The swearing in of Calgary’s newly elected school board trustees was held at the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) Centre on Oct. 27, with one of the new members being Lisa Davis.
Davis was elected trustee of Wards 6 and 7 on Oct. 16, and one month later she is ready to begin “creating a clear path for students to move forward.”
“I am ready to address some of the issues and concerns we have heard very clearly from parents,” says Davis. “For me, that’s going to be the focus moving forward.”
Associate Chief Justice, the Honourable J.D. Rooke, who did not receive his masters of law in dispute resolution until age 62, performed the oath signing with his own fourth-grade teacher in the front row.
Rooke stated that a trustee’s role is a “vital aspect of our democracy,” and described the education of the young as one of the “highest and most demanding callings,” as he acknowledged the members for their “willingness to serve and desire to make a difference.”
“You are entrusted with the mandate to govern the entire Calgary public education system for the next four years,” said Rooke. “This job demands a lot.”
Davis, who holds a business degree from the University of Alberta, says that she is looking forward to addressing issues, while appreciating that the work of school boards is “foundational to society.”
The Calgary public education system includes 122,000 students, 245 schools, 14,000 staff and a budget in excess of $1.4 billion.
Besides Davis’s interest in education, she also has a keenness for innovation. She describes herself as an introvert, but admits to fearlessness in taking on a publicly elected role. Her husband, Doug, says his wife is a continuous learner and a firm believer in education, even to the extent that she sometimes wishes she had more education herself, such as engineering.
An individual trustee’s voice not only represents their constituents, but must also act as “one” with the board. Rooke reminded the trustees that it is a position where decisions must be made with an “independent and ethical judgment.”
Davis says that many of the issues raised in individual wards, such as process or results, can often be applied across the city; then there are the separate issues within schools – such as bussing, which will be dealt with on a more individual basis.
Davis says some of the issues are applicable to both. Mathematics happens to be one of those broad-based issues.
Alberta Education’s 2017 Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) showed that Calgary students are scoring lower than the provincial average in mathematics. With the “acceptable standard” set at only 50 per cent, the results showed that more than 25 per cent of grade six students failed, nearly 35 per cent of grade nine students failed, and about 23 per cent of combined math 30-1 and math 30-2 students failed.
Kids Come First, which was founded by Davis as a “not-for-profit organization that advocates for quality K-12 education across Alberta,” initially raised the math concern to the school board and the premier about a year ago.
“When we released our report from Kids Come First in February, we were really clear that we felt this was a social justice issue.”
Davis explains that not only is the disparity in the achievement results from school to school an issue, but also that many parents are now seeking tutoring for their children to make up for poor marks.
“When you have that situation, you really do become a two-tiered system.”
Davis says that the last thing to be sacrificed in the finances of education is “definitely funding reaching the classroom,” and that students’ math achievements is something that needs to be addressed, especially when about 80 per cent of all post-secondary programs have a mathematic prerequisite.
“The reality is, students don’t realize that until grade 11 or grade 12 where they’re starting to think ahead to what they want to do after high school. So that’s a huge concern.”
Davis maintains that “everything else is up for discussion” as long as the questions, “should we be doing it, for whom, and at what cost?” are taken into consideration.
As the CBE looks forward to and prepares for the upcoming budget, Davis says they know there will be an increase in costs, even with no wage increases. In the absence of an increase in rates of funding from the government, the challenge is to figure out where they will find the money to “fill that gap.”
“I firmly believe that 95 per cent of a child’s education happens in the classroom, so we need to empower our teachers and our principals.”
Davis says that campaigning and running for a public position is a huge undertaking. She says one comes away with a different perspective when campaigning, which she describes as somewhat of a revelation, because it creates a deeper respect for the position and the work behind it.
“If you want to elect good people, you have to help good people get elected.”
Davis says that although accountability is ultimately in the back of her mind, it is not in a “scary” way, but more as a reminder to herself of her responsibility to do what she can to move education forward in a positive way.
She says that to be elected is “judgment based,” and that good judgment is where accountability is “not less important, but less magnified.”
“I am here because I think I can make a positive difference.”
She says that it was interesting and exciting for her own children to see the process involved to be elected, and it inspired them to create their own dreams of one day being elected as prime minister or premier.
“I feel strongly everyone should work on a campaign at least once in their life.”
This understanding of dedication may be one of the reasons that Davis views the announcement of early resignation by Chief Superintendent David Stevenson, who has worked for the CBE for more than 42 years, as a positive. Davis commended Stevenson for his years of contribution, maintaining that change is a part of life.
From here, after her four years as trustee, Davis does not know what her future holds, but after moving to Calgary with her husband shortly after they were married 22 years ago, and the many undertakings thus far, she knows she is drawn to what interests her—so only time will tell.