Catholic trustee candidates ponder relevancy of school boards

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School boards lost their ability to tax in 1994, which has limited their ability to operate on their own. This factor, combined with low public interest in school board affairs, has caused some people to wonder if school boards are still relevant.

In this first of four trustee election Q&As, we ask local Catholic candidates whether school boards are still relevant and how they would make the local education system better engaged with the public.

David Caron, St. Albert

Education in Alberta is not all the same — having local school boards means that St. Albert Catholic schools reflect what our local community wants. Our schools have many unique programs including Power-Up-To-Learn, junior/senior high IB, Learning Through the Arts, Cyber-School, Single Track French Immersion, One to One Laptop, Sports Academy, and Smartboard delivery — all ways to enhance learning. The province does not dictate these programs — our community, through your school board, makes decisions for our children.

We must continue to involve and engage all stakeholders. We already have our annual education report, The Sower newsletter, stakeholders’ forums, media releases, Trustee Times, school trustee liaisons, Education Week activities, and town hall meetings to name a few.

Can we do more? Absolutely. We need to encourage citizen involvement in our school councils, enhance communications with the parish and engage seniors — in short, spread the good news of the work we do.

Read more here.

Chris Cooke, St. Albert

A locally elected St. Albert Catholic school board is important because we can implement innovative programs that meet the needs of our community instead of applying a mandated “one-size fits all” approach to our schools.

We have to ensure that school boards remain relevant and that members of the community feel a positive impact from school board decisions. The citizens of St. Albert lead extremely busy lives and may not have time to attend school board meetings to voice their opinions on educational issues. If elected, I will be visible at community events, in our schools, and at group meetings inviting people into conversations. Community engagement will follow from a sense of collaboration, but it is up to school trustees to proactively initiate those discussions. My success as a school trustee will be measured by my ability to gather feedback and input from the entire community.

Read more here.

Joan Crockett, St. Albert

Local school boards are more relevant now than ever before. Honourable Dave Hancock sees the child of 2030 as an “engaged and critical thinker with an entrepreneurial spirit.” To create opportunities for students to develop these characteristics, I believe it is critical that school boards consult and engage the communities they serve. If elected to the board, I will encourage the discussions of current educational issues to include all stakeholders, including school councils, parish teams, elected officials of the City of St. Albert, the Government of Alberta, RCMP and community agencies.

School boards can remain relevant when they support meaningful opportunities for public engagement and promote the learning and welfare of all students. As one of my favourite African sayings reads, “It takes a village to raise a child.” If elected, I will endeavour to keep all stakeholders involved and be responsive to the educational issues involving our community.

Read more here.

Brock Dagenais, St. Albert

Parents have a right and a responsibility to make decisions respecting the education of their children (the School Act of Alberta). The strength, relevancy and moral authority of school boards are dependant upon how well they satisfy this requirement.

When parents lag in exercising this right, or when they delay in taking up this responsibility, school boards weaken and their relevancy fades. Weak boards are prey for those who seek to abolish boards altogether and replace them with appointed local government officials.

Because the board system has yielded one of the top performing school systems in the world, we must protect it, and we can do so by increasing the degree of parental involvement. Parents should be encouraged to serve as trustees, whom we assist through a web-based forum where concerns and ideas can be readily shared, discussed and reasoned through to a final resolution on a timely basis.

Read more here.

Jacquie Hansen, St. Albert

The school boards’ loss of taxation powers has certainly impacted the way boards govern. There is less ability to go to your constituents and acquire further funding for initiatives.

However, the pre-1994 taxing system was not ideal. It was rife with inequities with “have” boards pulling in more revenues than “have-not” boards. Has the connection of local taxes to education diminished relevancy of school boards to the public? I would say no.

School boards still have to guard the public purse, monitor the programs, be accountable to student success, lobby the government for infrastructure needs, and create environments that are safe and secure. Boards are the liaison between local and provincial government and they are the educational voice of the whole community, not just the 30 per cent who have children in school. Boards must remain dedicated to keeping the “public” in public education and invite public input and debate whenever possible.

Read more here.

Rosaleen McEvoy, St. Albert

Locally elected school boards have been an integral feature of the Alberta public education system for well over 100 years. School boards no longer collect taxes, but as the principal democratic body representing citizens in local education decisions, they continue to be relevant because they set policies that create conditions for student success.

Catholic boards are further charged with setting policy that upholds the mission, vision, values and beliefs of the Catholic community we serve. Local school boards have strong governance and leadership roles: they provide fiscal oversight to multi-million dollar budgets, advocate on behalf of students and engage in decision-making processes that provide solutions to emerging challenges.

Seventy percent of the public does not have children in the school system. Engagement can be increased in this demographic by keeping them constantly informed about all the innovations, successes and service projects that involve our students: our future taxpaying citizens. Holding elections on Sunday would also increase voter turnout.

Read more here.

Noreen Radford, Morinville

School boards are most certainly relevant, having one collective voice that advocates for quality education. They are elected locally and are a communication conduit to the minister of education on behalf of their community. Regardless of how funding is provided, they have the trust of their constituents in financial matters.

Visibility of trustees, not only at school council meetings, is necessary to ensure that all taxpayers know who they are and how they are shaping our educational community.

Some ways I will reach out to the community are: a regular “Notes from the Board” column in our local media coverage; a user-friendly website with a navigation site of “Ask your Trustee” to ensure I am hearing from our local residents; involving the business community through the chamber of commerce; and promoting the “It takes a village to raise a child” motto with all volunteer organizations within the area.

Read more here.

Heather Thiessen, Morinville

I feel that the school boards remain extremely relevant, as they are the bridge between the education system and the public. As trustees, we aid the schools by being a mediator. Trustees by their very nature are members of the public; often, their children attend or have attended local schools.

The board allows the public to have a say in what goes on in our schools. Representing them as a board ensures all the students’ interests are addressed.

In order to engage the public in our education system, we as trustees need to make ourselves more visible by being more involved in community groups and events, therefore creating more of a relationship with the community. When a community feels involved, they feel more invested in what goes on. Having more contact with our local media will allow us to inform residents about events that are occurring within our schools.

Read more here.

Lauri-Ann Turnbull, Morinville

I believe that school boards are still relevant. We have many important roles to play in the education of students. We develop plans to address student needs. We create policies that guide the divisional staff and administration, and, on a regular basis, we review these policies and make adjustments if necessary. We are here to advocate on behalf of our community and to address any concerns they may have.

For the last three years, I have been a visible and approachable member of the community, attending parent council meetings at the school level as well as stakeholder forums at the divisional level. I am a very active member of this community, attending Municipal Sustainability Planning, Core Lyncs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, chamber of commerce and many others, as I feel this keeps me in touch with the community at large. If re-elected, I will continue this very important work.

Read more here.

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