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Catholic trustee candidates talk issues at forum

Class sizes, curriculum, and Faith in Our Future questioned
1410 GSACRDForum sup
READY FOR DEBATE — Five GSACRD trustee hopefuls gathered online Oct. 13 for a candidates' forum as part of the 2021 municipal election. Some 50 people attended. Visible here are candidates Serena Shaw, Cam Van De Walle, and Joe Becigneul. KEVIN MA/Screenshot

Due to poor quality audio in the online forum, this story originally reported Can Van De Walle as saying "gender and its validity." He has since clarified that he actually said "gender and its fluidity."

St. Albert voters got to hear about class sizes, curriculum, and a really emphatic “nooooo” this week as five Catholic trustee candidates talked education at an all-candidates debate.

About 50 people were at an online candidates’ forum Oct. 13 organized by the Greater St. Albert Catholic Teachers’ Local 23. Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools trustee candidates Joe Becigneul, Greg Schell, Serena Shaw, Cam Van De Walle, and Lydia Yeomans were on deck to debate questions from the union and the audience as they competed to win one of the four seats in the St. Albert ward. (The division’s Morinville and Legal seats were won by acclamation.)

Class sizes, cash, curriculum

The candidates all agreed that class size affects student performance but disagreed as to its importance.

Shaw said class size is just one factor alongside demographics and teacher experience. Still, trustees had to lobby the province for appropriate funding to keep class size in check.

Van De Walle ascribed more importance to it, saying classes are now so large that one-on-one time with teachers was basically non-existent outside of lunch breaks and after school.

“We need to do a better job with our advocacy to the government for increased funding.”

Yeomans said teacher skill was the biggest factor in student success, and that class sizes had to be limited to give teachers that one-on-one time with students.

“Diverse learners deserve and are entitled to the best learning experience teachers can provide,” she said, and trustees had to find efficiencies to ensure teachers have the resources they need.

Schell said trustees should lobby the province for education dollars through unabashed promotion of the district’s successes, and emphasize how smarter students got better jobs and generate more tax dollars.

“This shouldn’t be seen as an expense, but rather it is an investment in the future of Alberta,” he said of education funding.

When asked if they support the province’s draft K-6 curriculum, which has been widely panned as being racist, overstuffed with content, and developmentally inappropriate, Becigneul summed up everyone’s stance with one word: “Nooooo!”

This curriculum is not logically sequenced and has no real representation of Indigenous or Francophone perspectives, among other problems, Becigneul said. While trustees have been told “flat out” by the province that the draft would roll out in Fall 2022, trustees will continue to pressure leaders at all levels, saying this curriculum is not right.

Pledges and lessons

Asked about how trustees should support LGBTQ staff and students, Schell said the board allows for students to organize diversity clubs and that he knows many LGBTQ people.

“God loves everybody. We are not the Westboro Baptist Church,” he said, referring to a notoriously anti-LGBTQ American religious group.

While Catholics have come a long way on this front in the last decade, they still have more to do to ensure all students feel safe and welcome in Catholic schools, said Van De Walle.

“We must do our best to balance the teachings of God with the fact that it’s 2021 and there are different viewpoints on gender and its fluidity.”

Yeomans said trustees should be “radically inclusive” and model Christ’s love for all, as that will improve student outcomes.

Shaw, Schell, and Becigneul were asked why they had not signed a seven-point pledge circulated by Local 23 which, among other actions, had signatories vow to publicly oppose implementation or piloting of the draft K-6 curriculum, advance anti-racism education in schools, and actively weave the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action into the classroom if elected. (Van De Walle and Yeomans signed.)

Shaw said that while she supports many of the pledge’s points, she isn’t signing any lobbying-type documents this election as she is supposed to represent the whole community. Schell said he didn’t sign as he does not completely support it, while Becigneul said it would be hypocritical of him to sign on as the board has already put so much effort into lobbying the government on the curriculum.

Asked about the Faith in Our Future process, Becigneul, Shaw, and Schell said trustees should have had more of a two-way discussion with residents about it instead of presenting them with a finished idea.

A recording of the forum is posted to St. Albert Catholic families can vote for GSACRD trustees Oct. 18.

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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