By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
Donna Blackburn is eyeing a fourth term on the Ottawa Carleton District School Board.
First elected in 2010, the Barrhaven Trustee says the next four years will be crucial for the public school system.
“We are at a crossroads in the OCDSB. Coming out of the pandemic, I believe we need to now shift our focus on student achievement and well-being, which is actually the main mandate of a Trustee and a Board of Trustees,” she told the Barrhaven Independent.
“We need to establish what students have been most adversely affected by the pandemic and direct resources to them,” Blackburn added. “I believe the Board needs to focus on what brings us together, not what divides us. Barrhaven is a tight knit, supportive community where we pull together during tough times, and we leave no one out.”
Blackburn says one of her biggest concerns is with safety in schools.
In June 2021, the OCDSB voted to end their long-standing student resource officer program with Ottawa Police, after some students and parents claimed the program caused harm to the BIPOC and gender-oppressed communities. Blackburn was the only trustee to oppose the move.
This spring, Blackburn brought forward a motion to reinstate a police presence in schools. The Barrhaven Trustee said she didn’t want to see a return to the former SRO program, but instead start talks to see how educators could be better supported by police. While Blackburn felt confident the motion would pass, it was shot down indefinitely by her trustee colleagues.
Blackburn said removing the SRO program in the first place was the biggest mistake the OCDSB has made during her time as a Trustee.
“During my first ten years of service I had not received one complaint about this program,” she said. “Then there was a push by small but vocal lobby groups, backed by a couple of Trustees who in my opinion misrepresented what the SRO program actually was. These lobby groups used social media and vicious tactics to bully Trustees into supporting the end of the SRO program.”
This winter, a stabbing took place at Longfields Davidson Heights High School. It left a teenager with serious injuries. Blackburn says with no proactive work being done, issues will only rise.
A number of public board trustees are not seeking re-election. Blackburn hopes a table of fresh faces will reconsider the idea.
“Student and staff safety are paramount to me and I will continue to advocate for a positive, proactive relationship with the Ottawa Police Service,” said Blackburn. “There will be a lot of turnover at our Board as seven Trustees are not seeking re-election, so I am hoping reason will prevail on the next Board and we can move forward on this issue which is what the people of Barrhaven want. I have heard that message loud and clear at the doors.”
Patricia Kmiec, who is running against Blackburn, said she was happy to see the student resource officer program come to an end. She said reports which backed the move were thoroughly researched and its findings demonstrated a number of harms that many students faced as a result.
“The OCDSB is not the first to remove police officers from their schools so we have some great, well-proven examples of alternatives that we can learn from here,” Kmiec told the Barrhaven Independent. “At this point, we need to consider everything from having unarmed and non-police community safety monitors in schools, to prioritizing and investing in social workers, counsellors, coaches, EAs, and other staff trained in alternative ways.”
Kmiec ran for Barrhaven Trustee in 2018, coming in fourth place with about seven per cent of the vote. She’s running again because of having an interest in education.
“Whether in my daily life as a parent or through my work as an academic in the areas of education and children’s rights, I know the importance of education to any community,” Kmiec said. “I decided to run for trustee because the past few years have been especially challenging for so many, and I know I can bring a strong, progressive, creative and collaborative voice to the board.”
Overcrowding in Schools
With Barrhaven growing to a population nearing 100,000 people, more families are calling the neighborhood home. The community has about 30 schools total, with more approved earlier this year.
John McCrae High School, for example, had its sports field shortened a few years ago to make way for portable classrooms. This summer, the fence between Jockvale Public School and John McCrae was moved to make way for additional portables.
This problem is expected to partially resolve itself when a public high school opens in Riverside South. Students there in grades 9 to 12 are currently buses to Merivale High School, Longfields Davidson Heights High School, or John McCrae High School.
Blackburn said she wants to advocate for another public high school to be built in Barrhaven.
“I promised and delivered a new elementary school in Half Moon Bay. I will work with staff, colleagues and other elected officials to see this come to fruition,” she said. “My track record on capital funding to my Zone has been second to none and I have every intention of keeping that going.”
Kmiec said overcrowding in Barrhaven schools has been a long-standing issue. She says revisiting John McCrae High School data after 2023 will be crucial for planning.
“Revisiting earlier suggestions will be necessary, with open consultation and communication with parents, students and other community members,” she said. “I also have experience working with demographic data and would join efforts to work on or analyze projections for our zone’s population growth and feeder schools. I would also commit to advocating for Barrhaven as an area where a new school is needed as the board prepares its funding calls to the Ministry.”
There are three names on the ballot for public board school trustee in zone 3 – Barrhaven East/West. Natalie Rowe is also running, but no contact information was made available to request comment for this piece.
The municipal election will be held on October 24, 2022.