come from the bottom up and I think trustees can do a better job interacting, collaborating and engaging with the schools they oversee.
2. What experience and skills would you bring to the board of education?
If I am elected to the board of education, the perspective I would bring to the table would be based on the reality that the Peace Region is unique and has different needs and issues than other areas in the province. I would bring a solutions-focused presence and a consultation-first mentality to the board of education. I bring with me a diversified background of education and work experience and it would be my intention to be active in the schools I would oversee.
3. What would be your top education priorities if elected, and why?
My priority is to be a consistent presence in the schools that I oversee and ensure that I have a good understanding of the challenges the schools, their staff, and the students deal with on a daily basis. Too many times I have heard staff working in schools not knowing who their trustee is and have never met them. My top priority early on would be to ensure there is not a disconnect with the schools I am overseeing and as I gain an increased understanding of the challenges and issues the district faces and be an advocate for change.
4. What approach will you take with teacher contract negotiations in 2019?
The first question I would have in the process would be if I would be in a potential conflict of interest because I am the spouse of a teacher, and how that would impact my participation in the process. There are many people who are concerned about potential conflicts in regard to municipal politics, as an example. I think it is important to determine any restrictions on participation, if any, would be required. When it comes to contract negotiations an area of concern I have is the number of potential entitlements that are tabled and the potential budget implications associated with them.
5. What can the district do to improve teacher recruitment and retention?
School District 60 is not the only entity dealing with this issue. I am of the opinion that the issue of worker recruitment and retention is a Peace Region issue at large, impacting businesses, the local government, our healthcare system and of course our education system. I am of the view that a large scale, multi-stakeholder approach to dealing with recruitment and retention is the only way to deal with the issue. This is a regional issue and I think it needs to be addressed from a taxation perspective at a minimum which requires working with the provincial and federal governments. I am of the view that British Columbia should have its own provincial northern living allowance tax break directed at specific areas that have retention and recruitment issues.
6. What can the district do to increase professional development opportunities for teachers and staff?
It is my understanding that there are more professional development opportunities geared towards elementary school teachers and staff than middle-school and high school teachers and staff. I think it is reasonable for the district to focus on communicating with middle and high school teachers and staff to ensure they take advantage of opportunities when they arise and also work to provide more options for participation.
7. What role do independent schools play in the education system?
Independent schools have their place in the education system and provide an alternative for parents and students who are not home schooled or enrolled in the public system. In the past, I have raised concerns about public dollars being used to subsidize independent schools and I still have that concern today.
8. What can the district do to balance class size and composition rules, rising enrolment, and the need for new schools?
Unfortunately, the system as it is designed and funded does not allow school districts to manage funding and staffing levels proactively. It is difficult for schools to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to changing demographics and turnover and an example of this challenge was the reason for Margaret Ma Murray Community School to be built; the district had a 123% operating capacity for elementary schools before its completion. The district was not in a financial position to build a school earlier because it is at the mercy of provincial government funding. Moving forward I would like the province to seriously consider a budget top up for school districts in the Peace Region.
9. What can the district do to improve aboriginal graduation rates?
I think the district can improve aboriginal graduation rates by addressing an area that is lacking: transition. Aboriginal and rural students face different challenges compared to kids living closer to schools in Fort St. John, for example. It is important for the district to understand it is very difficult for rural and aboriginal kids to maintain consistent attendance when the transition from their home to school in town brings with it a high degree of stress, change, and challenges that, if unaddressed, can force a child to take the easy option to stay home and/or drop out. In order to increase aboriginal graduation rates having a transition program in middle school similar to what was done a few years ago with aboriginal education “assigned time” class at Bert Bowes Middle School, which was discontinued due to a diversion of funds to different programming. If you talked to the aboriginal students who attended that class they will tell you it helped them transition and also created a more stable pathway to graduation.
10. What is your philosophy on special education, and how can graduation rates be improved?
I believe that all students have the ability to learn and participate with their peers regardless of their challenges and I believe in classroom inclusion as it benefits all students both receiving special education services or not. Increasing the amount of educational assistant support staff for students who qualify for special education services is essential for allowing all students to be included in regular classroom settings, when appropriate. If we want to improve graduation rates there needs to be more funds diverted into special education which will allow for stable support for students with challenges as they progress through to graduation and beyond.
11. What programs or services do you think the district can spend more on?
Maintenance. I am concerned that with the aging schools in the district and the amount of time and money that will need to be spent to maintain them. Combined with the building of new schools, we have an evolving situation of increased maintenance demand that places serious strain on the maintenance budgets and the already stretched maintenance personnel employed at the district.
12. What programs or services do you think the district can spend less on?
None. I am of the opinion that given the degree of economic benefit this region provides the rest of the province, especially with the approval of the LNG Canada project, the school districts in the Peace Region deserve a funding top up to meet their current and future funding needs. Having well-funded and staffed schools is an important component of addressing the high turnover and retention issues that we face.
Finish this sentence: Students today are…
What were your favourite subjects in school?
Which teacher had the most impact on you and why?
Mr. Nishi, a middle school teacher, had the most impact on me because he was able to understand our perspective as teenagers and related to us in a way I have never seen an adult do. If there was a standard for teaching excellence, Mr. Nishi was it.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in life?
What goes around, comes around. Live by that lesson and everything will be fine.
Want to know more about Jeff Richert? Connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/electjeffrichert.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at firstname.lastname@example.org.