Retiring board chair provides insights of trustee

Darren Kuester, chair, Peace River School Division

SPN Staff

Peace River School Division board chair Darren Kuester provides insight to the roles and responsibilities of a school trustee.

School board elections are scheduled for Oct. 18 with the nomination deadline Sept. 20.

The school division provided information from Kuester about the role of school trustee in the format of questions and answers.

Kuester is stepping down as a trustee and wants to provide information to encourage people to run for a trustee.

He has served on the board for 11 years after four years in the mid-1990s.

Some of the responses have been revised so they apply in general to all school divisions.

Q1 – What advice would you give new trustees?
The best advice I can give is to listen to the people around you, do the best you can do, but do not be afraid to ask for help or advice.
I am a huge advocate for locally elected school board trustees and am always open to conversation with anyone who may be interested in running to serve as a trustee.

Q2 – What role do trustees play in the division’s education?
As the name trustee would illustrate, it is our job to ensure that there is quality education available to all our school communities in the division.
We are tasked with educating every student that walks in our door regardless of ability, or disability, and this is something we take very seriously.

Q3 – What are advantages of being a trustee?
I have been able to be a part of the decision-making process and share in the successes of the school division, and there have been many.
I am always proud to share with other trustees province-wide the many great things about the school division.

Q4- What are some important characteristics to be successful as a trustee?
One of the most important things is the ability to listen.
You need to be diplomatic and passionate about doing what is best for students.

Q5 – What kind of training do new trustees receive?
School divisions hold an orientation that looks at local board processes.
There are also lots of information sessions hosted by the Alberta School Boards Association to help trustees become more familiar with their role.

Q6 – What has been most rewarding for you being on the board?
The relationships formed while on the board and seeing all the improvements in the overall success of the school division in my years and it has been extremely rewarding.
Connecting with students and hearing their ideas and input has been amazing and is always a highlight for me.
The quality of conversation and ideas that come from our students has been incredible.
The maturity beyond their years is amazing and I feel that the future is in good hands with the young people coming through our school system.

Q7 – How demanding is the trustee position for those who work full time?
It is a time-consuming position, with monthly board meetings and probably at least one other meeting scheduled regularly per month.
Other tasks that go beyond regular meetings, is the expectation to attend school council meetings in a trustee’s ward, as well as expectation that trustees are prominent and available to members of the communities they serve.
On the average, trustees need to commit approximately eight days per month in which they could easily fulfill trustee expectations.
Some of those days may not be during traditional working hours, some are evening meetings.
Although this is mostly a voluntary position, trustees receive an honorarium for attending meetings and are offered a health benefit plan as well expenses such as travel are reimbursed.

Q8 – What kind of training do new school board trustees get to help them be successful in their roles?
You do not need certain levels of education to be a trustee.
A variety of trustees from all backgrounds makes for a diverse board and allows for different points of view, which allows the board to do good work.

Q9 – How important are trustees when crucial decisions on education are made?
Trustees are very important when critical decisions are made.
Decisions made locally by school division administration must be supported by the board by way of priorities and allocating budgets.
When crucial decisions are made provincially by the education department, it is up to the local boards to determine if the decisions are advantageous for their students and if not, it is crucial they advocate for the government to change to better suit local needs.

Q10 – What motivated you to be a trustee?
Back in 1993, I attended a meeting put on by the board to discuss changes coming down from the provincial government that would affect our local schools.
At that meeting, I shared my concerns with the board and was told by the board chair at the time, that if I wanted to really make a difference, there was a vacancy in the ward and that I could run for a school board trustee and be a part of the decision-making process.

Q11 – Why are you stepping down?
It was a very difficult decision, and I thought about it for a very long time.
But I have some priorities in my life right now that include four grandchildren and a small expansion to my farming business, and I want to dedicate more time to that.
My hair is getting greyer, and it is time for some new ideas to be infused into the decision-making process.

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