Prince George school district in upheaval as superintendent replaced, trustees resign

A boardroom shuffle at School District 57 has seen the departure of the superintendent and two board trustees. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)
A boardroom shuffle at School District 57 has seen the departure of the superintendent and two board trustees. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)

The school district in Prince George, B.C., has been rocked by upheaval, as its superintendent has been replaced and two board trustees have resigned.

School District 57 (SD57), which covers Prince George and the communities of Mackenzie, McBride, Valemount and Hixon, serves more than 14,700 students in northern B.C.

On Friday, the district announced that superintendent Cindy Heitman had left her role and been replaced by Pam Spooner, who was previously the Indigenous assistant superintendent.

A spokesperson for the district refused to say whether Heitman, who had been in the role for 14 months, had been fired.

But on Monday, the chair of the district's parent advisory council (DPAC) said the board had decided to "remove" Heitman.

In a written statement, Laura Weller said the DPAC was "saddened and disappointed" by the decision.

"Ms. Heitman has always been available to support parents and caregivers," Weller said. "She's always been willing to engage with DPAC and parents on any topic."

7 superintendents in 7 years

Heitman declined to comment when contacted by phone.

In a statement, school board chair Rachael Weber thanked Heitman for her 28 years of service with the district.

"We remain focused on … working to ensure the district is meeting the needs of students," she added.

School District 57
School District 57

The boardroom shuffle means SD57 has had seven superintendents in seven years.

Publicly elected school boards in B.C. are responsible for the budgets and administrative priorities of schools in their districts, with superintendents effectively acting as the district's chief executive officer and ensuring that the board's priorities are handled.

Trustees resign

The replacement of Heitman as superintendent was followed by the resignation of two trustees, Betty Bekkering and Gillian Burnett.

In a fiery resignation letter, Burnett accused the school board of being "dysfunctional" and not understanding good governance.

The trustee said that the district's students were feeling welcomed due to "outstanding leadership" from Heitman, and that a performance evaluation would have backed her up.

"It is apparent that this board is not interested in receiving input from stakeholders, the public or the district staff," she wrote. "I cannot remain a part of a board of education that puts personal agendas before sound data and evidence."

In a statement Weber thanked Burnett and Bekkering for their service, and said a byelection would be held to fill their positions.

Union says teachers concerned

Daryl Beauregard, president of the Prince George District Teachers' Association, told CBC News his members were concerned by the rapid turnover of superintendents in the district.

He also added that the board may have lost institutional memory with the departure of long-serving trustees like Bekkering.

"I did get a fair amount of members contacting me on Friday," he said. "We will have [had] seven superintendents in seven years. That's not a statistic that sounds great."

However, he said he hoped the "turmoil" in the board office would not affect day-to-day operations in classrooms.

The Education Ministry said in a statement that school boards are responsible for personnel decisions.

"The Ministry of Education and Child Care's focus is supporting SD57 school board to ensure students and staff in the district have a safe, supportive and stable learning environment," a spokesperson said.