James Horne will serve his second year as school board chair for School District 52. (Submitted photo)

Year one as SD52’s chair: Horne on new curriculum, PRMS building, teacher’s strike

Results of School District 52’s board elections are in, Horne serves second term

James Horne will serve his second year as chair of SD52’s board.

During last year’s elections Horne replaced Tina Last, who held the position for 13 years. Kate Toye will remain in her position as vice chair, new to the position last year as well.

Louisa Sanchez and Kristy Maier will continue to represent the district as BCSTA provincial council members. Bart Kuntz was re-elected as the bargaining representative council member with Janet Beil once again serving as the bargaining alternate.

Jenna Cocullo sat down with Horne to have a chat about his first year as chair of the board and what he hopes to accomplish next.

First of all congratulations on winning again.

Thank you. It feels good. I was hoping that the board had confidence in me to carry on with what I’ve started doing as chair. Chairs don’t all operate the same as we bring in policy that we believe as our own.

What kind of new policy are you trying to bring in?

The schools are going through big changes with curriculum. A lot of that is to do with getting the best for our students in the schools. And so we have to oversee that and be that voice of the public. What we brought in as my own thing is to get better participation with the community. More connection with the city as in the mayor, their political structures as in the council and with the MLA and getting everybody together and with the local groups in the community that serve people as well, like Friendship House.

What do you hope to get out of our MLA, the city and all these groups?

Well it’s just to be together so that we can do things on the same page and not oppose each other. For instance, we’re in the process of building a new middle school. We don’t have the guaranteed funding from the government at this point for the location we need and so we need to work together with the city and our MLA closely so that we can upgrade those other facilities which have been an issue for a while.

READ MORE: James Horne replaces Tina Last, SD52 chair of 13 years

Well then side note, is there a new location for the middle school?

We haven’t disclosed locations yet but we plan on bringing multiple locations to the public for viewing before we proceed.

So the public will get a say? And when can we expect that to happen?

Yes. And we would think it would happen by the spring but we can’t be totally sure because it depends on the seismic work on the site. When they don’t work out, we have to move over to another place and do it all again. And we’ve kind of repeated doing that a little bit because not everything we want works out.

READ MORE: In brief: Former SD52 schools to receive wrecking ball, what’s the deal with CMTN wheels?

Last year, when you got elected, you said you wanted to do a lot of work with Indigenous communities. What progress has been made?

And we’ve done that. So we have employed a Truth and Reconciliation person just to oversee the implementation of those goals. It is a new position done within my last year. So they coordinate with all the teachers and all the Indigenous people that are involved in other positions within the schools regarding Indigenous learning.

They also hold workshops and stuff for the students to go and do activities that are all of cultural significance and respect.

It’s great to have our students learn about their local history which we haven’t always taught in the past. So to learn that local history, as well as the other history we automatically teach, is way better for our students, we feel, to be able to get a more rounded education.

How do you feel about that Fraser Institute report that came out this year?

Well we try not to look at negatives and it’s easy for anybody to say good and bad things about us. And some places are biased. Like I can’t say for sure that’s how that is but all we can do is do our best to look after our students needs. We understand what their numbers are and have always been. And we still strive to do as best as we can.

READ MORE: Part I: How Prince Rupert schools teach Indigenous language to hundreds of students

PART II: Indigenous language and culture go hand in hand in Prince Rupert classrooms

PART III: Saving an Indigenous language by teaching adults and creating an app

What other big things have been on your agenda this past year that you want to update the community on?

It’s mainly the change of the curriculum. And that’s been a huge push for us. And more forwarding of the Aboriginal education. So those two things have been our biggest push. We’ve tried to incorporate Aboriginal Ways of Knowing into the classroom. So that means we want the teachers to take off and take the students outside into the environment and teach outside. The province-wide curriculum is partially implemented. We ran it up the grades so that it wouldn’t impact the students instantly as they came in on the lower grades. So it moves up through the system and it’s in Grade 11 right now. That’s just about completing.

What are the changes in the curriculum?

The changes are that we’re moving away from only having reading and writing and arithmetic as a base, to a new set of much wider, more inclusive learning. And so it’s the studies that showed us that by concentrating only on those previous items, some students couldn’t do those things, and so they were left behind. And so there’s a broader range. A lot more social emotional learning takes place now than there used to be. Also, the regimented classroom that’s been all lined up, we’re going away from that toward small groups where the students lead themselves, which then encourages them to lead and to listen and talk. And ultimately embold themselves. So that’s a big part of it. The way you’re teaching, not just what you’re teaching.

And then the other thing we’re doing is going away from exams, which the government has asked us to do. Not all students are good at writing exams, but if you can complete the work and can show the teachers the you can do it, is where we’re going. Instead of actually having to follow that with an exam that shows the same thing you’ve already done. And universities are moving in the same direction. So our trick is “how do we show the university that our students are capable of going to universities without that exam mark?”

How will universities judge kids then?

What we do is, when they leave this high school, they’ll have a portfolio showing what they’ve done. It’s all electronic which wasn’t the case when they originally started. It’s a better way because it’s more inclusive. Studies show that B.C. leads the world in inclusive education.

READ MORE: B.C. education minister says focus is on new curriculum, filling on-call teacher ranks

What studies say this?

Studies the government showed us. But of course they would. [Laughs] But it’s based off of showing how many students enter the system and how many graduate. So if you can get students to graduate, you’ve done what you’re supposed to do right.

Now in your role, do you in any capacity, deal with the teachers who are going on strike because I know our teachers had two information rallies at MLA Rice’s office in a month?

Our board hires only the superintendent who then runs the school system for us and answers to us. But still, because of the fact that the superintendent answers to us, those teachers are hired by our system. We do get a say in what we wish to have in bargaining. But we have a province-wide bargaining group that bargains a lot of the contract for us and small pieces are bargained locally. And we have a team of our staff that does that but not the board. The board still gets direction from the community based on what they wish to have in it.

So what’s the board hearing from the community in regards to that and what do you hope to see the teachers achieve?

So we want the teachers to get a fair wage increase. And we also would like them to be able to do training to keep themselves updated and maintain their qualifications. That’s probably the biggest thing that we would like to see.

What about the increased funding for students the Prince Rupert Teachers’ Union has been advocating for?

Well that’s not under our control. We’re given a budget and that’s all we’re allowed to spend. We’re not allowed to be negative in spending. A board in Vancouver did that a few years ago, and now they’re not there anymore. The government took over because they were constantly going into the negative. We lobby the government, though, on behalf of our students for better funding and support the teachers in their goal to get the government to give more funding.

We also try to encourage the public because the government works off both. The public has the say in what the government does. We try to encourage the public to also rally and support the teachers and their goal to get more funding.

READ MORE:Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union demand letter of support from SD52 board

And moving forward this year, what is on your agenda?

For this year, I’m trying to make changes to make the board more efficient and to make sure that we’re doing things right. So we’re going to review practices. That’s one of the big pushes. We haven’t had a review for a long time and so we got to bring someone in from the outside and tell us if we’re doing things right, or where we need to take more training for ourselves to improve what we’re doing. Because you need to do that, you need to question yourself and make sure you do things the right way.

Thank you very much.


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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