Chair Larry Huibers could not attend the meeting in person, and outgoing vice-chair Dan Moody, who ran for city council in Niagara Falls, did not attend. In their absence, outgoing trustee Leanne Prince moved to have the Board’s two longest-serving trustees – Kathy Burtnik (28 years) and Frank Fera (22 years) – neither of whom sought re-election – sit as Chair and Vice-Chair one last time.
The public meeting had a light agenda, so much of the meeting focused on the outgoing trustees.
Director of Education Camillo Cipriano spoke of the history of the gift of Catholic education, and the important role trustees play in the governance of our board and in ensuring Catholic education is strong and viable in the future.
Frank Fera spoke about the core of a school board – students – and about the obligation trustees have to follow the teachings of the Church and live by Gospel values. He also spoke about key moments in his more than 20 years as a trustee, including the expansion of Sacred Heart school, eliminating a portable compound at St. John Henry Newman school, and naming St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Elementary School in Niagara Falls.
Leanne Prince was visibly emotional as she spoke about her four years as a Niagara Catholic trustee. She thanked her colleagues and the current and previous senior leadership teams for their support and encouragement. “I walked in four years ago very scared and unsure, and while I’m emotional right now, they’re good emotions because I’ve had a wonderful time building Catholic education in Niagara to where it is now … and I wish the new iteration of the board the best of luck building on our success as we built on the success of our predecessors.”
Joining Larry Huibers in attending virtually was outgoing trustee Dino Sicoli. He spoke about the privilege of having served as a Niagara Catholic trustee for 12 years, likening himself to George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life. “I am indeed the richest man in the world.”
In continuing, Mr. Sicoli noted: “My goal was always to spread the faith, make a positive contribution, and make a difference. In retrospect on the past 12 years, the best part of being a Catholic trustee for me was meeting amazing people. I worked with them, celebrated milestones at schools and Board events and together we faced challenges that made us stronger and wiser.”
Mrs. Burtnik spoke last and was also emotional as she noted that she was “ill-prepared for this moment,” despite making the decision not to stand for re-election. She reflected on how she is filled with gratitude, saying “the emotion behind them is larger than I am.”
She thanked the voters of St. Catharines for their ongoing support and allowing her to help “bring their children closer to Christ,” noting it was not always an easy task given conflicting needs. “Finding that middle ground has been both a joy and a challenge,” she said.
Mrs. Burtnik also thanked current and past student trustees “for the wisdom you bring to the table. We think we know the lives of our students. You know it, you live it, you breathe it, you represent them with such passion, and I implore you please, speak loud, speak often, because your voice is the voice that really matters at this table.”
Wrapping up, Mrs. Burtnik thanked current and past senior leadership teams, the current administrative assistant to the Board, Anna Pisano – as well as her predecessors – as being the rock of the Board and thanked her family for sacrificing the time spent away from them.
“We are called to bring Christ to life in everyone we meet, and I pray that I have been able to do that,” she said. “There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of Catholic trustees serving this province over time, and my prayer is that long after my time, there will be thousands more, and that says Catholic education is alive and well. Thank you … and I look forward to supporting Niagara Catholic in any way that I can moving forward. It has been an honour.”