Job Title: Vice Chair, Edmonton Public School Board
Why He’s Top 40: Edmonton’s youngest public school board trustee on record, he’s parlaying savvy gained as a student leader into action.
Key To Success: “I don’t take myself too seriously. I only pursue endeavours I’m passionate about and I build strong teams that make things happen.”
What turns an average teen from Strathmore, Alta., into a community organizer and eventually a younger-than-them-all school board trustee? Michael Janz has a ready answer: the University of Alberta’s Lister Hall.
“That’s where it all started,” he says. “My four years in student dorms taught me that all politics is local, and if you want to live in an awesome community, you have to step up and help build it.”
Entering university in 2003 with little idea of where life might lead, Janz discovered a knack for community-building while moving up the leadership ladder at the university. Elected president of Lister Hall in his fourth year, he became president of the Students’ Union in his fifth and stayed a sixth to continue sitting on the Board of Governors. “I came out with a feeling of agency, a ‘world is ours’ attitude,” he says. “Get engaged, and you can do anything.”
While still on campus, Janz dipped a toe into municipal politics as a “loyal foot soldier” in Don Iveson’s successful run for City Council. In 2009, he became marketing director for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, where he rolled out the welcome mat to the under-40 set and helped turn Community League Day into 100 simultaneous block parties. “It’s what I was doing for Lister, only for the whole city,” says Janz, who left the EFCL in August to finish an M.A. in Education Policy Studies.
Elected an Edmonton Public School Board trustee in 2010, Janz is part of a new guard that not only put a two-year moratorium on closing inner-city schools but drafted a policy on the contentious issue of homophobic bullying.
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“For every email saying we’re the spawn of Satan, I heard from 100 others saying a welcoming environment for sexual minority students is long overdue,” he says. “It reinforced the idea that politics needs leaders to be courageous.”
Keen to “pay it forward,” Janz is writing a book on student leadership. “The most important thing for a young person to overcome is that idea that they’re punching above their weight,” he says. “Like Pete Seeger said, ‘Take it easy – but take it!’ If you don’t speak out, nobody else will.”