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A new act for schools

The provincial School Act is undergoing its first major revision in 20 years, with the new version expected sometime next year.

The provincial School Act is undergoing its first major revision in 20 years, with the new version expected sometime next year. School boards across the province have called for many changes, including flexible school terms and limitations on private schools.

In this final Q&A, we ask Catholic trustees what they would keep and what they would throw away from the School Act, and how those changes would better our schools.

Dave Caron, St. Albert

The Inspiring Education initiative has created an exciting opportunity to shape the future of education in the province. It allows us to reaffirm our strengths — Alberta having one of the strongest education systems in the world — while providing the opportunity to continue improving them.

Governance of our schools by locally elected school boards is a linchpin to our success — a perfect balance between a strong centralized curriculum from the province and division-specific programs addressing local needs. Alberta's strength is its parallel system of one publicly funded system with two dimensions — Catholic and non-Catholic — providing Albertans a powerful and unique choice that serves students and, in fact, all Albertans very well.

We must, however, embody the principle of full funding into legislation. The real costs of educating all students, including special needs, must be honoured. Children are an investment in our future that cannot be subject to volatile resource revenues. Our success depends on it.

Chris Cooke, St. Albert

The School Act has been instrumental in creating one of the world's best education systems, but it is time to transform education in Alberta. I believe the following provisions must be maintained in any revised legislation:

1. A commitment to a publicly funded education system that includes public, separate and francophone schools.

2. Publicly-elected school boards.

3. A range of alternative education programs that meet the unique learning needs of all students.

To ensure continued success, I believe the following areas need to be addressed:

1. Establishing legislated class size limits.

2. Limiting access of public funds to charter and private schools.

3. Establishing funding principles that address adequacy and predictability, with expanded funding for special-needs programs.

Legislation must be less prescriptive in nature and more focused on the policy objectives of Albertans. This will help encourage innovation and creativity, which are critical to preparing our students for the future.

Joan Crockett, St. Albert

Although Alberta has one of the best education systems in the world at present, changes need to be made to prepare students for the future.

Albertans have recently articulated their desire for an education system rooted in the values of choice and diversity. Protection of publicly funded schools (francophone, separate and public) provides parents with choices. A diverse school system can meet their child's educational needs, abilities and culture.

In order to meet the needs of Alberta in 2030, less prescriptive policies in the School Act are needed. Giving local school jurisdictions autonomy allows them to be engaged with the broader community. This gives local governance teams more responsiveness and flexibility, allowing for a stronger focus on the best interests of the learners in their system. Following the Inspiring Education document's theme of "any time, any place, any pace learning," one size does not fit all and we must be open to, anticipate and navigate change.

Brock Dagenais, St. Albert

John F. Kennedy said that a rising tide lifts all boats. This aphorism is never truer than in the instance of publicly funded education.

My eldest child benefitted from the visionary changes made to the School Act in 1988, so much so that she graduated this spring from Stanford Law School. My three remaining children, all under the age of six, will be equally affected by changes made to the current act.

I maintain that all changes must be mindful of their effects upon the "tide." Locally elected boards must not be replaced by appointed municipal officials, and where possible, those boards should be populated by parents of students.

Recommendations from the Inspiring Education document should be adopted, including an improved focus upon character development, numeracy and literacy. We should emphasize improving the current system, rather than further opening the door for charter schools.

Jacquie Hansen, St. Albert

A revised School Act is one of four initiatives brought forward by Minister Hancock in the last two years. As the legislative handbook in which all four initiatives will be implemented, changes to it must be considered in the context of these other initiatives.

The new act will give school boards more flexibility in their interpretation of the act, facilitating more local decision-making. This is good news for our students and community.

The act also needs to support the governance model of locally elected, not appointed, trustees. School boards are the educational voice of the community and should be elected by the people of that community.

The act will need to recognize that parents are the first educators of their children and parents are best equipped to make choices for their children, reflecting personal values and beliefs. Protecting the system of educational choice (Catholic, non-Catholic and francophone) is critical.

Rosaleen McEvoy, St. Albert

I would like to see the following three provisions protected in the upcoming revision of the School Act:

1. Uphold the strong mandate for Catholic education already contained in the School Act; recognition that Catholic separate and Catholic public schools are an integral part of the success of publicly funded education in Alberta; that Alberta's Catholic schools continue to be governed by locally elected Catholic school boards.

2. Since the essential purpose of Catholic schools is to fully permeate Catholic theology, philosophy, values and beliefs, I feel that Section 50 (2) of the School Act, which entitles parents to remove their child from religious instruction, should not apply to Catholic schools, whether separate or public.

3. Catholic schools provide choice. Educational choices improve student learning. Upholding the strong provisions for Catholic education in the School Act ensures that the foundation of choice upon which Alberta's excellent reputation rests will continue well into the 21st century.

Noreen Radford, Morinville

As this is a lengthy document, only a few items can be touched on.

Would like protected (not all listed):

• That the best educational interests of children are addressed

• That parents have a say in the education of their children

• Retain the guidelines that students conduct themselves properly

• That diversity of cultures remains a term of the act

Would like amended (not in order of priority and most not listed):

• Childhood education and early intervention to be addressed

• Funding principles focused in act, as there is a growing dependency on fundraising

• Clearer lines of authority and accountability with school boards

• Identify that school is not just a facility for learning but deals with medical, pre- and after-school care, lunch programs, OT and PT, crisis intervention, etc.

Addressing these concerns would help to improve student education, as school boards want to provide the best possible holistic education for their students.

Heather Thiessen, Morinville

The School Act is a guideline that school boards follow. I believe that it will be extremely important that our publicly funded system be protected and preserved. A publicly funded system protects separate, public and francophone schools, allowing choice for parents and students.

There is not much that I feel needs to be changed in the School Act aside from allowing more local autonomy. This would allow us more freedom to address local needs, as each division has needs unique to them.

Change is necessary and inevitable and we need to embrace it to better serve the needs of our students.

With the introduction of Inspiring Education and now the follow-up of Inspiring Action and Setting the Direction, I am extremely excited to see the positive effect this will have in meeting the needs of the 21st century learner.

Lauri-Ann Turnbull, Morinville

The School Act is a governing document that all school boards must follow.

What I would like to see remain in the School Act would be choice in a publicly funded system. The choices available to Albertans in a publicly funded system are public, separate and francophone. These choices allow the school boards to meet the needs of the students and the community.

If I were to look at what I would like to see changed, I would have to say that we need the act to allow for more local autonomy and to be less prescriptive. This ensures that we can react to the needs of our local communities.

I believe that, on the whole, the School Act does a good job in guiding school boards' day-to-day business and I would not be looking for a major overhaul.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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