Aspiring trustee hopes to Woo voters again

Sophia Woo failed in 2008 election, but will run again for NPA in 2011

[Update: Sophia Woo placed eighth with 55,889 votes in the race for nine Vancouver School Board seats in the 2011 civic election.]

Sophia Woo spent more than $20,000 in a failed bid to win a school trustee seat under the NPA in 2008. She landed in 13th place earning a respectable 43,538 votes in the contest for nine positions. Despite the loss, the 49-year-old mental health clinician is taking a second crack at office in the 2011 civic election race.

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She'll be acclaimed as an NPA candidate at a nomination meeting Nov. 20. Currently, only Ken Denike and Carol Gibson sit at the board table under the association's banner.

Woo collected more than half of her 2008 campaign dollars at a single fundraising dinner. Many of her expenses involved creating a bilingual website and bilingual brochures.

Woo, who earned one of the Chinese Association of Vancouver awards for Outstanding Chinese Women in 2007, is well connected in the Chinese community. She moved to Vancouver from Hong Kong in 1978 to study at Simon Fraser University and University of Calgary. She holds a bachelor degree in sociology, a master's degree in social work, a post-graduate diploma in educational psychology and said she's been interested in public education for years.

"It's a natural fit between my own profession and school trustee. I'm a mental health clinician myself and I've been in the helping profession in all my career life," said Woo whose volunteer work includes projects with the Rotary and Lions' clubs, as well as community policing. Woo and fellow community policing volunteer Eileen Mosca recently approached the VSB for help distributing ICE — in case of emergency — contact cards to students.

If elected, Woo said she plans to focus on improving the board's relationship with the provincial government. She pointed to last school year's showdown between Vision Vancouver Board chair Patti Bacchus and former education minister Margaret MacDiarmid.

"We need to have more balance between advocacy and collaboration," she said. "Vision and COPE spent a lot of time on advocacy so things [were] falling apart."

Other priorities include school safety, drug prevention, cyber safety and mental health issues.

When asked her thoughts on the possible closure of five East Side elementary schools, Woo said two schools shouldn't be on the list — Champlain Heights annex and Carleton elementary.

The annex, she said, is at 85 per cent of its capacity and parents will likely send their kids to Burnaby if the annex is shut down, taking the per-student education dollars with them and negating any savings for the Vancouver district.

Carleton, she added, has a high enrolment and students would be split up into too many schools. Woo maintains the VSB needs to increase revenue through renting space and accepting more international students.

But her chief political advantage may be an ability to speak both Cantonese and Mandarin. Only COPE's Allan Wong speaks Cantonese on the current board. On the 2005-2008 board, former NPA trustee Don Lee, who died in 2008, was fluent in Cantonese and had limited fluency in Mandarin while NPA trustees Shirley Wong and John Cheng were fluent in Cantonese.

"Aside from common sense, I expect [Woo] to improve liaison [efforts] with Chinese and immigrant parents as the board desperately needs a trustee fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin," said Denike, adding Woo's volunteer work with community groups have prepared her for office. She did well as a new name on the 2008 ballot, he noted, performing better than some incumbents, but the "NPA was clearly running against a popular swell."

noconnor@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Naoibh

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