Heated battle offers chance to learn
Public board to get fresh perspectives with deep, varied races for seats
After years of political battles around transportation, math problems and dwindling resources in the classroom, this fall’s public school board election looks to be one of the most heated in years.
With several wide-open, large races — including one that has as many as 12 candidates and another that has nine — candidates say parents and the public are more engaged than ever on controversial issues.
“I think people really are concerned about many things, and we’re hearing a lot at the doors,” said Mike Bradshaw, a longtime community volunteer in Lake Bonavista and carpenter who is among nine candidates in Wards 12 and 14.
“I’m hearing a lot about funding classrooms, and resources within classrooms being cut, especially for special needs kids and that impacts all students.”
Bradshaw said students are also struggling with Discovery Math, a new curriculum that encourages kids to problem solve rather than memorize basic concepts like multiplication. “There’s a problem not just with curriculum, but also with teachers who are struggling to teach it. We need more resources for teachers, too, around professional development and learning how better to teach this stuff.”
Sara Peden, a former psychologist with the CBE also running in Wards 12 and 14, says classrooms also need more resources for special needs children and wants to see the new board take a closer look at how to help those with complex challenges.
“The entire system is underfunded,” she said. “There are so many competing priorities.”
Another large race, this time in Wards 5 and 10 — where as many as 12 candidates are battling, including incumbent Pamela King — is also raising the issue of classroom supports and resources.
Marilyn Dennis — a former oil and gas worker and longtime school volunteer running in Wards 5 and 10 — says schools in that area, which encompasses much of the city’s northeast quadrant, are dealt many challenges. “In the northeast, students are facing a wide range of complex issues — mental health, physical health, English language issues. There’s extreme diversity.”
Dennis explains she’d like to work with Alberta Health and social agencies beyond the school board to support kids and help families facing poverty and crisis. That could mean bringing nurses into schools and other supports from within the community.
Jameela Gahn, an activist with the Pineridge Community Association also running in Wards 5 and 10, is advocating for both “soft skills” like writing and legibility, and “hard skills” like technology, trade skills specialization and computer skills.
“Kids need to learn about web development, coding, and they can start that at a very young age,” said Gahn, who also wants classrooms to focus more on essential life skills learning, particularly for high schoolchildren, including topics such as resume and letter writing, understanding debt in credit cards, car loans and mortgages.
Other outer lying wards are also facing a series of challenges around busing and transportation, especially since fall when CBE made major changes to bell times and bus routes, along with pushing more students in alternative programs onto public transit and having them pay up to $700 a year just to get to school.
Kim Tyers, a longtime school volunteer running in Wards 3 and 4, says families in the northwest Northern Hills communities — which include Coventry Hills, Country Hills and Panorama Hills — are desperate for a high school as students face bus rides of up to 45 minutes daily to other far away high schools like John Diefenbaker or Crescent Heights.
Tyers vows to advocate for these families, promising “to build better relationships among the trustees on the board,” and to ensure a new high school would move up on the priority list.
Althea Adams, also running in Wards 3 and 4, said she’s hearing a lot of frustrations from families struggling to get their kids to school safely and affordably, particularly in alternative programs.
“Alternative programming is becoming elitist; only the families who have the luxury of driving kids to school can access them. So if you want to allow your child to learn to speak another language, you may not be able to, if you can’t drive them,” she said. “It’s not right. We have excellent alternative programs, but families just don’t have access.”
Adams has aligned herself with the Students Count slate of candidates, running alongside Bradshaw as well as Lisa Davis in Wards 6 and 7, Sabrina Bartlett in Wards 8 and 9, and Sadiq Valliani in Wards 11 and 13.
The slate has faced some criticism from other contenders, saying they are mostly a Progressive Conservative group who won’t speak individually on issues.
But Davis argues she’s heard from hundreds of parents and families while door-knocking who say that they want to see new faces on the board, with many expressing concern that former trustees have allowed the CBE to be unaccountable with tax dollars.
“We have ongoing problems that this group seems unable to fix,” Davis says. “We have too much money going to administration, not to schools; $100 million too much.”
Minister of Education David Eggen is conducting an ongoing operational review of the CBE, taking a closer look at spending in all departments and how funds could be better used.
Parents are more engaged than ever on controversial issues in this fall’s public school board election, according to candidates.