One of the main drivers behind Nancy Close’s decision to run for public school trustee is her six-year-old granddaughter.
Close, who served on Calgary’s public school board from 1999 to 2007, and then in Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s office for 10 years, could have retired.
“It’s not an easy role,” Close told LiveWire Calgary in an interview on her run for Calgary Board of Education (CBE) trustee in Wards 11 and 13.
“I do believe that a system of public schools is the best way to ensure that every student is welcome, and that every student can choose success.”
Close said the values of community and student success are what propel her commitment to the public school system. Particularly with her granddaughter, who starts in Grade 1 at a neighbourhood school this September.
“That actually motivates me a great deal; to model that you stand up for what you believe in,” she said.
There were a couple of recent issues, however, that sealed her decision to run for trustee.
First, the initial inaction on the change to the Langevin School name and taking action around Truth and Reconciliation recommendations.
“The answer, ‘we don’t have a policy to do that,’ disappointed me because they have the opportunity to be leaders and representatives and to respond,” Close said, noting that they did eventually make the change.
“I just wondered, ‘oh my goodness that they just moved too far into the policy and governance stage and lost sight of their role as leaders.”
The other aspect is what Close called, “the CBE investigation.” She said the CBE is not a “meaningless bureaucrat.” If they could get more people into schools to see the good work going on, they would be more comfortable and confident in public education.
School closures, curriculum
Close, who also sits on the board of Education Matters, said there was a recent red flag brought up during a meeting.
She said she saw the Somerset School as a potential future closure candidate. She’d naturally just assumed that the school was relatively new. The community was established in 1987.
“It just reaffirms my belief that we can no longer build schools that are a single-purpose building,” she said.
“We really need to start talking about community buildings that actually have a school in them.”
Close said the CBE and the city need to forge a closer relationship to determine where schools are most needed based on changing populations in different communities.
“I think (the CBE) needs to bring in the community and experts and partners,” she said.
“CBE doesn’t have to make these decisions alone anymore. And I think that would be really impactful for students’ success.”
Close said the province’s draft curriculum, set for roll out this year, is also an issue. She said that what’s in it isn’t necessarily the board’s jurisdiction, the issue is being raised at the doors.
“(There’s) a lot of questions and a lot of concerns about who’s been involved and who hasn’t been involved. And the confidence is not there,” she said.
Mental health, student fees
One thing she’d like to bring to the job is an understanding of how to get groups to work together on mental health and addictions.
It’s something she worked on in the mayor’s office.
“I’ve learned that you can bring organizations together, whether it’s your jurisdiction or not, whether it’s your authority or not, because people have such an appetite to work differently together – likely because of COVID,” Close said.
“I think they can address some of these complex issues together, so I’d love to bring that expertise to the board.”
Student fees are a challenging topic, Close said. The CBE is caught in a situation where they must fund programs like lunchroom supervision or student transportation, but they don’t want to use instruction dollars to do it.
Still, she thinks the lunchroom supervision fee should be zero.
“We just have to recognize the reality of how families live,” she said.
“If there’s no choice for a family to find where their child can be supervised for lunch, don’t hold them captive and then charge them for supervision,” she said.
She said the CBE has taken strides, particularly during COVID, to limit the rise of transportation fees on families.
Then and now
Close said that even though 14 years have passed since she last sat on the board, not everything’s changed.
There are still issues with school closures. There are still issues with funding operations and maintenance budgets.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is the school board’s focus on equity for all students, Close said.
An exciting change she sees is the CBE’s increased use of data in their decision making. Particularly the equity index that will be used to allocate school resources.
“Not only will school councils and school principals have the ability to talk about what the needs are in that particular school and how they should be programming to set up kids for success, but then the community will also have access to how can we help reduce the barriers,” she said.
It all goes back to what’s behind Close’s run for trustee.
“It’s all about community and student success,” she said.