SURREY — Surrey’s Board of Education voted trustee Laurie Larsen in to be their new chair Wednesday night.
“I’m very excited,” said Larsen Thursday morning. “I’m very honoured that my fellow trustees elected me. It’s been nine years as trustee, then a couple years as vice-chair, so I’m very honoured.”
Larsen, who previously sat as vice chair, has replaced Shawn Wilson as chairperson.
At the top of Larsen’s to-do list right out of the gate are to “get the wrinkles ironed out” on the Memorandum of Agreement following the Supreme Court decision restoring class size and composition.
“And there’s always the funding, trying to put more pressure on the people who can do something about it,” she said of her priorities. “Putting money back in the classrooms where it should be. And the portable issue, of course, that’s one we’ve been passionate about for a long time.”
Meantime, Surrey trustee Terry Allen was voted in to replace Larsen as vice-chair.
Larsen said she and Allen work very well together.
“We might move (the board) in a different direction,” she mused. “And hopefully become more active on things we both have top of mind.”
Allen said he’s also excited to take on his new role.
“I can’t see the board changing that much but I certainly think we bring a different perspective, Laurie and I, both from union backgrounds, so I think it’s going to be exciting,” he told the Now-Leader.
Allen said as vice-chair he will continue to fight for capital funding for desperately needed new schools.
“The capital is number one, there’s no question about that. All the focus for Laurie and me, I hope, will be meeting with the ministry and moving forward to push this government to live up to its commitments. Trying to remove all the portables in Surrey, we all know that’s just pie in the sky, but the truth of the matter is it’s a genuine concern.
“Let’s hope at the end of the day we can make some kind of change,” he added. “That’s not to say the previous chair hasn’t tried, but now, maybe I’ll have more of a say in where we go with this and how we proceed with this.”
Outgoing chair Shawn Wilson served as Surrey Board of Education chair or vice-chair for close to two decades. Wilson was elected as chair from 2012 to 2017 and prior to that, from 2003 to 2007. He also held the vice-chair position from 2000 to 2003 and from 2008 to 2012.
“If other people would like to have a chance at that, I never wanted to hog it,” Wilson said. “I certainly enjoyed the responsibilities, I like challenges and I liked working with the professional staff, I liked all of the responsibilities. I don’t shy away from it. It can be very demanding. All in all, I wouldn’t say I’m saddened. But if the board wanted me to chair again tomorrow, I would do it.”
He noted the position comes with a massive time commitment. So much so, it simply wouldn’t be possible for someone who worked full time.
Wilson said “different personalities do things differently” and that there may be things Larsen will do that he didn’t. He noted that the chair is much more involved with the superintendent than the trustees.
Wilson was quoted as chair in a government release the morning after Larsen and Allen were elected, when the provincial government announced a new $24 million elementary school in the Grandview Heights area and a $9-million addition to Pacific Heights Elementary Thursday morning.
It could be the last time he’s quoted as chair.
Wilson said he hopes there are more similar announcements coming soon for Surrey.
“It looks like the start of a new way of doing things,” Wilson said of the provincial NDP government.
Press is something he stressed the importance of to incoming chair Larsen.
“I told her, do not ever, ever ignore the press,” said Wilson. “You have to answer every question. The public needs answers and even if you’re uncomfortable with the topic, you have to answer questions.”
Wilson chuckled as he recalled doing a video conference call with a news reporter from Hawaii last year while vacationing.
“I had to go in a back room, it wasn’t very well lit,” he laughed. “Even when I was away, I still took calls.”