Thanks to Jacob, Omar, Cody, Shaquille, Eric, Redan, Ja’Leeine, and Vivian for your questions about trustee roles and representation in your study of democracy.  These Grade 6 Callingwood students asked me about who I represent, how I was chosen, how do I communicate with constituents, my roles, and who do I work with.  I was also asked how difficult is it to make a decision and still keep everyone satisfied, is it hard being a trustee, am I busy, and do I like being a trustee!  All great questions and my answers were as follows:

1. I am the representative for the public school electors for Ward E. Edmonton is divided into 9 wards, for a total of 9 trustees.  Ward E is in the west end. There are 2 public school systems in Edmonton, one for people who support the Catholic religion school system, and one for everyone else – the public system.  In the 2013 election, there were about 60,000 public electors for Ward E, of which about 10,000 cast a vote for the trustee election.  Electors are people over 18 years of age, that are registered by the City of Edmonton as being eligible to vote in the election.
2. I was chosen through an election. In order to be eligible as a candidate to be elected, I had to belong to the group of the public school electors, and I had to be nominated by 50 of them. This means 50 people had to sign my nomination paper for me to be eligible. The election takes place once every 4 years, by secret ballot (so that the voters aren’t bullied into voting for a specific candidate).  This past year, we also supported election of a student trustee to represent students, and we are changing that approach to one that involves more student input than a single student representative can provide.
3. Trustees try and communicate with the people they represent through a variety of means.  I try and go to school council meetings at each school in my ward.  There are also special meetings with parents and community members on specific issues, such as where to locate new schools. I publish a blog on my own website as well through Twitter and Facebook.  I write articles in community newsletters and I attend community events.
4. School trustees do a number of things:
– we hire and work with the Superintendent
– we work with all the other groups to set priorities for the school district and review results by each school in support of those priorities.
– we engage in communication with students, parents, staff, and community to understand community needs to make sure the priorities and plans respond to those needs
– we develop policies to ensure that actions of staff and students support learning, and student and staff well-being
– we approve the budget, that is how money is allocated to fund schools and other educational supports developed by the District to achieve the priorities
– we advocate with other levels of government to ensure their policies and funds they provide are adequate to meet the needs of our students and families we serve
5. Trustees work with everyone who cares about public education!  First, they work together as a 9 person Board.  They also work with the Superintendent of Schools, and all the staff of the Edmonton Public Schools.  The Superintendent is sort of like the principal of principals, all 7,000 staff report to the Superintendent. Trustees also work with parents and parent councils, other levels of government like the City of Edmonton and the provincial government, and community organizations like the YMCA.
6. Governing means choosing between different choices, so not everyone is satisfied with one choice over another.  What trustees try to do is: make sure everyone’s opinion is heard and considered, that people know what we did with their input (what we supported and why, and what we didn’t support and why), and what steps we have taken or may be able to take to help them adjust to a decision they didn’t agree with.
I am accountable to the electors, that means that if they don’t think I did a very good job, they can elect a different trustee at the next election. In between elections, the Board of 9 trustees reports each year to the Minister of Education and to the public (and our electors) on how well the school system is doing. These reports include student achievement results, how safe and caring our schools are viewed by students, parents, school staff, and community members. If the Board of 9 can’t work together, the Minister of Education has the authority to replace the Board with a non-elected Trustee until an election is called, but this has never happened in Edmonton.
7. Just like a student, being a trustee is not hard if you are curious, willing to learn, and committed to the preparation and effort to do a good job. I tell my electors that any one of them could do the job of a trustee, if they commit to these attitudes.

8. Just as students like you organize to accomplish a lot, trustees can get a lot done by being organized.  I have a full time job in addition to being a trustee, so I have to be organized to be effective.

9. I do like my role. Students including you and your friends are the future of Edmonton and it makes me feel good helping support you in creating a better future.
I hope the students share their final reports with me!