Elmira resident Scott McMillan has been acclaimed as the Waterloo Region District School Board’s new chair in his first term as trustee for Woolwich and Wellesley townships.
He originally ran for the trustee position in the 2014 municipal election because he was looking for a way to have a positive impact on the region’s youth.
“I had been a hockey coach and the part of coaching hockey that always gave me the most fulfillment was having a positive impact on kids’ lives,” McMillan said.
He says he was encouraged to run and when he looked into the position, the thing that excited him the most was being able to broaden that reach of positive influence.
Dec. 5 was their inaugural meeting and he was acclaimed at that time. Dec. 12 was the first committee of the whole meeting that he chaired. Trustees typically vote for a new chair and he was approached by a couple other trustees asking if they could put his name forward to become the chair. He agreed and nobody else put their name forward.
He says his newness to the role likely played a part in their decision.
“I think a fresh perspective, being a new trustee, an ability to see things through a cleaner lens, a fresher lens and kind of assume the best intentions in all the other trustees, I think that was the big thing that they thought would make me a good chair,” he said.
It’s not very common for a trustee to become the chair in their first term. He notes current Woolwich Major Sandy Shantz became the chair in her third year of her first term. So it’s not unprecedented, but certainly not the norm.
So far his new role has seen him make some public appearances, and communicate with the media, other school boards and the ministry.
“And then chairing the meetings. Rather than being involved in the debate at the board table I referee the debate. It changes from being an advocate to being an overseer of the debate to make sure that it’s productive and efficient and doesn’t deteriorate,” he said.
He says his first meeting as chair went well and there weren’t too many contentious issues on the agenda.
He wants people to know if they’re having issues at their children’s school they can call him. He says his new role as the chair doesn’t mean he’s no longer a trustee and parents can feel free to contact him to advocate for students in Woolwich and Wellesley.
He says there are a number of issues for rural schools in the region.
“Access to programs is one that is a big issue for rural constituents, elective programs which transportation isn’t necessarily provided for. In the city it’s easier to skip one school and go to the next one for an elective program. It’s a little bit more difficult when you’re a high school age kid in Elmira to skip your school and go to the next one,” he said.
He says the board also has to recognize that diversity issues in Woolwich and Wellesley look different than diversity issues at the city schools.
“I just had a tour last week of EDSS with their principal. There’s some programs that are set up for our Mennonite community and it’s trying to create a way that we can reach out to our Mennonite community and allow them to access education, but in a way that is not going to drive them away,” he said.
He mentions the closing of Three Bridges School and how the board may not have understood what the consequences were and where kids would end up going.
“Not all rural kids are the same, not all Mennonite kids are the same – I think that’s something we always need to be aware of,” he said.
His goal as the chair is to get the trustees all moving in the same direction. Senior staff are going through major changes and he believes parents will see academic results from those changes in years to come.
“I’d like to see the trustees have a similar move forward towards creating an exciting team dynamic and I think if we can do that as trustees, I think it will create an incredible environment at the Education Centre that’ll be felt throughout the system.”