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Education Q&A with Spruce Grove-St. Albert candidates

By: By Ryan Tumilty

  |  Posted: Saturday, Apr 07, 2012 06:00 am

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Working with the Alberta School Boards Association, the two St. Albert-based school boards asked the Gazette to ask candidates about their views on education. The questions and responses are published here. Please note that NDP candidate Rev J.J. Trudeau and Wildrose candidate Travis Hughes did not return responses before press time.

1. We invest $5 billion each year in public education in Alberta. What are effective ways to demonstrate to parents how their child is doing, to taxpayers how their schools are doing and to Albertans how their public education system is doing?

Doug Horner – PC Alberta

Parents should receive regular assessments on their child's progress from their child's teacher. These assessments should not just include a final grade on a unit or assignment, but also should discuss the child's progress and identify areas for improvement.

Assessments are also made through the Provincial Achievement Testing (PATs) program in grades 3, 6, and 9 and the diploma examination program in Grade 12.

I would like to see random PAT's in Grade 3 and possibly Grade 6 to avoid the “teaching to the test” issues we heard about during the leadership race.

As a part of budget 2012, online fact sheets for all school divisions were made available. These fact sheets can help parents find out more about the school jurisdiction or charter school in their community. However, the sheets reflect information for the entire jurisdiction, and not for individual schools. School principals can provide information about their specific schools.

School boards also submit financial reporting statements that are more detailed and thorough.

Chris Austin – Alberta Liberal

The answer to this question requires many people at the table involved in the education system. School boards and the provincial government must listen to front-line workers like principals, teachers, aids/assistants, etc.

These front-line personnel and parents can brainstorm together on how to create better ideas for lines of communication needed to ensure that their child is not left behind and provide assistance to children that need support for a stronger education system that exceeds provincial and national standards across the country.

Every year there should be a measurable evaluation of the school system in Alberta and how we measure up against other provinces in Canada, ensuring taxpayers in Alberta are getting bigger bang for their buck. Something as simple as identifying and sharing best practices from innovative parents and teachers in education, but not readily shared could go a long way to ensuring the best education system possible.

2. About 25 per cent of Alberta students don't complete high school. How can Alberta improve on its graduation rates?

Chris Austin – Alberta Liberal

The provincial government in Alberta could offer a work program to all high school students to enrol in employment in the community in which completion of so many hours would contribute to credits earned towards their high school diploma.

Another possibility would be to make it easier to get a high school diploma should a student choose to leave school, but returns to complete their high school diploma at another time. Government could work with the business community to help identify and support former students in the workforce who work towards a high school completion.

If a student completes high school, each student would receive a grant from the provincial government towards their trade of choice, or a university education. Elimination of school fees, and tuition fees for college and university would also be another way to encourage young people in Alberta to complete high school, as included in the Alberta Liberal Party platform.

Doug Horner – PC Alberta

This is an ongoing concern, especially in Alberta where there are a number of high-paying jobs not requiring high school diplomas.

We hope to reduce this trend by working with Alberta's post-secondary institutions to help students establish an education path they can complete.

Under the proposed changes to the Education Act, K-12 funding will be available to students up to 21 years old so that students may return and finish school.

Shifting our education system to one where learning can occur at any time, any pace and any place will make the education system more responsive and accommodating to modern circumstances.

It is also important that we work with industry and expand our registered apprenticeship programs, Careers the Next Generation programs and other innovative ways to help students find their passion.

3. With Alberta experiencing rural depopulation, booming suburbs, long distances to schools and aging schools, how and who should make decisions about where schools are built and repaired in Alberta?

Doug Horner – PC Alberta

Alberta Education provides infrastructure funding to school boards, who prioritize school projects. Decisions to build or repair schools are based on health or safety issues, enrolment pressures and available funding.

We need to change the way we plan capital projects and start building schools where and when we need them. We need to involve municipalities, the community and other service providers into the discussion around planning new schools. This might include co-locating other services such as health centres, libraries, children services or even seniors' centres at a school site. We need to look at the most innovative ways to leverage our financial strength so that we are not just building schools when and if we have the cash.

The premier recently announced the construction of 50 new schools and upgrades to another 70 schools, addressing the needs of students and school boards. These schools are to be completed over the next four years, with a cost of $1.2 billion for the new schools, and $1.2 billion for the upgrades.

Chris Austin – Alberta Liberal

The answer to this question lies in more robust and transparent long-term planning. Interestingly, when industry builds infrastructure, it can plan as much as 30 years or more, so that pipelines don't rupture, or there is unplanned down time that impacts the bottom line. Why can't we do this for our social infrastructure?

My bottom line is if schools are unsafe for students in any community, the government of Alberta should take top priority over any other community to ensure the safety of children. No child or young adult in Alberta should have to attend a second-class facility, and the public school system in Alberta should take priority over private school funding. The public school system in Alberta needs to become a priority, and education of children should not become a business for profit on the backs of Albertans.

4. Students come to Alberta schools with a wide range of diverse, individual needs. What must change about Alberta's school system to meet the needs of all students?

Chris Austin – Alberta Liberal

Provincial school boards and the provincial government will have to learn to communicate better with front-line teachers and staff, parents, taxpayers and Albertans. Top-down approach to governing will not work, but meaningful involvement of key local stakeholders will ensure the needs of all students are met in the public school system in Alberta.

Ideally, the department of education should be able to support local school boards in a timelier manner as needs are identified so that children are not left behind, and solutions for children are put in place for today's children, and not at some other point years down the road.

Doug Horner – PC Alberta

Alberta has been recognized as having one of the top five education systems in the world. A large reason for our strong performance is the range of options that exist in our education system. Students and parents are able to choose from public schools, separate schools, charter schools, francophone schools, private schools and home education.

An inclusive learning environment takes into account the unique attributes of all students. To make this happen, teams of professionals support our classroom teachers, including social workers, speech and language pathologists, psychologists and occupational therapists. This year's budget supports this action on inclusion strategy with $68 million for 2012.


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