Donna Blackburn is a confident woman. When Xtra spoke to her before the municipal elections, she was not shy about her chances of being elected onto the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB). Her first words were, “I will be elected.”
Blackburn was right. She won more than 50 percent of the votes in becoming school board trustee for Zone Three, the Barrhaven/Knoxdale-Merivale area. She beat her closest rival, Allan Halfper, by a 12-point spread.
The reality of winning has caught Blackburn in a bit of a whirlwind.
“My emotions have run the gamut, from excitement to overwhelmed, to a little bit afraid,” says Blackburn. “There is going to be a learning curve, but mine won’t be as much as some others, in the sense that I have been following the board very closely. I am familiar with how meetings work because I have been to a lot of them, and I am familiar with how the committee works because I have sat on committees. So from that perspective, I am really quite comfortable.”
Blackburn will be sworn in on Dec 1 for a four-year term. In the interim, she has wasted no time in getting to know the schools in her zone. She believes it is important that her presence is noted.
“My goal right now is to speak with as many school councils as I can before I get sworn in,” says Blackburn. “I just want people to have the sense that I am very accessible, that I want to hear what their concerns are, what their issues are, and that I will be a trustee that acts on that.”
As a trustee-elect, Blackburn has found herself in the spotlight. Not only is she the first out lesbian to sit on the board, she was also a member of a committee that examined the latest survey by OCDSB, which will be given to students in late November.
The survey, designed to help plan programs and services, is detailed and covers subjects ranging from family relationships to religion to sexual orientation. The latter has caused an outcry from some parents, who object to the intrusiveness.
Blackburn is a strong advocate of the survey and believes it will help the board spend resources in a responsible way.
She says the survey will help the board identify problem areas with respect to gay and trans students. In narrowing down the schools where students feel unsafe, the board will be able to target its resources.
“The goal… is to get hard data. So we know exactly where the issues are, so we can put the services where they are needed,” says Blackburn.
The survey is voluntary, with students having the option of filling out some questions, none of them or all of them. It is confidential and was designed with privacy in mind.
Blackburn is confident in the survey and eager to start working with the board. In the meantime, she is already receiving emails from parents voicing their concerns about various issues at the schools.