Former teacher, principal looks to return to trustee role

Helen Gilbert didn’t expect to become chair of SD 60 so soon after being first elected.

Helen Gilbert didn’t expect to become chair of School District 60 so soon after she was first elected in 2018.

The long-time teacher and school principal had just finished her first year as trustee in fall 2019 when she was acclaimed to the role, a position she’s nevertheless embraced over the last three years.

“I wasn’t totally sure I was ready, but there’s lots of situations in my educational career where I’ve had to embrace something that I wasn’t necessarily fully ready for,” said Gilbert. “But then you dig in and you do what you need to do.”

Gilbert worked for 38 years in the Peace River North school system before turning her attention to the board of education after her retirement.

As trustee, she’s been active with the BC School Trustees Association, and taking part in the provincial climate change working group, where she says she’s been bringing the voice of the north.

“We have people in southern districts that are saying everybody should have electric school buses, and you have to say, timeout, that fits you, and that fits your reality,” she said.

Gilbert is happy to see a new gym being built at Upper Halfway school, and says lobbying continues for a new school in Wonowon. Students often finish elementary school but then struggle transitioning to going to school in town, she says.

“I’m fighting for equity of opportunity for our district as a whole, and I want to see equity of opportunity within our district,” Gilbert said. “We’ve really done a lot of advocacy related to improvements in those rural schools.”

Gilbert says the district now has education agreements in place with the Blueberry, Doig, and Halfway First Nations, but there’s more work to do to ensure the agreements lead to educational success.

“We’re partway through something that’s called an equity scan, where we’re spending a lot of time looking at the needs of our Indigenous learners, both on and off reserve, and results in gaps,” she said.

“Anytime you make improvements for a group that has vulnerability, it benefits the whole system.”

With the pandemic, Gilbert admits she wasn’t able to get into schools as much as she would have liked due to health restrictions.

She says blended learning with both online and in-person instruction is going to grow coming out of the pandemic, a chance for continued advocacy with regional district to improve internet connectivity in rural areas.

“One of the things that pandemic actually did was showed people the importance of those social connections that kids build at school, and that social-emotional piece,” she said.

“I look forward to a term under what I see as more normal.”

General election day is Oct. 15 at the seniors hall, with advanced voting opportunities on Oct. 5 and 12.

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