Education funding, the new draft curriculum, reconciliation, and diversity were hot topics at the virtual St. Albert Public School Board debate on Tuesday evening.
Eight trustee hopefuls faced off for five seats and the most important issue of the night — the draft curriculum — brought all the candidates to a consensus in supporting educators and experts across the province who want to drastically change it or scrap it altogether.
Kim Armstrong, a three-term veteran incumbent who is vying for her seat for a fourth time, said it would not be responsible to implement the curriculum as it is right now.
“It would be irresponsible, unethical, immoral, and darn wrong to implement [the curriculum] as is proposed by this current government,” Armstrong said.
Incumbent Stanley Haroun, who has served one term as trustee, said the current proposed curriculum is outdated.
Harroun said trustees aren’t experts and they rely on their local teachers and other experts to inform their choices.
“I support their appraisal that the draft curriculum is not adequate. For instance, some information is not age appropriate. The knowledge of delivery is outdated and not conducive to critical thinking,” Haroun said.
Teaching information about residential schools in Grade 5 is too late, Haroun said.
Kristi Rouse said she was relieved when schools across the province declined to pilot the draft curriculum and said the current board has done a great job advocating for a better one.
“All stakeholders agreed that curriculum renewal is long overdue, but the process something of this magnitude needs to go through hasn't been respected at all in this draft,” Rouse said.
Rouse said there may be salvageable elements to the curriculum experts could reach a consensus on, or potentially go through portions of for stakeholder feedback and to include their expert opinions.
Sheyanne Levall-Crouse said her great-grandmother is a residential school survivor and the curriculum doesn’t adequately address truth and reconciliation. It also doesn't encourage critical thinking and problem solving.
“We need to make members of the LGBTQ+ community feel included. Anyone who comes to our country for a better life needs to feel like their history has been shared,” Levall-Crouse said.
Many candidates agreed the draft curriculum will be the biggest challenge faced by the St. Albert Public School division over the next few years, although others focused on other issues.
John Carle said the biggest challenge is communication with the province, and all issues, including funding for education and the draft curriculum, come back to that.
“They are in control of all of those issues, and we need to find a way. I don't know exactly how, but we need to find a way to open that line of communication so that they will finally hear what every teacher, every school board, and every parent in Alberta is telling them — it's not working,” Carle said.
Matthew Jarod Tait said the biggest issue facing schools right now is funding from the provincial government.
“No matter who's elected next election, they'll have to seriously consider cuts in the budget,” Tait said.
The current financial situation in Alberta looks worse and worse, Tait said, and Alberta continues to grow, with new students enrolled every year. Getting funding for all new students to the school system will be critical.
Marcus Hoople said emerging from the pandemic will be the biggest issue the board will face, while trying to pilot a draft curriculum and struggling with no funding.
“As we emerge from this pandemic, how are we doing our post-pandemic recovery? How are we supporting students, and teachers, and staff — their mental health and wellness? How are we creating safe and healthy schools?” Hoople said.
The board will have to advocate for proper funding and support to help navigate out of the pandemic, Hoople said.
All candidates said they want to continue to work to be a more inclusive school board.
John Allen said it is important to embrace and welcome all students into the education system.
“We have a social and moral imperative to the core values of diversity and inclusively. We must embrace people of all backgrounds and abilities, first-generation students, the LGBTQ+ community, with support and encouragement,” Allen said.
Right now, diverse groups still face challenges, and many stereotypes can be overcome through honest and respectful interaction in schools, Allen said.
All candidates will be on the ballot on Oct. 18 during the municipal and school board elections.