By Maggie Macintosh
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Manitoba School Boards Association is launching a mentorship program to recruit and support a more diverse array of candidates to run for school trustee this year.
Residents across the province will head to the polls on Oct. 26 to vote for their next local mayor, city councillor and school trustee.
Alan Campbell said he wants to see increased representation of communities that have historically been underrepresented on school boards, including newcomer and Indigenous populations, among the contenders on 2022 ballots.
“School boards are the only level of elected governance in Manitoba, if not in the country, that have reached and exceeded gender equality. The majority of trustees are women and most of the boards in this province are run by women,” said the president of association, which oversees 38 public school boards in the province.
“But we fully recognize that there are many other members of the community that are underrepresented.”
In recent weeks, the association has put out calls to trustees to recruit anyone interested in mentoring members of the public who want to learn about campaigning and serving on a board.
A number of urban and rural trustees have confirmed interest in the pilot, which will expand on the association’s historical information sessions to include both more robust recruitment efforts and formal mentorship, Campbell said.
Jennifer Chen, a trustee in the Winnipeg School Division and president of the Women of Colour Community Leadership Initiative Inc., has approached fellow newcomer activists to consider running.
Chen has yet to confirm whether she will campaign for re-election, but indicated she is not worried about competition because she wants to support more visible minority trustees.
Citing her experience as a racialized trustee who navigated her first campaign in 2018, during which she was met with blatant racism when door-knocking, Chen said she wants to support others so they are equipped to succeed.
“Newcomer activists have the voice and they have the experience, and that can help form better and inclusive policy on the board,”
she said, adding much of her work over the last four years has involved building trust with communities that have often felt left out of the school system.
The majority of Manitoba’s 275 trustees identify as Caucasian.
Only three of the 54 trustees elected in the City of Winnipeg during the last municipal election reported being from racialized communities and two trustees self-identified as Indigenous. That translates into six per cent of trustees in Seven Oaks, Winnipeg, Louis Riel, Pembina Trails, St. James-Assiniboia and River East Transcona identifying as racialized and less than four per cent as Indigenous.
In contrast, approximately 27 per cent of the city’s total population self-identifies as a visible minority and 12 per cent of residents are First Nations, Metis or Inuit, or have mixed Indigenous ancestry.
Campbell said anyone who feels they have a contribution for the betterment of public schools should consider trusteeship. The association plans to publish details about its election information sessions and mentorship program later this winter.
“We want people to arrive at the board table fully aware of what the role is and fully engaged and participating,” said Sandy Nemeth, vice-president for school boards with over 6,000 students on the association executive.
Nemeth, a trustee in Louis Riel, predicts there will be greater interest this fall in comparison to previous elections, which have historically had dismal competition and turnout, because of Bill 64, the now defunct Education Modernization Act.
Maggie Macintosh is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the WINNIPEG FREE PRESS. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada