Barb Dobrowolski was elected president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) at the 2021 annual general meeting. She is due to begin her two-year appointment on July 1, after holding other roles at the association such as vice-president on the provincial executive and president of the Eastern Ontario local unit.
Dobrowolski began her career in 1992 at Mother Teresa Elementary School in Russell. Her time working at that school, as well as St Patrick Catholic School in Rockland, inspired her to advocate for colleagues.
“I really enjoyed the community, and I loved my colleagues,” she said. “I looked around me and saw incredibly dedicated, hard-working teachers who often didn’t think of their own needs and put everyone else needs first. I felt that they needed good advocacy.”
Dobrowolski acknowledged her term as president would be challenging, as COVID-19 continued to affect students, teachers and parents. She said her priorities included ensuring teachers and students were protected and listened to, both during and after the pandemic.
“We’re going to have a lot of students who are struggling, because they’ve missed a lot of school,” she said. “When they get back, they’re going to be way behind, they’re going to be uncomfortable, and we’re going to have to support them. When things do get back to normal, we’re going to have to focus on everyone’s mental health, and ensure school is a place where students feel safe.”
The welfare of teachers during the pandemic remained a concern. Dobrowolski said teachers had been asked to do “the impossible” by simultaneously educating students in-person and remotely. She said the association would push for educators to be prioritized in the vaccine rollout.
“Teachers are at a breaking point,” she said. “When I talk to some of my colleagues, they talk about teachers regularly breaking down, coming in and confiding that they’re really at rope’s end right now.”
Dobrowolski asked the wider community for support over the next two years, and said she hoped to effectively advocate for a strong public education system. “It’s world class now, and we want to keep it that way,” she said. “I also know I have my work cut out for me over the next couple of years.”