Cochrane’s Fiona Gilbert faced the challenge of leading the Rocky View Schools (RVS) board of trustees through the pandemic and saw major progress made in a strategic plan she championed during her three years in the chair.
She also continued to strongly advocate for new schools to accommodate Rocky View’s rapidly growing student population, something that first attracted her to run for the board.
Last week, Ward 4 trustee Norma Lang was elected chair and Ward 2 trustee Shelley Kinley became vice-chair in a vote that went to a tiebreaker.
You cannot talk about the last three years without recognizing the impact of the pandemic.
“There were really some dark challenge times, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic. I had been in the role maybe five or six months when the schools were shut down.”
“It definitely had an impact on the division and every single individual in the school system in the world, actually, but learning to lead and learning in that role as we started in through the pandemic was absolutely challenging.”
She advocated for the division to create a strategic plan to provide a road map to the future.
“The board has been working hard at starting the process and framework for a strategic plan. Over the pandemic, you’re reactive, you’re reacting to things as they come up. With a strategic plan, you take a step back to look forward. Where do we see the division in five years and what are our strategic priorities to get us there?
“We’ve done a lot of work at the board level that I have championed around the creation of a strategic plan. It’s not done yet, but the goal is to have it completed by the end of this calendar year. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to pull that through to completion, but I know that it is well on its way, and we’re definitely working at getting that finalized.”
Addressing the demand for more student space has been a challenge throughout her tenure on the board.
"That is crucial for Rocky View Schools as a division but also here for Cochrane. That’s really what got me on the board in the first place going back to 2013 and the challenges we were facing in Cochrane at that time with space and growth.
"I’m very thankful to the province for recognizing that need to get RancheView School built, Fireside was built during my tenure over the last few years as well, but now we’re getting to that critical point again where we continue to see that growth of young families here in Cochrane and our schools are very crowded.”
She says that growth is projected to continue over the next three to four years.
“We are getting to a real critical point for space in our schools right across the division. Here in Cochrane, absolutely the numbers I see for projections three or four years out are a little scary, and we need to be proactive to figure out how we’re going to accommodate growth for the next number of years.”
Serving as chair gave her an opportunity to see the division through a different lens.
“When you’re in that role, you are looking at all aspects of the division and looking to provide leadership and guidance to the board and to the division, so you're not looking through the lens of a specific area but the lens of Rocky View Schools and what’s in the best interest of the division.”
While no longer chair, she gives a vote of confidence to the new one and the entire board.
“I wish Chair Lang and Vice-chair Kinley all the best in taking on their new roles. I think they will be marvellous. We have a good group of trustees on the board and I think they all have the best interest at heart in all the decisions that are made.”
Being a trustee is more than attending a few meetings a month. Behind the scenes, they are involved in numerous committees required to address the different aspects of our education system. Gilbert continues to serve on a number of committees, from labour relations to transportation to serving as one of Rocky View’s representatives on the Alberta School Board’ Association.
“Whether I’m the board chair or not, I will continue to make those decisions in the best interest of the students and families we serve and I look forward to being able to apply some of the skills I learned as board chair in some of the other roles I take on within the board.”
“We do have lots of work to do over the next couple of years to advocate for schools and to get a strategic plan to keep making the decisions in the right direction. I look forward to those new challenges.”