School trustees are ordinary citizens elected by other citizens to represent the interest of the entire public in the education process of creating our next generation of citizens to strengthen Canadian democracy.

Locally elected school trustees, who make up boards of education in British Columbia, represent a unique form of democratic governance. Unlike municipal councils, provincial legislative assemblies and the federal parliament, boards of education have one primary mandate: improving learning for all students.

All board decisions, policies, regulations and actions must support the vision of improving learning outcomes for all students so that the most important objective of student learning can be achieved, which is to create citizens. More specifically, these student citizens must be capable of achieving their full potential and achieving their civic responsibility to give their informed consent to be governed in our Canadian democracy. Responsibility for continuously building this foundation of our society is given to boards of education.

How do school trustees do this? In a co-governance partnership with the provincial government’s Ministry of Education and Child Care, trustees serve to represent the needs of their communities in public education using tools granted to their board by provincial legislation. Defining those needs requires locally elected school trustees to learn and listen to citizens who voted for them, as well as those who voted against them or not at all. Once elected to a board, trustees must commit themselves to learning about the interests and views of students, parents, school district management, teachers and public education agencies such as francophone and First Nation authorities.

Informed by this information, trustees then deliberate as members of their board on the education issues of the day. School trustees are expected to use their best judgment and provide their unique perspectives on issues in meetings to reach board decisions. It is the job of the board chair to guide the dialogue on a path towards creating this consensus, and it is important that each member of the board support the decision of the group once one is reached.

Boards are democratically responsible for conducting publicly transparent decision making, with some exceptions for certain legal privacy matters. This is necessary for the public to judge whether the board is implementing their interest in public education. It also puts members of the community in a position to pass judgement on the board’s performance through the election of trustees.

The general prerequisites required to run as a school trustee are to be 18, a Canadian citizen, a resident of B.C. for at least six months, and not to be disqualified under the School Act or any other enactment from being nominated for, elected to or holding office as trustee. Review the Ministry of Education and Child Care’s School Trustees Election Procedures document for more details. Many school trustee candidates have experience in the school system, and support is provided by associations such as the BC School Trustees Association for those who do not. To learn more, access BCSTA’s trustee election resources.

By Dr. Lee Southern, former BCSTA executive director (1995-2008).