School trustees step down, new trustees acclaimed

The Hanover School Division’s Ward 1 district will see a complete shuffle in trustee leadership on election day, October 26. The Ward 1 district includes schools in Niverville, New Bothwell, Kleefeld, and on the Crystal Springs Hutterite colony.

Shannon Friesen served two terms as trustee for Ward 1. Carisa Klassen filled the second trustee seat for the most recent four-year term.

Neither trustee chose to put their hats in the ring for another term.

Two new candidates have stepped up to fill those seats. They are Jeff Friesen of the Kleefeld area and Dallas Wiebe of Niverville. With no additional contenders as of September 20, both Friesen and Wiebe have been elected by acclamation.

Jeff Friesen

Friesen is a fourth-generation farmer on a parcel of land just west of Kleefeld. He’s been married to his wife Janet for 31 years. Together they are parents of five and grandparents to one with another on the way.

“Choosing to run for trustee of HSD wasn’t a difficult choice for me,” Friesen says. “I’ve always had an interest in our kids’ education. Now, having grandkids, it’s important to build on the good foundations of the past in our schools. We must focus on true connection in community and with the parents and students. I want all of our Hanover schools to be a place where parents want their children to be.”

For Friesen, volunteerism is a way of life. He’s currently a member of the Parent Advisory Council and sits on the board of the Roseau River Bible Camp. For the past decade, he’s also coordinated and coached softball in southeast Manitoba.

Dallas Wiebe

Wiebe is also a farmer by trade, working his land surrounding Niverville. Spring flooding and prolific amounts of summer rain keeps Wiebe working round the clock on his fields much later into fall this year.

His decision to run for school trustee was a last minute one. He was encouraged by close friends, he says, who must have recognized in him the ability to do the job well. He is a father of four children who all attend school locally.

“I did my homework on what was involved [in trustee work] and here we are,” Wiebe says.

Shannon Friesen

Friesen says she has personal reasons for not running for a third term, but it wasn’t an easy decision to make. She loved every aspect of her role as trustee and enjoyed the strong connections she built over the years.

She adds that her respect and admiration for HSD staff at every level was only reinforced during the challenging years of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I am so grateful for all the staff in HSD in their various positions,” Friesen says. “The dedication, care, and adaptation each one has made to help support our students and families during this time was appreciated beyond measure. I have always wanted the best educational learning environment for our students and I believe this was truly tested these past few years.”

Thankfully, she says, some years prior to the pandemic the board decided to invest in up-to-date technology for their schools. Other investments were made which would provide greater educational supports for students who struggled with learning either physically, mentally, or emotionally.

These investments, she says, paid off in a big way during the many months of the pandemic.

“We all know mental health is a big part of our society and I am glad to see our division and province addressing this area,” Friesen says.

Friesen says she her role as advocate between the schools and families very seriously, working hard to help build good communications between them. One big highlight of her last term in office was the completion of the Niverville High School.

“My passion for making our school community a healthy and exciting learning environment will never stop,” Friesen concludes. “I want to wish all the new trustees well in their new roles and continue to encourage trustees to remember all of our kids when decisions are made around the board table.”

Carisa Klassen

Klassen, too, admits to wrestling with the decision on whether to run for trustee again, but in the end a new career calling won out. Klassen has decided to pursue her master’s degree in counselling.

“My heart is still in it,” says Klassen. “I would never [dismiss] the idea of running [for trustee] again in the future because I really value the relationships that I made.”

For Klassen, the majority of her term as trustee was coloured by the pandemic. Added to the hardship of navigating constantly changing provincial guidelines, she says, was the struggle HSD administration had when faced with such a vast array of opinions and pressures coming from parents throughout the division.

From her trustee perspective, she witnessed firsthand the passion HSD leadership had for providing the best possible education to the region’s students. It’s more than just lip service, she says.

“The biggest thing I learned is, what I thought I knew before [I became trustee], I realized that I knew very little when it comes to education,” Klassen says. “[We all] really have to put trust and faith in the people who are the professionals.”

Klassen viewed her role as trustee as that of bridge-builder, helping to improve communications between students and teachers and teachers and the division.

“I think I was able to change some narratives from negative to positive and to give people a different perspective,” she says. “So that part of changing the way that people view things, that was probably the most satisfying [part of my job].”

Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen