St. Marys Journal Argus
Public school board supporters in St. Marys, Perth South and West Perth will have a choice for Avon Maitland District School Board trustee in the upcoming municipal election.
R.R. 2 St. Marys resident Elizabeth Clifford, a grandmother of children attending school in the board, has joined incumbent Lynette Geddes of St. Marys in the race. Clifford filed her nomination papers last week.
During her current term around the Avon Maitland board table, Geddes took a leading role in setting up orientation sessions for new or potentially-new Avon Maitland trustees. She served as the board’s vice-chair last year, and is its ongoing representative to the Ontario Public School Boards Association.
So, although she now is being put in the position of having to defend her position in the Oct. 27 election, she nonetheless says she’s happy to see another candidate come forward.
“I do think it’s important that more people are showing an interest,” Geddes told the Journal Argus on Monday.
Also in an interview on Monday, Clifford explained she made the decision to submit a nomination based mainly on the divergent experiences she had recently watching children with special needs grow and learn.
She lives inside Perth County, along the boundary line with Oxford County near Harrington. She also owns property in Oxford, and recently witnessed a youngster with special needs graduate from elementary school in the Thames Valley District School Board.
“He’s a young man who couldn’t really walk or talk, and yet they took the time to make sure he was learning something,” she said of the Thames Valley approach.
She was left with a contrasting perception, however, after a recent visit to her home by a young person with special needs being educated in the Avon Maitland board. And she was left wondering if there’s enough support through Educational Assistants and other resources in the public school board serving Perth and Huron Counties.
“My main concern is that they are putting children with learning disabilities into the schools, pushing them through, and they’re not being allowed to learn,” Clifford said.
Geddes ran uncontested to claim her trustee position for the first time in the municipal election of 2010. That’s around the same time that the Avon Maitland board’s current superintendent in charge of special needs students, Peggy Blair, stepped into her role. And the incumbent trustee described Blair as someone “with a real passion to help those students as much as possible.”
And she doesn’t agree with Clifford’s assessment of the board’s service to students with special needs.
“It’s certainly a challenge at times, but it’s also a big focus these days — not just in our school board, but in all school boards.”
Geddes said her biggest passion as a person involved in education is simply the fact that Canadians — unlike some young women in places like Nigeria or Afghanistan — have universal access to education. It’s something she wants people not to take for granted, and to appreciate more fully.
She notes the world’s economy is based much more on overall knowledge now, than it was even 25 years ago, when having a specific skill might be more likely to lead to a life-long career. “Now, its not necessarily just about being able to do certain things.”
Clifford, who spent 12 years as an office manager for a Stratford-based heating/cooling company, and also served 27 summers with the reserve forces at Canadian Forces Camp Borden as instructor and discipline officer, is now retired. She said she decided to put her name forward after becoming disillusioned with the special needs students’ situations.
“I just figured that I couldn’t really start complaining about things unless I was willing to actually do something about it. So I decided to put my name in,” she said.
Aside from the special needs students issue, Clifford said she’s also concerned about the direction being taken these days with regards to school discipline.
“If somebody is bullying another child, they should be expelled, and not just for a day or two,” she commented.
Geddes admits that’s another topic about which the two don’t agree. Instead, the incumbent — who lives in St. Marys and runs a computer repair and consulting business with her husband — says she favours the approach of keeping children in school whenever possible.
“For me, it’s about inclusion and making people feel comfortable in the school setting,” she said.
These are the topics that will, undoubtedly, receive a wider airing as the Oct. 27 municipal vote draws nearer. Geddes says she doesn’t plan on getting her message out to voters over the coming weeks of summer, but “in September, I’m going to start getting out there and talking to people.”