Citing health issues, longtime Halton Hills public school board trustee and former Halton District School Board chair Ethel Gardiner announced Wednesday she won't be seeking re-election in November. Gardiner was recently diagnosed with cancer. "That will be my battle for the next little while," said the 69-year-old Georgetown resident, who will continue on as trustee until her term ends. The decision not to run for a fifth term was a difficult one, but Gardiner said it was the only choice she could make at this time. She added, however, she hasn't ruled out the possibility of running as a trustee candidate again in the future or being a school volunteer. "I plan to be back and involved in schools at some point," said Gardiner, who was 90 per cent sure she was going to seek re-election in Wards 1 and 2 (Acton) before she learned of her illness. "I'd like to thank the people of Halton Hills for their support, encouragement and trust over the years," said Gardiner. She said it's been an honour to serve Halton Hills for the last 11 years as trustee. "(Trustees) must be committed to public education that serves all children and advocate tenaciously for the success of every student. Over the past 50 years, 39 as an educator and 11 years as a trustee, including six years serving as the board's chair, I have learned a great deal. My life has been enriched by the fabulous people I have met, and I thank them for that."
After retiring from teaching in June 1995, Gardiner was first elected as Halton Hills trustee that October. "I had been involved in education all my life. To me it was just an opportunity to keep involved and be supportive of kids and public education." In 1997, Gardiner was elected by the other trustees to serve as the board's chair, a position she held for six consecutive years until 2003, earning her the distinction of being HDSB's longest-serving chair. While she said it was an honour to serve as chair, "my work in Halton Hills was more near and dear to my heart." Gardiner said she remembers when she started as a trustee it seemed like there were 85 different boards of education in Halton with the schools all on different pages. She said today, the strength of the Halton board system is that "we're all focused on the same thing"-- numeracy, literacy, school culture and improving student achievement." She has had many highlights over the past 11 years. "Anytime I could get into a school to see the great work that's happening or attend some event that the school was presenting those were always highlights," she said. An achievement she is proud of has been seeing an elementary school built in Georgetown South and another in the planning stages. "There was a lot of advocacy for that," she said. The fact that a study process for a proposed renovation at Georgetown
District High School has been initiated, Gardiner said is something she was very pleased to see. Gardiner is also proud that the board was able to maintain the property behind McKenzie-Smith Bennett School for community and school use. "That was one of the biggest fights I had. I think it was important to be able to do that." Another major highlight for Gardiner came in 2004 when she received the Dr. Harry Paikin Award of Merit (a provincial award) for outstanding service as a public school trustee. Other memorable events she said were Ethel's Run in which she did a lap around the track and, through staff and student pledges, raised $15,000 for Variety Village West, and annual events that highlight the exceptional work of staff and students such as Halton Music Festival and the Skills Competition. Along with the high points, Gardiner said there have also been
some lows over the years. She said the current composition of the board tops that list. "It's a school board that does not work together and does not serve school children." "A low point for me was Dr. Dusty Papke leaving as director as well as two other key staff who provided much direction to our system." She also remembers the "mold crisis" that resulted in a lot of upheaval to Halton schools as portables had to be torn down and rebuilt. "I've not always been patient, it was a low point to see how slowly we were able to move to start to build schools," said Gardiner. An incredible low Gardiner said is "the loss of students and staff to illness or accidents," which she experienced numerous times over the past 11 years. Gardiner plans to continue on as trustee, attending every meeting and event that she can, and supporting parents and students until a new trustee is elected. And she has a recommendation for the community on who she believes should be the trustee for the (Wards 3 and 4) Georgetown area. "It is my opinion that Mike Parkhill will work tirelessly for all families in Georgetown. He is a man of integrity and wants to be a trustee for all of the right reasons." She said he's been attending most board meetings over the past year and understands the educational issues in Georgetown. "The community will be well served if he is elected."