One memory that Rosemarie Buchanan can clearly recall from her 22 years on the School District 70 board of trustees is a meeting at the Eighth Avenue Learning Centre eight years ago.
“I looked up, and there were boxes of yarn,” she described.
After learning that there were plans for a weekly knitting group at the school, she immediately jumped on board. The knitting group meets every Wednesday afternoon and is now in its eighth year.
“It’s not about the knitting,” Buchanan says. “It’s about conversation. Some of these students go through such challenging situations, but they still graduate.
“That has absolutely been one of the highlights for me.”
In April of this year, Buchanan received a “Life Membership” from the BC School Trustees Association, in recognition of her combined 22 years on the SD70 school board. The membership is given to every trustee that is part of the association for 21 years.
Buchanan described the school board as her “niche” in the community.
“I’m not just doing it as a stepping stone,” she said. “It’s about longevity. I guess that translates into the fact that voters have some faith in me.”
She ran for school board for the first time in 1980 “kind of on a whim.” A previous trustee had resigned, and Buchanan ran in the resulting by-election. A friend offered to help run her campaign, and she recalls standing outside of the mill gates, handing out leaflets.
“I was elected, much to my surprise,” she said.
Buchanan was 25 years old at the time of her election, making her one of the youngest trustees in Canada.
Buchanan had attended high school in Alberta in the late ’60s and early ’70s and didn’t have a positive experience. “I didn’t like high school,” she said. “Things have changed a lot now. But I just thought no kid should leave public education feeling bitter about it.”
This was most of the thought behind her decision to run for school board for the first time.
“Now that I’m 63, I realize I’m never going to please everybody all the time,” she laughed.
She is retired now, after a career working in human services and running her own business (Alberni Valley Clean Team).
“I loved doing it, it was just time for me to retire,” she said. “I certainly have more time to do stuff, and I like that.”
Buchanan’s 22 years on the school board have been broken up throughout four decades, as she spent almost 10 years working across the border in Massachusetts in the late ’90s and early 2000s. All that time means that she brings a great deal of history to the board—she has witnessed many changes in public education over the years.
“It’s great to see how education has evolved over the last four decades,” she said. “Sitting in a class of rows…that doesn’t work for all kids. Education has been adapted to more suit the individual,” she added. “Everybody’s brain is different.”
She laughed, recalling her feelings when she was younger about all the “old, retired” people on school board. “Now that I’m one of the old, retired people, I get it,” she said. “When you’re working full-time and supporting a family, it’s tough to be as involved as you’d like to be.”
Her favourite part of being on the school board is attending the graduations at ADSS and Eighth Avenue Learning Centre every year.
“You know that all those students have worked really hard,” she said. “Especially when you hear their lofty goals. You see what so many people are heading off to do, and it’s nice to have that injection of success.”
She added with a laugh, “It’s like you put a bunch of ingredients together and put it in the oven and hope it’s a cake.”
The school board will be holding another election in October this year, and Buchanan said she plans to run again.
“There are some things I want to see through,” she explained.