By David F. Rooney
After 31 years as a trustee with School District 19 — 20 of those as chairman, Alan Chell has stepped down, relinquishing leadership to Trustee Bill MacFarlane.
“I’ve been at this a long time,” he said at the board’s regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, December 9. (Y0u can watch the board’s meeting in the video posted at the bottom of this story.) “I think the board would benefit from having a new face, a new perspective and a new leadership style. From the district’s perspective, change is sometimes a good thing.”
The board acclaimed Trustee Bill MacFarlane as its new chairman. While this is his first term as a Trustee, MacFarlane is no stranger to education or District 19. He is a retired teacher, former Revelstoke Teachers’ Association president and BCTF vice-president. He was also a City Councillor for 20 years.
“I’m a very strong supporter of our District and felt at the time (31 years ago) that I could contribute more by serving as chair,” Chell told The Revelstoke Current.. I never considered at the time that it would have turned out to be for this length of time.”
In his two decades’ tenure as chairman Chell coped with successive waves of change in Revelstoke’s school system. School populations declined drastically leading to closures and labour relations have at times been very strained. There have also been changes to the educational curriculum and new approaches to teaching. And the District’s ability to not just cope but thrive in the midst of change was undeniable.
From being just another mediocre school system with frustrated teachers and bored, lackluster students, SD 19 evolved into a model for success, boosting students’ grades, achievements and graduation rates to the point where it is now seen as a district others should emulate. Those successes, plus a productive and closer relationship with the Ministry of Education helped the board gain two amazing new school buildings for the community.
“I’ve always believed people in leadership roles should model the types of behavior you expect from others,” Chell said. “As a result, my main goals as chair have always been to be positive about our District, to be supportive of staff, to respect my colleagues and to develop provincial relationships that benefit our District. I believe our District is viewed as a model… in terms of our achievements and how we do things right and I’ve tried to do my part in working towards these targets.”
For his part, Bill MacFarlane is looking forward to the challenges of the next few years. The educational system is currently undergoing another curriculum change, enrolment continues to decline and the board would dearly like to dispose of the surplus Big Eddy, Mount Begbie and Mountain View school properties. The two men, while friends, are quite different and it will be interesting to see hw MacFarlane deals with the challenges of the nest three years. Some may look at his background and wonder how he’d handle a major strike, but he is not worried about being conflicted.
“You have to understand the role you’re playing with in an organization,” he said. “In this case it’s about resolving issues.”
Certainly Alan Chell has no qualms about seeing MacFarlane wield the gavel.
“Bill had indicated to me how much he is enjoying being a Trustee and that he was interested in serving as Chair,” he said. “He is very experienced politically, has a passion for public education and I’ll be there to support him. He doesn’t need advice from me.”
None of this means Alan Chell is stepping away from the board. He remains a trustee and is now vice-chairman. He has also been asked to assume a number of new provincial roles.
“Currently I’m involved with three provincial organizations. I am a director for the BC School Trustees Association, the vice-chair of the Public Education Benefits Trust and have been appointed to the BC Public School Employers Association Advisory Committee. Through BCSTA, I am also the liaison board representative for the Lower Mainland school districts and meet with them in a group format.”
As for the more distant future, Chell noted that “the next election is three years away and I haven’t thought that far ahead. All I know is that right now I’m proud to be a School Trustee and enjoy being part of the District team.”