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Montessori teacher wins hotly contested school trustee race

Alexandra Lulka edged out Erica Shiner by 116 votes.
Alexandra Lulka edged out Erica Shiner by 116 votes.

It was tight, but 26-year-old Alexandra Lulka managed to edge out her biggest competition, Erica Shiner, to take her place as the Ward 5 York Centre Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee.

Lulka won the byelection on July 25 by a slim margin of 116 votes over Shiner, the niece of Toronto Councillor David Shiner and granddaughter of former North York and Metro councillor Esther Shiner.

Lulka, who was one of 10 candidates in the hotly contested race, finished with 1,464 votes following more than a month of campaigning and political endorsements from two Conservative heavyweights, former foreign affairs minister John Baird, and former finance minister Joe Oliver, for whom she campaigned in last year’s federal election.

As a teacher at the Mesorah Montessori School near Bathurst Street and Lawrence Avenue, she said education is her No. 1 passion.

“I radiate passion for education. Everyone who knows me, knows it’s really what I love and what I do,” she said, adding that she developed an interest in politics when she was a Queen’s University student and served as a Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee  (CJPAC) fellow.

Through the fellowship, she learned that the best way to advocate for Israel was to use the political system in Canada.

After the passing of Howard Kaplan, the trustee who held the post from 2010 until his death in April, Lulka saw an opportunity to advocate for education within the political structure, as she had learned to do for Israel through CJPAC.

“This is about my passion for education, and I want to be an advocate for students and put them first in the classroom,” she said.

Her platform is based on promises to put the needs and interests of students first, push for “a developmentally appropriate curriculum” rather than a “one size fits all” program, increase the level of consultation with parents in the community, and advocate for fiscal responsibility.

“I think I had a message that resonated with people… Parents want someone who is going to fight for their [children] and do what’s best, and I think they thought that my passion for putting students first and making sure that we’re treating students as individuals in the classroom is really the best way to optimize their learning and make sure they’re able to build on their own strengths.”

She said that when it comes to Israel advocacy, she would emulate James Pasternak, who served as a TDSB trustee before being elected to his current position as Toronto city councillor for York Centre.

“He was able to shut down certain things. When they tried to bring Israeli Apartheid Week to high schools, he shut that down. I do see myself as an advocate for Israel and the Jewish community, and I want to make sure that if something like this comes up again, I want to be a champion for a safe learning environment and I want to make sure we don’t have radicalization in our schools.”

Fresh off her victory, Lulka said the idea that she would pursue a political career beyond her role as a school board trustee is “extremely unlikely.”

“My No. 1 passion is education. Even when I was volunteering on other campaigns, the one issue that I cared most about, provincially, was education… This is about the future generations and what we’re passing on… They’re going to be the next decision makers and world leaders and it is really, really important that we’re investing in them. If this is a platform for me to do that, I’m really happy where I am.”

On her Facebook profile, Shiner expressed her gratitude to those who stood behind her throughout the campaign.

“Brimming with appreciation for every person who supported me: my core team, all the leaders, councillors and trustees offering advice and encouragement, our amazing volunteers, my friends and family for cheering me on, and all the lovely people of York Centre for inviting me into their homes, sharing their stories, and trusting me enough to mark my name on their ballots,” Shiner wrote.

“This doesn’t feel like a loss to me. I have gained so much, and I will take what I’ve been given and continue to fight for what’s right every chance I get.”

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