‘Disheartening’ cut

Dear Editor:

An open letter to the trustees of the Upper Grand District School Board.

I was disheartened to learn that the board has cut the Environmental sustainability lead position in the budget. This effectively stops the board’s investment in student education and school action for environmental sustainability beyond the small components in the curriculum.

In this critical moment in history, decisive climate action is required. Every student needs the skills and knowledge to work and live in a new low-carbon economy. Student education and school action for environmental sustainability is crucial.

Cutting this position misses the “systems thinking” connection that environmental sustainability is about the future of every job, the future of the economy and the future of education.

You sit on a fiscally responsible board with many millions in a “rainy day” fund that was created to provide exactly this kind of protection.

Greta Thunberg said it was her teachers who opened her understanding of climate change and how we need to fight for the future we want. This is the job of education – to open the minds of our children. But without a strategic focus on this, without setting an example – as adults, as an educational institution – we are not doing that job.

I have been so proud of what the UGDSB has done under your leadership over the last eight years. The board developed a strategy, engaged a staff committee, set priorities and invested in leadership in environmental sustainability initiatives. The board rose to the top of all public boards with that approach. Even last week the board boasted “100% of schools in the Upper Grand DSB certify as an EcoSchool for the second year in a row!” But now is not the time to pump the brakes, it is time to drive on.

To abandon this winning formula and return to the laisse faire, “teachers can do it when they have time” strategy, is a huge step back. It leaves the legacy of all your good work to chance. I ask you, when was the last time that any strategic priority succeeded without clear time-based targets, without the time and resources to achieve them and without clear accountability and transparency? Never. Where is your plan? The resources? The accountability and transparency?

Climate change is a force that will have our full and undivided attention in the end. The only question that remains is whether our students will be prepared for their role in meeting this challenge. Losing the environmental sustainability leadership at the board feels like a huge step backward when we ought to be charging full ahead.

In the words of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I do. Every day. And want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Kathryn Cooper,