Early signs suggest the silence from School District 57 will continue for nearly two months.
My PG Now requested an interview with Pam Spooner, the newly named acting superintendent, through Ellen Bryden, the district’s Privacy Compliance and Risk Management Advisor.
Bryden responded with the following statement:
“At this time Pam Spooner is planning to make her first statement regarding her new position and any comments on the direction of the District at the April 25th Public Board Meeting.”
Daryl Beauregard, the Prince George District Teacher’s Association (PGDTA) President, was surprised by that news, saying that timeline is “a little long,” but he also said it is the continued silence from the school board trustees that is his clear number one concern.
This silence has stretched through multiple controversies now, the latest being the closed-door trustee vote to remove Cindy Heitman as the Superintendent, and the subsequent resignations from third-time trustee Betty Bekkering and first timer Gillian Burnett.
Beauregard said the PGDTA was shocked by Friday’s news that Heitman was out, “I just postponed a meeting with the superintendent on Thursday afternoon because I was too busy, I had no idea.”
Laura Weller, the District Parent Advisory Council Chairperson, was also caught off guard by her removal.
“As far as DPAC goes, she has worked well with us,” Weller told My PG Now, adding she regularly provided either district staff or herself when help was needed.
Spooner was named the acting superintendent from her role as Indigenous Assistant Superintendent, Beauregard said the two of them have had positive dealings in the past, and he looks forward to working together.
“I think this district has finally started to do some really good work with reconciliation,” he said, “and I know that is very dear to Pam. I look forward to working with her on that, and I hope the board can support where we want to go – being more socially just with the education system in Prince George.”
Weller echoed that sentiment, saying “Pam is an excellent choice. I strongly believe in her ability to take this on.”
Beauregard has not seen eye to eye with this board over the past few months.
Looking at the resignations he said, as an outsider, he saw “division amongst the board members.”
Much of that division, he said, was centered around communication with the public in handling issues of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric on the rise in the district.
In her resignation letter, Burnett wrote “It is apparent that this board is not interested in receiving input from stakeholders, the public or the district staff… I cannot remain a part of a board of education that puts personal agendas before sound data and evidence.”
“That is very concerning given the reputation that the departing trustees have,” Weller said, citing Burnett’s previous involvement with DPAC and Bekkering’s long run serving on the board. “Their perspective carries a lot of weight.”
The departure of these two trustees will trigger a bi-election. Neither Beauregard or Weller have heard when that might take place, but both said the sooner the better.
This was largely due to the 2023-24 school year budget, which has not yet been fully approved.
Beauregard said “that budget will drive how our school district operates next year… it is a really serious concern, and to have a board that is not currently accountable to stakeholders and refusing to answer calls from media – I have a really big concern that this is a group that doesn’t feel they need to be accountable to the public but is going to pass a budget involving millions of dollars.”
“The school board budget is absolutely massive,” Weller added. “Public education needs the attention of the public at all times, but now more than ever.”
Bi-elections, historically, get a lot less attention than the usual October vote, which includes council and mayor as well. The last bi-election saw only 1,137 voters from Prince George turn up.
“We need that engagement,” Weller said. “We need people to understand who the potential candidates could be, what their values are, and what they are going to bring to the table.”
Beauregard said he is looking for candidates who are open to engaging with the public, and who are up front and honest about their opinions on hot topics the board has recently been faced with – namely LGBTQ+ issues.