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Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board chair Jessica Brennan joins trustee exodus

Eleven-year incumbent set to lend her voice to a new career

ByRichard Leitner, News Staff

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is losing its lead voice – in more ways than one – to music.

Board chair Jessica Brennan is the seventh trustee to bow out of this fall’s municipal election, ensuring the board will match its biggest political shakeup since 2006.

The 11-year Dundas trustee said although a number of people have urged her to run for city council, she wants to pursue her other career as a voice teacher, a passion never hidden at board meetings, where she’s often led off the singing of O Canada.

“I have often had in my life the tension between community service and music, and at different times I’ve given a little bit more of my life to one than the other,” Brennan said.

“I’m going to be 61 at the end of August and I am coming to the end of a number of years of study in music that will allow me to be a certified voice teacher for the Royal Conservatory of Music, and I want to give that a shot.”

Other trustees also not running in the Oct. 27 vote include Judith Bishop and Tim Simmons in the lower city, Lillian Orban and Laura Peddle on the Mountain, Shirley Glauser in Stoney Creek and Flamborough’s Karen Turkstra.

Brennan said she’s announcing her intentions now to encourage others to run for what will now be trustee for both Dundas and ward 14 as a result of this year’s decision to merge the two areas and give Waterdown’s Ward 15 its own trustee.

So far the race has one candidate, Ancaster resident Bob Maton, a retired social worker who ran for trustee in wards 11 and 12 in 2006 and for the Family Coalition Party in Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale in the 2011 provincial election.

“It’s time for fresh energy,” Brennan said, calling her time on the board a “wonderful” experience.

“I really feel I’ve been part of a real difference in Hamilton for public education, in Dundas and in the province.”

Brennan is leaving as Parkside High School is preparing to close after merging with Highland, renamed Dundas Valley Secondary School and undergoing $15 million in upgrades.

She said although she hasn’t fulfilled her goal of saving Parkside from closure – one she ran on when first elected in 2003 – she believes students are far better off than they would have been back then.

At the time, a provincial supervisor appointed by the Progressive Conservative government simply proposed to shutter Parkside and shift students to Highland.

Brennan said given that trustees were determined to close one of the schools, her first choice would have been to rebuild at Highland, but only Turkstra backed that option.

“This is a very good second choice,” she said, praising Dundas Valley staff for working hard to ensure a smooth transition.

“They are doing everything to focus on the individual student and making them welcome and feeling safe and secure.”

Although she will be soon be out of the political spotlight for the first time in 17 years – she ran for the NDP federally in 1997 and provincially in 1999 and 2000 – Brennan said she will remain active in other roles.

These including being a member of the Dundas Rotary Club, the DARTS board and the city’s committee against racism.

Brennan said she also plans to advocate for musical education at the school board and work behind the scene advising political candidates, especially those who are “members of groups that are traditionally marginalized and disadvantaged.”

“There’s tons to do – tons, tons, tons to do,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it all.”

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