Trustee relieved new baby fits into work day
Veteran mom gets support from colleagues so she can do job, raise infant as well
By Sarah O'Donnell, Edmonton JournalJanuary 21, 2010
Edmonton Catholic school trustee Kara Pelech was a little nervous.
She had an announcement she wanted to share with her board colleagues, exciting news that had to be delivered soon: "Surprise. We're all having a baby."
Today, 16-week-old Madelyn is the tiniest member of the board, minus voting privileges of course. With a bouncy chair in the board room and a change table in the trustee office, there is no question her coos, gurgles and occasional squawks have made school board business a little more interesting and a lot more adorable. "She's a really good baby and I'm thankful for that," Pelech said as she gently bounced Madelyn on her knee. "If she'd been a crying, colicky baby, this would be a completely different scenario. You just can't bring a screaming baby to a board room, so we've been truly blessed in that aspect."
Fort Edmonton Catholic, Madelyn and her mom are something of a novelty. District officials can't recall the last time that a serving trustee had an infant. Young children, yes. But not a nursing newborn.
It has helped that Pelech and husband, Alan, are no rookies in parenting department. Madelyn has three older siblings, including 17-year-old brother Alex, nine-year-old brother Jeffery and three-year-old sister Meleena. "Your fourth, you know what works and what doesn't," she said, which is why she's temporarily added items from home like a baby swing to the school district's downtown office. "When she's fussy, it's time to leave the room for a minute and get her whatever she needs and then go back to rejoin."
While she may miss a few minute here and there, the 44-year-old is proud of the fact that she has only missed one meeting for baby-related reasons, a planning meeting in September when she was in labour.
She credits her colleagues for being helpful and receptive, despite the inevitable inconveniences and interruptions that come with an infant.
In fact, or the first several meetings after Madelyn's birth, she barely held her daughter as other trustees took turns with the brown-haired, blue-eyed baby.
"She would just be bounced around, although nobody really ran to go and change her for me," Pelech said, adding with a laugh, "I guess there's a line."
That support helped diffuse what could have been a stressful situation. "The only other option for me would be to quit and that's not something I want to entertain," said Pelech, who was elected to represent southeast Ward 6 for the first time in the 2007 election and came to the job with a particular interest in improving support for children with special needs.
"So far, it has worked out really well."
Other trustees on the Catholic board say Madelyn's presence has yielded some unexpected benefits. For one, she is a constant reminder of the district's future students, board chairwoman Debbie Engel said. "It does tell you, this is what we're here for."
Trustee Cindy Olsen said the experience also has some practical results. "We've turned a challenge into an opportunity. As a board, we've been able to develop strategies within ourselves to make meetings more efficient."
As school boards across the province look toward another round of trustee elections in October, Alberta School Boards Association president Heather Welwood said it is important to have a broad cross-section of the community represented, including the parents of young children. "We want to encourage that wide range of diverse points of view," Welwood said. "To limit it only to people retired, with no children in the system currently would not be a wide view and not represent the demographics."
Pelech plans to run for re-election, particularly keen to expand a project she's been a part of in Mill Woods encouraging more students to partake in sacraments such as First Communion. By then, she said Madelyn's regular attendance at board meetings will be over.
"She has until the end of June to keep cooperating," Pelech said. "Then we should be good to go."
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