Heated bat­tle of­fers chance to learn

Pub­lic board to get fresh per­spec­tives with deep, var­ied races for seats

Calgary Herald - - CITY - EVA FER­GU­SON efer­gu­son@post­media.com

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.


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