Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (SD61 DPAC) : John Young Award





When VCPAC President Angela Carmichael called me to say that, along with my trustee colleague Rob Paynter, I had been chosen for this award, I was overwhelmed.  Thank you, parents, for your confidence in me.

John Young was my inspiration for being true to one’s principles of social justice and for courage in the face of opposition.

John was my hero of education as I completed a 5 year B.Ed at UVic. I had come from Alberta after two years of teaching  and heard about the up-island high school principal whose major education values were tied to student empowerment, someone who saw the much bigger picture than power struggles.. I was inspired.  I thought, I want to be like John.

John was principal at Carihi secondary  in Campbell River from 1965 until the summer of 1972, when  he was fired  for what was considered radical leadership, including hiring an uncertified Indigenous teacher to be a mentor to Indigenous students, allowing students to construct a “responsibility plan,” which allowed some  students to chose whether or not to attend class, to replacing the letter grade “F” with an “incomplete” mark on report cards.

“I refused to tell a child that they were a failure,” John said.

200 people arrived at the school the following September to protest. Two students were arrested.

John was blacklisted by the Ministry and could no longer work in BC education.

After graduation, as a single parent,  I worked as an EA supporting students in SD62. I was then hired to a life changing teaching position in SD61, teacher and  multidisciplinary team lead for my classroom of students at Victor School. It was a privilege to be in the students’ and their families’ company, to share part of their lives, and learn from them the subtleties of communication and the importance of  being able to express some choice and autonomy in one’s life.

After ten years at Victor, I moved to the Queen Alexandra Hospital respite program school which existed then, and when it closed, moved to Arbutus as a general support teacher and EA support.

I then became the learning support teacher and IEP case manager at Frank Hobbs Elementary, and was President of the then – Special Education Local Specialists Association (now TIE  BC) of the BCTF .

For the last ten years of my teaching, I heard from parents and students that I had  made a notable positive difference in struggling  children’s lives as a Reading Recovery teacher, at Frank Hobbs and Rogers. (Zander, I still have a crumbling yellow rose from your bouquet; Sofia, I still have the dolphin you made. Devon, forever remembering your shining smile and heart, your mom has the bracelet you made for me.)

Active in my union, as a member of the GVTA Executive, I was on occasion  the GVTA rep at the Board table. I saw John consistently oppose any school fees to ensure that no student’s school experience would be affected by poverty.  (My son and I lived in poverty for many years, and I know that it is soul crushing to have to ask for that handout, no matter the good intentions of the giver).

John took the District to court over fees and won. Cynically, the then-Minister of Education simply changed the School Act.

John was still making plans to challenge the education establishment on students’ behalf in his 90s.

I hope that my students benefited in my classrooms, and that as a trustee, my support for students has been demonstrated by my motion of September 2013, initiating the position of student trustee, and by my voting record.

I am ever grateful to John for his inspiration, and to VCPAC for this honour.

I hope I have come close to fulfilling my aspiration to “be like John”.

From the VCPAC website:

John Young Advocacy Award

John Young (1921–2014) was a teacher, a principal, a professor and a school trustee.  As a child, John’s early experiences in school included being told that he was not smart as well as being turned away from school because his family could not buy him proper shoes in the depth of winter in New Brunswick.  Not only did John succeed in his educational pursuits but he also became a lifetime advocate for the poor, the deprived and the underprivileged.  He believed that all children were capable learners and that no children should be labelled as failures.

He advocated for many years for “no school fees” to ensure that no student’s school experience would be affected by poverty.  John was extremely generous and gave most of his money away to help others in need.  He would say, “What do I need it for…I have everything I need.”

John earned the respect of students, parents, co-workers and professional colleagues who admired his ability put students first in everything he did.

This award honours and celebrates the life’s work and passion of John Young, perennial defender of the underprivileged.  John believed that helping others was a responsibility and that giving was a privilege.  John taught us that incredible things can happen when you believe in your students.


This award is open to anyone connected to the Greater Victoria School District who:

  • actively advocates for equity and access for all students;
  • promotes student rights;
  • gives selflessly of time and resources;
  • demonstrates courage while advocating for others;
  • supports positions based on principle;
  • believes that the system must adjust to accommodate the student; and
  • is relentless in his/her advocacy efforts.

About Diane McNally