BARRHEAD - Pembina Hills board chair Jennifer Tuininga, who has served two terms as the trustee for Barrhead North, has announced that she will not seek re-election in October.
In a statement e-mailed to the Barrhead Leader, Tuininga said it has been an honour to serve the communities of Pembina Hills and its staff and students in local schools, as well as those taking courses/working at the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) and Vista Virtual School.
“I have had the opportunity to meet people from across the province, to learn new schools and to advocate for our local schools and rural education at the local level,” said Tuininga.
"(I owe) a big thank you to my fellow trustees and senior administration in their work and support in my role as board chair.”
She gave a special shout-out to vice chair Wendy Scinski (who is also retiring as a trustee) and the board’s policy committee for their work to enhance the governance documents that guide the division.
Tuininga was originally elected to the Pembina Hills board in 2013 and has served as the board chair since 2015. She and her husband farm in the Neerlandia area and have two children who attended school locally.
Tuininga said the last eight years have brought significant change to the division as the reins of the provincial government changed hands three times and they cycled through four different Ministers of Education and three superintendents.
Her time on the board has been marked by the closure of two schools (Jarvie and W.R. Frose School in Fawcett), the opening of Pembina North Community School in Dapp, an attendance area review, an electoral ward review (which led to the board being reduced to six trustees), transportation changes, funding cuts, ongoing debates over the Lord’s Prayer in schools, the closure of the ADLC (and Pembina Hills’ attempts to advocate against it) and the province’s introduction of a new draft K-6 curriculum, which Pembina Hills declined to pilot in the 2021-2022 school year.
“There have been many challenges, but also the opportunity for learning and improvement,” she said. “Sustaining our rural schools and providing an excellent education for our students is the cornerstone of what we do.”
Of course, COVID-19 has arguably been the biggest challenge that Pembina Hills has had to contend with, as students and staff were forced to shift from in-person classes to at-home learning for half of the 2019-2020 school year and then had to contend with disruptions to their education throughout 2020-2021.
“Pembina Hills staff and students have demonstrated their resilience over the past school year, and they step into the coming one with hope and perhaps a little apprehension,” she said.
In spite of the challenges that COVID-19 may still present and the change-up in the division’s senior administration — Supt. Dave Garbutt is retiring this fall and several others have or are going to follow suit — Tuininga said the division remains a great place to educate students.
“Pembina Hills trustees and senior administration work as a team alongside school administration, school councils, staff, parents and community partners to do what is best for students. This is captured aptly in our Pembina Hills motto ‘Together we learn.’”
In addition to Tuininga announcing her retirement, trustees Scinski, Kerry McElroy and Jackie Comeau have officially announced they are not running again.
Tuininga said she hopes to see many new faces enter the election race this fall and continue to build a strong education system for local students.
“I would encourage individuals who have a passion for education, who enjoy learning and have an interest in being involved in their community to consider running for school trustee,” she said.