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White, Board move forward in 2014

ColumnHead-Education-SilasWhiteSome have expressed surprise I would choose to end my six-year tenure as chair of the Sunshine Coast Board of Education. Over this period, I’ve worked with five different mayors and three regional district chairs. It was probably getting to seem like I would be here forever, which is exactly why it’s time to leave.

During this time, my two beautiful daughters were born, our family moved into a wonderful home in Lower Gibsons, I started and completed my master’s degree, got involved in the provincial employers’ association for boards (including six months as vice-chair) and provincial bargaining, and continued to grow my small publishing business. I trust when people say to me “What are you going to do with all your spare time now?” that they’re joking.

I wasn’t ready for the role when I started, and it wasn’t a positive situation to walk into. Our board of trustees did not have a well-defined role. The relationship between our board and senior staff was also undefined and tenuous.

Fortunately our trustees and senior staff were able to agree to one thing: commissioning an external review of our organization to get us on track. The senior consultant gave me uncomfortable news after individually interviewing all trustees and key personnel: “Your district is facing huge challenges right now and every single person is looking for someone to take the bull by the horns and lead. That’s your job.”

“No guts, no glory,” was one of his favourite sayings. Another advisor who worked with our board urged us in bold capital letters to “MOVE FORWARD.” It wasn’t popular with everyone, as the board actually taking leadership and tackling big issues required some doggedness. Once we’d redefined our governance model through policies, took on long-ignored declining enrolment problems, completed our first strategic plan in over a decade and hired a new senior staff team that was committed to a new community-driven vision, it’d be easy to joke I’m still waiting for the “glory.”

I cherish our collective successes such as breaking ground for the Gibsons Elementary rebuild, welcoming a student trustee onto our board (the issue that first got me interested in school boards as a high school student 20 years ago!), campaigning against the government desire for a legislated teachers’ contract in 2012, launching innovative environmental education programs, and having an outstanding management and principals’ team that enjoys going to work every day with a unified focus on student success.

I’m certain this latter environment will garner more glory around student achievement, which is already beginning to show itself in improved success rates for our Aboriginal students. My successor as Chair, Betty Baxter, has far more experience in the “guts” department than I did when I started, which will come in handy. But I envision a new leadership phase of our board being characterized more by glory.

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