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  • Tracy Sherlock

Getting to know VSB’s new chair Carmen Cho

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

Carmen Cho was elected chair of the Vancouver School Board in November. (Photo submitted.)

The Vancouver School Board’s new chair, Carmen Cho, says being a school trustee is her dream job.

“Being involved in something that is so personal – I have three children and all of my friends have children in schools – and something so important as public education and to be able to be a part of that and to really learn how the system actually works, and what all is involved has been incredibly gratifying,” Cho says.

Cho was elected to the position in November, after serving as the board’s vice-chair for one year. She was first elected trustee in October 2018.

So what brought her to this position?

She says it was serving on the Parent Advisory Committee at her children’s elementary school that first piqued her interest. She started helping out with the safe arrival line and hot lunches and soon found herself co-chair of the Queen Elizabeth elementary school PAC, a position she still has today, even though the youngest of her three children is now in Grade 7.

The oldest is in Grade 12 at Kitsilano secondary and a her middle child goes to Fraser Academy.

Cho was born and raised in Vancouver, attending Edith Cavell, Kerrisdale and David Lloyd George elementary schools and Churchill secondary. She went on to the University of British Columbia, where she studied biopsychology. She didn’t work in this field, but rather worked in finance, moving to Toronto in 2000. She returned to Vancouver in 2013 and before becoming a school trustee she was a stay-at-home mom.

In her spare time, she likes to try new recipes, take walks, ride an indoor bicycle or play golf or pickleball with her family. She’s also a softball coach for her daughter’s team.

She ran for school trustee under the NPA banner, which she says attracted her because of its non-partisan nature.

“I really do believe that good ideas come from everybody who is at the board table,” she says. “I think that we all bring something to the table and I’m always interested in discussion and debate with other trustees. I don’t have a particular political affiliation that I feel drives my decision making.”

She says she doesn’t have greater political aspirations.

“I’m in the place I’m meant to be,” she says.

The board she chairs is politically split with three Green trustees, three NPA trustees and one trustee each from Vision, One City and COPE.

“I think we have a very strong team of trustees. We are parents, we are former PAC members, we are educators, we are administrators, we have technology, finance and legal knowledge,” she says. “I think we bring a lot to the table.”

She wants to build on that.

“I believe in leading through teamwork, so I want everybody to be able to showcase their strength,” she says.

The VSB has its share of challenges, between overcrowding in more urban areas of the city, empty seats in older schools in less dense areas of the city, the COVID-19 pandemic, and other pressures. The biggest challenge of the job, Cho says, is trying to get all the work done.

On the other end of the spectrum are the things about being in her dream job that bring her the most joy. Before the pandemic, visiting schools was the best experience, she says.

“It reminds you why we’re doing this,” she said.

Since the pandemic hit, she has been to one socially distanced graduation and one Remembrance Day ceremony that was held on Zoom.

As vice-chair, Cho was chair of VSB’s advocacy committee, which recently sent a letter to the Ministry of Education, asking it to reinstate a chief educator position for the province. There hasn’t been a response yet, but the letter was only sent very recently, Cho says. VSB superintendent Suzanne Hoffman held the chief educator position prior to joining the district in 2018, but no one has since been announced in that position.

The VSB is undergoing a review of its school liaison police officers. The work has been contracted out, but Cho said the board wants to hear what students think about having police in schools. In some school districts across North America, police officers have been phased out of schools, due to discomfort expressed by BIPOC and other students.

“We really want to hear student voice in any decision that we make,” Cho said.

She is grateful that students have been able to be in school consistently throughout the pandemic.

“Education has fundamentally changed since the beginning of that pandemic,” Cho said. “Everybody has really pulled together to ensure that kids can go back and be safe in schools.”

Upcoming challenges for the board include creating a new anti-racism and non-discrimination strategic plan and updating the district strategic plan, Cho said.

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