Judith Bishop is doing her part to give the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board a big shakeup this fall, one she says is an opportunity for renewal.
The Ward 1 and 2 trustee, who earlier this month announced she is stepping down after 26 years in office, is the sixth of 11 incumbents to bow out of the Oct. 27 municipal election.
She joins Laura Peddle and Lillian Orban on the Mountain, Tim Simmons in Ward 3, Stoney Creek representative Shirley Glauser and Flamborough’s Karen Turkstra.
Their departure ensures the biggest turnover since 2006, when seven new trustees joined the board — although three, Peddle, Ward 8’s Wes Hicks and Stoney Creek’s Bob Barlow, were returning after a term out of office.
Bishop, who was board chair at the time, said she worked hard back then to ensure the new trustees received the background information and help to adjust to their role and make decisions.
“So long as you do it properly, you have many opportunities with a turnover,” she said. “It is a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity — new people, new ideas, fresh energy.”
While many challengers in this fall’s election are criticizing school closures, Bishop said the decisions are paying off, if slowly because of the time it takes to implement them.
She said this year’s $2 million in savings from the first three of 16 scheduled closures — Hill Park and Parkview high schools and her own area’s Prince Philip elementary — allowed trustees to expand program opportunities while still balancing the budget.
This, for her, is ultimately the choice facing the next group of trustees and those who elect them.
“Do you want your special-needs students to have resources, do you want your children to be in reasonable-sized classes, do you want programs and courses to be available, or do you want buildings to remain half-empty?” Bishop said. “There isn’t money for everything.”
While ready to take “a breather” from public life, Bishop said she will continue wearing her many volunteer hats, working on behalf of children, especially disadvantaged ones.
This includes advocating on issues like daycare, after-school programs, early childhood nutrition and better-coordinated supports for high-needs students.
“I don’t see myself not working for children and youth,” said Bishop, 72. “There’s too much to be done. Others can do the trustee work.”
First elected in 1988, the former social worker and mother of three has served in virtually every capacity since then, chairing the board five times and, most recently, guiding this year’s budget-approval process as head of the finance committee.
She said she’s most proud of her role in getting trustees to focus on student achievement, rather than the salary negotiations and operational issues that consumed them when she began her political career.
That shift has seen a substantial rise in graduation rates as the board has expanded course offerings to include hands-on programs like home construction and put an emphasis on equity, inclusion and keeping at-risk students in school, she said.
“Our duty as a school board is to find the means to make students as successful as possible,” Bishop said. “We’re doing much more for kids and there’s a much broader range of programs that are available for wider students.”
Board chair Jessica Brennan, who has yet to decide whether to run again, agreed Bishop’s biggest legacy is to create a clear alignment between trustees and the classroom, one not in place when Brennan joined the board in 2003.
The Dundas trustee said Bishop can leave knowing she’s left the board in better hands than when she began.
“She has made a huge difference,” she said.