Today’s guest exemplifies community action and volunteerism. She’s the recipient of the YWCA, women of distinction community champion award for 2020, a lifelong resident in Montmartre, Janet Kotylak, and Janet, you’ll have to correct me if I didn’t quite get the name wrong. I did some practicing before we went live today. Janet joins us to talk about her commitment to education in our province, and for students across our country. Janet, welcome.
Thanks for having me. Good to be here today.
It’s a pleasure to have you here. So congratulations first on the award.
Thank you, I was just gonna say you, you did pretty fine on my name. It’s it’s coat lock. But Kota lock is often how people say it.
I will get right at the end. You know, pronunciation is one of the things that I work on the most, before we go live with these sessions. Because, you know, being in Saskatchewan, we have a real mix of names that come from all directions. For sure. So tell me about this award. Did you know that you had been nominated? And, you know, what was your reaction when you found out then that you won?
Well, the, the process is such that you have to accept the nomination. So I knew I was being nominated. And in fact, my nominator called me and asked if I would agree to be nominated. And, you know, my first initial reaction to that was, you know, there’s so many people that have done so much in the pandemic, like, Are you sure? And she said, Yeah, because we need to highlight education, we need to shine a spotlight on the fact that we can do that through you.
The first piece and and what was my reaction? I mean, to be honest, I was really surprised, I had looked at what the other candidates in my category had brought to the table. They were all fantastic leaders, and a trustee ship and my role is is a job to do really quietly behind the scenes. So I wasn’t sure that people would recognize, like and understand the work. Right, obviously, credit to my nominator for putting that through in a way that people understood and whoever the nominating team is, I, I need to give them more credit. Yes.
You know, one of the most interesting things, I think, with COVID, is every sector has been impacted in some really different ways. But when you look at the education sector as a whole, we kept kids in school for the most part, you know, there were some parents in favor of that, and some parents not. And as a trustee, you couldn’t when you were going to have parents upset with you, no matter which direction you went, how as the the chairperson of the board, how are you helping to manage that?
Well, April was a tough month, in the south part of the province, we had gone out and then had to go back. And, and yes, you’re right. You know, you, you couldn’t make everybody happy, and maybe happy’s, not the right word. But you know, everybody was at their own place with COVID and their own beliefs. And I really respected that. But we were tasked with making the decisions that we had to make we follow the health orders really closely. And we just really tried to say education is our business, but health is theirs, and we’re going to look towards them as the experts. I also, you know, served provincially on the scheduled School Boards Association. So along with that role, and and the way they structured things, we were kept up to date weekly on call. So, you know, those pieces where you’ve got continual information, helpful when big decisions and you know, in the end, yeah, we did get feedback from parents on both ends. So that’s but yeah, but was respectful. And I respect that. So,
You know, and I, you know, I think that’s an important rule, being able to collect that respectful feedback. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, if you’re getting screamed at you kind of stop listening. And so parents being able to feel like they were being heard, one of the things and I’ll put my parent hat on for a second. We we didn’t know what went on behind the scenes. We didn’t know if there was weekly meetings, we didn’t know if it was just email communication. And without any criticism of of my own school board. That was one piece that I would have really liked to have understood better. is absolutely make a decision, I will support you 100%. But help me understand where the information comes from to make the decision. And knowing that there had been weekly meetings, I think that would have really helped a lot of parents out, whichever side you’re on, if you want your kids in school and they’re being pulled out, or vice versa, right, just that little bit of bit of extra information. So as a board, and then even at the provincial level, how are you managing the volumes of information that that came at you probably for from some different directions, to be able to weigh it all and then make a decision that you felt good about? How did you weigh all of that?
Well, you know, there was key decision points along the way. And of course, if you take it back to the beginning of it all, the first decision to go out of school was was made by the premier back in March 2020. And so that one was it was handed to us. So how can we provide this extra learning to those who still want to be engaged, and that was tough, weren’t set up, especially in rural Saskatchewan.
So kudos to our IT department, we did a ton of lobbying around Rural Internet that helped with getting SAS tell to provide free data, things like that. So you know, it was a joint effort, the volume of information, it kind of came at it as a piece at a time. So then the next step was the back to school plan, and making sure that we could influence that and, and bring some public voice to that. You know, as a trustee, I work to bring that community voice to those decisions.
We have the education experts who I thoroughly appreciate and respect and we work closely with our Director of educational Carmen. And, and his team of education staff. Well, and every step along the way, it was like that. So we had a back to school plan. And then things changed. All of a sudden, were deciding on masking, and then masking became mandatory. And so you just kept rolling. And yeah, certainly a lot of time spent by myself and the whole team of education. People really?
Absolutely. So Janet, you strike me as a volunteer who is full of a lot of energy and passion for where you put your volunteer time. Why education? Why not the community of Montmartre, why not the rink, the hockey? how did how did you end up in education? And now spending so much time there?
Oh, that’s a good question. So back, it was the year actually before my first started school back in about 97. That I got approached to sit on the local board and I said, I don’t have kids in school yet like, and there. I had got one call two calls that the board was having to make change over they just really needed people. And the last call was was my husband’s and and I couldn’t say no. So she just is the person you say no to. So yeah, I bought on there. And it just exploded from there. I actively farm with my husband, that’s our livelihood. But I also wanted to do some other things in my life. And I needed people. And so I started I spent eight years locally. And so I’ve spent a lot of time working on my local school and what I could do to help there and then during the time of amalgamation in 2005 there was an opportunity to run for that position. And then it just became a passion once you’re in it. You you either love it or you don’t stay with it. So Exactly, yeah.
And is the position both with Perea Valley and with the Saskatchewan school boards? Are those both elected positions or just the one?
Yeah, so everything I do is elected. So I started out elected from my subdivision. So division seven, and there’s 10 communities and five schools. That’s my home. And that’s why I do this is I do it to bring their voice. And then from there. I’ve been privileged to be elected by the board that I serve on Prairie Valley to the chairperson of that board. That’s nine, I think nine consecutive and I served as chair and vice chair previously. And then from there, I ended up kind of getting lobbied and asked to serve provincially. So I’ve in my ninth year serving the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, and I’d represent six boards on that the provincial body and I think I counted in total, I would have put my name on a ballot for Well, let my name stand for 21 election sometimes you were claimed sometimes you were elected, so Okay.
So take me back to that first election because I actually think that that’s a real strength for anyone who’s willing to put their name on a ballot. That is itself takes courage. It’s a little bit like that popularity contest back in high school. So take me back there like what did it feel like the first time you’re like, Okay, sure. I’ll put my name on a ballot.
Well, okay, so true can true confession here I ran in 2003 in the first rural amalgamations and I didn’t win that election. There we go. Then I was kind of done. I did the thing. I did brochures and whatever. And then in 2005, the promise province decided to further amalgamate. And then I thought, we were in a totally different grouping of communities and sometimes small town communities. It’s not who you are, but where you’re from. Yes, exactly. Like that. And then the next grouping of communities, I thought, okay, I’ll take a stab at it. Again, I really wanted to, I just had a passion to bring some voice.
So in 2005, I ran and I won that election. And, you know, and I said this before, being a female leader is difficult. And and there is a stat that says, you have to be asked like four to seven times to run for anything. Ah, okay. That’s certainly you know, every time I decide to put my name forward, in any of my capacities, I always have that hesitation, can I should I? Am I the person that can get the job done? So you hesitate. And that’s, I could say something to all the female leaders out there, you should try and you should do it and you’re worthy of a position. You just got to convince yourself. So,
You know, I think sometimes we’re our own biggest obstacle, convincing ourselves that, yeah, I could do a really good job at something. Because there’s always plenty of people out there who will tell you, Oh, you don’t want to Oh, it’s hard. It’s time consuming. There’s plenty of reasons not to. But that drive has to come from inside. And it’s quite clear that, you know, it really comes from inside for you. If you’re thinking
And say one more thing is I have I like to do stuff for people. And that’s what you know, in this capacity you’re doing right? But when you have to go out and say to somebody, can you vote for me? Can you sign my nomination? That’s the hard part is you’re actually asked me somebody else do something for you? Yeah. So it’s really for the greater good? Yes. The hard part is like, can you support me? And I? Oh, it’s so hard.
So how many of those signatures did you have to get in those early days when you were
It’s changed now? I think it’s 10. On your to be elected to the school board. And okay. It’s two for the provincial body? I think so.
Okay. And so is that where you sort of tap into family and friends? And you know, hey, you know, can you give me a hand getting this ball rolling? Before we get into full election and the posters in the lawn signs, and…
Well, I’m in my subdivision, which, of course, is what puts me in any position, I right from the get go said, if I’m going to represent all these communities, I need names from every community. So like, my subdivision spans from McLean down to Sedley over to Montemartre, Vibank’s in their couples in there. So I made a point to get a signature from every somebody from every one of those communities. More difficult at the start, because I didn’t know many people, but now, I you know, on my school community council members, you know, the chairs often, and if I feel like, if they will give me their signature, then I must, then I’m good to run. If they’re hesitant, you know, then I’m not really the person anymore. So yeah.
What will happen after COVID? Are we going to see some fairly significant board turnover across the province, just because so many board members will have been burned out? What do you think will happen?
Well, you know, unfortunately, we were at the very beginning of our term, we had elections in October. So just in our first year of four years, okay, so maybe the benefit is we will, you know, we’ll get past this. And then, I mean, the other thing, I really feel bad for the new board members, because they really haven’t experienced trusteeship at all, yet he opted to, to stick it out working from home, a lot of conversation about if all the educational leaders end up out because of COVID. Right, you know, that’s not a good place to be. So we often work from home, they haven’t experienced life as a trustee as we know what and great and it was difficult. So I hope that the next three years after this one’s done, we will we’ll get back into the regular and get back into that. What can we change in the system.
Get back to the job of improving education versus really just trying to maintain some sort of education level. One of the things Again, as a parent, but I would expect as a trustee as well, we’re always thinking about the quality of the education and future, right? And so okay, what happens if they miss three months in one year? What happens if they miss three months, two years in a row, right. And we start to do that math in our head. As a parent, we had one child who continued to stay in person in the classroom whenever that was allowed. And we had one child who went online. And so of course, the child who was online, well, she felt ripped off because she never, you know, got this time off as she perceived it to be, were the one who was in the classroom and then had to come online, he was able to do his online work in like, two hours in the day because there was no recess. No phys, Ed, none of the hallway passing like he was done record.
So I watched my two kids and the interaction and my daughter, because she was so in routine with online school. Like, she did school from nine till four every day. And that was just her routine. But she watched her brother and she’s like, somehow this did not work out for me. Right. Now, I do have to credit the online school that we chose the see the quality of the work, the the the depth of learning that was presented, I was very impressed with it. online school did not end up to go nearly as well as we would have liked. But but the subject matter was really there. Of course, the social side falls down in a situation like that. Absolutely.
So how do you perceive that these next few years will look with all of our brand new trustees, or many that are brand new to the positions? What is going to start to change? Is there still funding questions like what’s that top agenda items?
Unknown Speaker 16:51
Well, there’s a few things that come to mind. So first, we got to get our kids back to school. And and we really believe that we believe in the system, we believe that a teacher in front of students is is a really good place for kids to be. And I do respect, there’s some kids, because of their own challenges, they need to have access to a different type of learning. So that aside, most kids really need that interaction to day basis. Yes, we got to get back into buildings, we’ve lost some kids, we’ve lost some vulnerable kids that we need to get back. So we’re talking about, you know, how do we attract kids back and we need to start with First things first, we’ve listened to a lot of Kevin Cameron sessions. And he talked about relationships, and we need to make school fun, and and make sure it’s really attractive.
So that’s First things first, you know that we’re going to move through the pandemic. But it’s going to be a word in education for a very long time, unfortunately, because yes, right? You know, kids have missed some significant blocks of learning. What we want people to understand is, we got this and we’re gonna take it slow. We don’t expect the kid that’s going into grade three to be in the first month of grade three, you know, every child that we know, right? It’s not possible, but we’re gonna miss the educators to get them there. And we’re going to take it a step at a time. That’s all we can do.
So Janet, just let me interrupt, though, for a second. So when you say you’ve lost some kids, do you mean just from COVID? Or are you expecting that some kids will stay online, even though the seemingly most serious part of the crisis with COVID has passed?
Unknown Speaker 18:33
Well, I can’t It’s hard to predict the future potentially might, some might stick with an online option. I think our biggest worry is the vulnerable kids that just didn’t engage and percentage of our school population that we have to continually work on to engage. And we were doing really good with attendance and alert systems to get them in school. And so now we have to get them back. And yes, we need to get kids graduating. So and then the second part of that question is, we have what’s called a provincial education plan.
I co chaired the committee that went out and sought feedback from across the province on on what a new plan would look like, hit. And so now we have an interim provincial education plan, because that plan was supposed to roll out, we had to pause it. And now we have to look at Okay, where are we at? So now we’re going to look at a few things that we need to accomplish in this next year, and then we’re going to get to our main plan and get on with the future. Got it? Less this weekend.
Okay. Yes,that makes much more sense to me then. Absolutely. So, how many years do you think you will continue to volunteer the way you do? Wait a second, but we back up for a second, how many hours either on a weekly basis or on a monthly basis? Do you volunteer right now.
You know, I’ve often thought I should write it down or the end of the week. It’s a lot. You know, the meeting part is one part. And then it’s all the phone calls and all the emails and all that. I probably work two thirds time, maybe there’s times when it’s maybe half time. But the thing that a really big mentor of mine always said, You can’t count it in time, because it’s always on your mind.
So when you’re going through really big things, it doesn’t leave you see, don’t just put it away and then go do your regular life and your regular business. So it’s just there. It’s not like a job where you go, and then you come home, and then you have your free time. So Exactly. Yeah. I mean, I don’t have any plans for an exit plan. I mean, we always contemplated at the end of a four year term, because you have to decide Are you going to get those nominations again, and this is a bad time to ask because a fan demick.
We didn’t even we didn’t, you know, typically we take February break, we tell all our stuff, go have a holiday, we have a holiday, we take Easter break. This year, we took no breaks, we took Christmas, I didn’t have any meetings for a couple weeks. And then the rest of the time, all of a sudden, we were like at meetings, no matter what it was, it was like, you guys, we haven’t taken at any time to just decompress. So I’m going to that. July we we paused like we’re said, Okay, well, meetings in July, senior leaders need a break, our school staff will be on a break. And we’re going to take July.
So then we’ll wrap up back in August. And I mean, they’ll still be stuff. I know there will be but scheduled meetings.
Right, exactly. And sometimes that’s part of it. And you know, interestingly, of course, our restrictions are changing over the summer. And so you almost need to take July off either way, just to see how it’s all going to sort out, you’re not going to be able to make any decisions until you know what happens with the restrictions. Do they stay in place? Does anything happen with this new Delta variant? Like there’s, there’s a number of questions that are out there, that it might be the week before school again, before you can get back to anything on those decisions anyway?
Unknown Speaker 22:15
Well, the good thing this year is we’re sticking with the level. So you would have seen like level one means this level two means this so we don’t get this great that from now we know like, well, you’re exactly right. We’re gonna wait till August, you’re crossing our fingers. we’re optimistic and wonderful. Not we’ll pick a level what we have to do. Yeah, exactly.
Yes. Janet, we only have a couple of minutes left. Can you can you talk to our audience. And if someone else is either interested in being a trustee or really has a passion for education, or anything else that benefits the community? Where do they start? What like, what is that first step when you’ve got that burning desire?
Unknown Speaker 22:58
Well, this is how I started, I started locally. And so I always tell parents, every parent should serve one term or one year on a school community council, start there, you’ll learn a lot, you’ll benefit your own kids, your bit of taste and a passion. And then from there, you just need to have that in you that you you want to serve.
And, like I love bringing the voice of the communities that I serve into the education sector. And, you know, we have a thing we call a public voice and publicly funded education. And that’s my role. I really firmly believe that education belongs to community. So if you have it in you, if you really believe that parents should have a role, we almost lost parent voice in education, and we had to work to get that, to sustain that, across the country are starting to, to look out Do we really need elected trustees? And oh, forever, because it’s so fun to be your voice and, you know, you get to pick your person, you can decide you, if you like a job, you want to better find somebody else that’s, you know, the funding principle of democracy. So, you know, just just be that voice if you can do that for your communities.
It’s, I mean, I spent a lot of time I’ve volunteered a lot of time but what I got back and the growth and even as a person you can’t, I could have never got that in my regular everyday life. Exactly.
Wow. I had no idea that was happening at the national level. So that will be kind of an hot issue to you know, just kind of keep track of..
Unknown Speaker 24:42
Well it’s been happening for years some provinces lost the right to elected school boards. And Manitoba right now is in the in the midst of it. So if you look that up, you’ll see that they’re in a big battle there. It might not have trustees. But towards the end of this year if they don’t win the fight.
One last question, Janet. So just really quickly before we wrap up, if someone would like to reach out with you or reach out to you, is that okay? And how would they contact you?
Unknown Speaker 25:10
Yeah, anytime I can tell, I just love to talk about education. So you can reach out to me at my email at Janet.kotylak, just as my name is spelt on the screen @pvst.ca So it’s prairie Valley school email@example.com. And, or you can, you can call me at home at 424 2210.
There we go. Did I get it right on the screen?
Yes, you did.
Okay, perfect. Because this is the wrong time to get it wrong. Perfect. Hi. Good. All right. I will wrap up, wrap us up then. So thank you, Janet, for being here with me today. And congratulations again on your award. I find the opportunity each year to talk to the award recipients just one of my favorite parts of doing this podcast. So thank you to you and congratulations.
Well, good luck, and thanks for having me.
If you’d like to be a guest on the show, you can email me at BB at Google girl dot t or reach out on Facebook and Instagram at abovethefold. ca. Just a reminder, you can even submit questions in advance of our live show on the Facebook page. So I’m your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl.
Remember, you worked hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.
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Today’s guest exemplifies community action and volunteerism. Janet Kotylak is the winner of the 2021 YWCA Women of Distinction Community Action Award.
Since 1997, she’s been a School Board Trustee, listening to the voices of parents around her division.
A partner on a family farm, mother, entrepreneur and community activist, Janet has much to say about the state of education in our province. Tune in to learn more!