In recognition of International Women's Day on March 9, the Airdrie City View is profiling four women who hold leadership positions, in a four-article series that focuses on how these women have helped their respective organizations navigate the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether it's in the realm of business, politics, charity or public education, these four women have exemplified local leadership and demonstrated their ability to make decisions in the face of looming uncertainty.
We are continuing our series with a profile on Fiona Gilbert, the chair of the Rocky View Schools Board of Trustees. To read our profile on Lori McRitchie, the executive director of the Airdrie Food Bank, click here.
While not an Airdrie resident per se, Cochrane’s Fiona Gilbert spends a lot of time in the city as chair of Rocky View Schools’ (RVS) Board of Trustees, who hold their meetings at the public school division’s Education Centre in Windsong Heights.
Gilbert was first elected as a public school board trustee in 2013. As a parent of children in RVS and a member of her kids' school councils, she said her motivation to run in the school board election that year was what she saw as a growing disconnect between schools, the community and families.
“There was an opportunity there and a space to fill,” she said. “I had served on our school councils, as my kids entered public school around 2009, so I had been in the system for three or four years.”
After serving four years as the Ward 6 trustee, Gilbert ran for re-election in 2017, and was acclaimed. Two years into her second four-year term, she was elected among her peers to be the chair of the Board of Trustees in 2019 – a role she was re-appointed to in September 2020.
As the chair, Gilbert directs and coordinates the meetings and acts as the inter-face between the publicly-elected trustees and the division’s full-time staff.
Having been a school board trustee for nearly eight years now, Gilbert said her favourite part of the role is being able to form connections with people and learn how the public education system can be part of the community. She added she enjoys “being the voice of parents and constituents on the board, as we make decisions and bring that lens.”
Education has been one of the sectors most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. After being ordered to close its schools’ doors in March 2020, RVS had to react quickly to provide online schooling options, as students across the division shifted to learning from home for the remainder of the school year.
Amid a summer of continued uncertainty, in August 2020, RVS had to devise plans to prepare for the reopening of schools in September, while also continuing to provide online learning options for families who wished to keep their children at home.
“It's been a huge learning curve and it's been a huge undertaking of pivoting,” Gilbert said. “We kind of have to throw out all of our preconceived notions of what education is, how it needs to be provided and those sorts of things. The amount of creativity and innovation that has come out of this, I think it's been amazing.”
As the chair of the Board of Trustees, Gilbert played a first-hand role in the decisions made by the public school district during this time, such as approving staggered start dates for the 2020-21 school year and deciding how to allocate more than $9 million in federal government support.
She said the most challenging aspect of navigating the pandemic, from a public education perspective, has been making decisions based on limited information, which can change on a daily basis.
"It's been like nothing else I think anyone else could have imagined,” she said. “It was a whole new thing for everybody.”