School board chair retiring from political arena

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Greg Pietersma

CORNWALL, Ontario - A man who focused the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) on student achievement, fought to maintain local control of decisions, and brought the board into the age of social media is stepping down.

Chair Greg Pietersma will not run in the fall of 2014 as school trustee for Dundas County. After spending a decade in school politics, the father of four wants to refocus his efforts on his business, and other new projects.

“I view the job of trustee and chair as a significant commitment,” said Pietersma, owner of Pietersma Tinworks near Chesterville. “There is no schedule really because things happen and you have to constantly change your day and reflect on solving problems because public education is so important. There are other projects I want to pursue and in order to be fair to the job of trustee I want to step back and let someone else pick up the baton.

“One of the things that galvanized my decision is that my son Sam has joined my company and I want to take the time needed to help develop his skills and provide him the mentorship he needs going forward.”

During his tenure as trustee, vice-chair and chair he has overseen significant changes in the board that have improved student learning. He oversaw the Building 2020 process which realigned our school structure, closing smaller schools and amalgamating them, and building new facilities so that children could enjoy improved programing, as well as expanded social and extracurricular activities.

“It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do,” Pietersma said about Building 2020. “When I was first elected I never thought I would be championing closing schools. But I became aware of the challenges of running small schools – that they couldn’t offer our students rich experiences with such small numbers in the classroom. We had to put our students first.”

The process also brought about the successful grades 7-12 model for our secondary schools, and ensured that every family has equal access to French immersion and core French programming throughout the board.

Pietersma instituted the Accountability Framework, a system that ensures goals and accomplishments of the CREW Strategic Plan are meeting the objectives set by trustees. He was also a champion of expanded social media and the use of iPads, smart phones, and other personal devices in the classroom.

He led the board through a difficult challenge at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) last school year, after the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) pressured members to withhold support for extracurricular activities following the passage of Bill 115, which withdrew the ability of ETFO members to strike. In April 2013, the OLRB ruled in favor of the UCDSB. The precedent-setting decision confirmed that where a collective agreement exists, counseling the withdrawal of voluntary activities is considered an illegal strike and is not permitted.

The victory was not without its price, as teachers and their union vehemently resisted the challenge.

“But when we saw that the decisions made by ETFO were affecting our students we could not stand idly by,” said Pietersma. “We had to take action. I think it was worth it.”

Director David Thomas said such courage in the face of strong resistance has been a hallmark of Pietersma’s tenure.

“Greg will always be recognized for his character, particularly his ability to precisely take an issue and apply it in the context of how it will impact students positively or negatively,” said Thomas. “Greg never faltered from the challenge of doing the right thing for students in spite of the fact it might have impacted him personally. The hallmark of his tenure is a deep sense of social justice.”

Principals and fellow trustees say they will also miss Pietersma.

“The principals definitely appreciated his commitment to improved student learning in our board and his support for arts programming, quality daily physical education and professional learning within our system,” said Principal Suzanne Morrison, president of the Ontario Principals’ Council District 28.

“His legacy will live on for a long time,” added Vice Chair Jeff McMillan. “The contribution he has made to this board and to the students of Upper Canada is immeasurable.“

Pietersma’s final focus will be to ensure that a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use by students at school events is enforced by the system. At Pietersma’s urging, the board passed a resolution that will create a new strategic plan charter to address the issue focusing on student-driven solutions. It will encourage the expansion and reactivation of Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving chapters in our high schools. Principals will also ensure strict enforcement of current policies and procedures banning use of drugs and alcohol at proms and other events to avoid the tragedies that can result from impaired driving.

“We must have the courage to keep our students safe,” said Pietersma. “They’re too important not to.”

Organizations: Upper Canada District School Board, Pietersma Tinworks, Ontario Labour Relations Board ETFO Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario Ontario Principals Council District Ontario Students

Geographic location: Ontario, Dundas County, Chesterville Canada

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