In conversation with Caleigh Saucier, new chair of the EMSB Parents Committee
Newly elected as chair of the English Montreal School Board Parents Committee, Caleigh Saucier comes into the position with an impressive history of parent involvement .
For nine years, on and off, Ms. Saucier has been a parent volunteer, attending monthly meetings of the EMSB Parents Committee (PC), which she now chairs. She started out on the Parent Participation Organization (PPO) at Sinclair Laird Elementary School in Park Extension, from the time her son started Kindergarten until Grade 4. She continued the PPO work at Parkdale Elementary School in St. Laurent, where he graduated. She helped form its Governing Board, where she was chair for one year and delegate for another, as well as assuming the position of its parent delegate for three years.
Ms. Saucier’s son, 13, is currently in his second year at Marymount Academy International in NDG, where she sits on its Governing Board. She is also president of CSAssurance et Associés, where she works as a financial securities advisor and damage insurance broker. She is also mother three year old twin girls.
We asked Caleigh Saucier some questions about what motivated her to take on this highest level in parental involvement in school governance and what she hopes to accomplish during her one-year mandate.
Why did you run for the position of chair of the Parents Committee?
I attended the large PC meeting, which was done on Zoom. It’s not always easy to be heard in a videoconference, but it was here that I became committed to making sure that every single person – who takes time away from their family to come to that table to speak for the parents at their school – is really heard. I feel in my position I can make that possible. I don’t have any motivations of being on any of the committees, other than to make sure the future of the children eligible to go to English school have English schools to go to, and that the population is well represented. That’s all I want: to have the voices heard; to make sure our children are treated fairly; and that our grandchildren and their grandchildren still have an EMSB school to go.
Did something in particular spur you to move to this higher level of engagement, for example any of the provincial bills affecting education that the EMSB is currently arguing in court?
No, it was really to have the parents’ voices heard. The government can pass bills or not pass them. My view on the bills is that the law will be in good faith, de bonne foi. That’s my assumption, right or wrong. However, my purpose to coming to that table is to make sure everyone there who wants to put in time, contribute, say something – that we’re able to hear them, that we’re able to help. We have huge agendas and many things to cover at these meetings, but it’s also an opportunity to learn from parents from other schools – what’s working, what’s not – so we can be in a position to offer solutions. It’s community – we’re help to help each other, west or east, north or south.
I want to see this community growing. There’s no reason why we should be losing schools. Aside from eligibility, there’s no reason to go outside what I consider the best English school board. When you look at our numbers, our students are doing really well. It should encourage people to come to the English sector, if they can. Why aren’t you here? We can have Français Plus; we have French Immersion, English Core. We have schools in every sector; class sizes are good; activities are good. I haven’t seen a school in the EMSB that isn’t welcoming and that isn’t a safe place for a child to go. For me, it makes sense to be here, and do my best to make sure parents’ and stakeholder voices are heard.
What would you like to accomplish during your term?
I’m concentrating on having voices heard. It seems to be a different environment this year. It’s been great so far. As much as COVID-19 is an issue, this pandemic has brought us back to the basics. What’s important? It’s the basics: Health, family, enjoyment of life, education. My view of these times is that it’s been a humbling human experience. People seem to take less things for granted.
What are some of the challenges you are ready to tackle in this job (if you call it a job)?
This is definitely a job! It takes time each day. There are lengthy meetings and connecting with people, and we do this on Zoom, which makes it efficient. At the moment, there is a lot of waiting for answers – school shut-downs, air filters, for example. When we get it, we’ll want to digest that information and figure out how can we make the best of the situation and how do we keep our children safe, our teachers safe, our communities safe. Once we have some answers, we’ll need to turn our attention to next year’s enrolment and how we can boost our numbers – which is a topic every year.
Though early in your tenure as chair, what is satisfying about working in this role?
In an in-person meeting, you can’t necessarily see everyone’s faces and expressions, but because we’re meeting on Zoom, I can see people’s expressions. I can see when they’re passionate about something! I can actually have the opportunity to hear, see, understand – these are not necessarily things we had time for in physical meetings. The first official meeting in November was so efficient. I made enough time on the agenda to hear from each individual about their school. It was really a wonderful experience. Regardless of who sits in this position next, even 20 years from now, I hope that the Parents Committee continues to take the time – even if it’s extra time – to really make sure every person around the table has an opportunity to speak.
How is it going, meeting in a Zoom call instead of the traditional large, in-person meetings?
It’s not always easy to stand up in a big room in front of many people to say something: People are murmuring in the background; texting each other across the room; someone gets up for coffee. In a videoconference call, all that background noise has been muted. Noise and distractions were not problems. Everyone who wanted to listen to every word had the opportunity to really hear what someone else was saying. At a regular physical meeting, you can blend in, observe, not say anything. At this meeting, it gives you no choice – you have to talk, you have to tell us something: what school and area are you coming from? What are you passionate about? Every single person attending can really take in that information and hear from others. If I do nothing else but go through the agenda the rest of the year, that’s a win for me. Because we’ve never successfully done that.
How have you organized the sub-committees this year?
We’ve formed sub-committees with people who are passionate in certain areas. Everyone here seems to have the best interests in mind for all the children. For example, if one parent can figure out virtual enrolment so that no other parent has to camp out for registration, they will have contributed to a better way of doing things. The parents on the sub-committees have a passion about the topic, and some have the background to support their work. All are willing to go the extra time for all EMSB families. They’ll have their own meetings and present back to the PC, which is monthly. Normally all those meetings would be done in person. I don’t know about others, but with my business and my kids, it’s not always physically possible to be outside my house in the evening. Virtual meetings save participants from commuting, whether sitting in traffic in your car or taking public transport, to the meetings. We’re volunteers! In my personal experience, the balance is so much better. I can be having a meeting at the office, or at home. Depending on the situation, I can be on my laptop at home listening to someone while cutting up vegetables. My kids are happy I’m at home. I don’t have to drag my son to the meetings!
The sub-committees this year include making the parent conference virtual, and a subcommittee for enrolment, making it easier for parents to register. Another one is for high school and for elementary schools – equally split between west and east – to see how we can better promote them.
Information on the EMSB Parents Committee
The EMSB Parents Committee (PC) represents all parents at every EMSB school. Its members are made up two delegates from the Governing Board of each school, which is made up of parents elected by their school’s general assembly. These are volunteer positions. The chair of the PC is elected at the general assembly of the Parents Committee by the parent delegates and serves in the role for a one-year term. The PC currently represents the families of more than 19,000 youth sector students.