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OPINION: What a difference between public and Catholic school boards!


Wow! What a difference!

If I was to give a grade to the St. Albert’s Public Board’s unfolding navigation of their own ‘Transition 2020’ program, geared at implementing necessary adjustments in response to recent budget shortfalls, it would definitely be an ‘A+’. Accordingly, my previously assigned failing grade to the Catholic (GSACRD) group would be adjusted from an ‘F’ to a simple ‘Unacceptable’.

After having observed so many parents being snubbed and censored at the most recent gatherings of the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District’s program-slashing agenda, I took it upon myself to seize the opportunity to attend our local Public School Board’s town hall, held last Thursday at Robert Rundle Elementary.

Regardless of our kids being enrolled in the Catholic system, fully acknowledging there was no real practical reason for me to be there, I felt compelled to go – to see how the ‘other side‘ lives and how they treat their people.

I presented myself at their meeting on the premise of a fact-finding mission, trusting that the occasion would offer a chance to assess for myself, if indeed, the trustees’ treatment of parents as mindless sheep, as does St. Albert’s Catholic Board, is a consistent practice across the region, and across school boards.  Do all trustees operate from the same bullying playbook?

Well, good news! It’s not a rampant problem outside our local Catholic experience. Within minutes of arriving at the Robert Rundle meeting, I quickly and confidently concluded that the manner in which the Public Board treats their constituant parents, essentially their clients, is in no way similar to our dysfunctional Catholic reality. In fact, there is a difference – such a big difference!

Such that, sadly enough, I felt more comfortable in this room, amongst a group of parents and a Board of Trustees that I clearly did not know, nor had I met before – far more comfortable than I have been amongst my own elected representatives.

What has become ever so evident through this painful misadventure that GSACRD parents have been subjected to, is that our trustees and their overseeing superintendents can conduct themselves however they want with impunity. And when it comes to the Catholic way, it seems the manipulation of the processes to best meet their needs has no limits, even if it means alienating parents and leaving a path of destruction in the Board’s wake.

With respect to the Public Board’s more inclusive approach, noteworthy was the fact that I did not sense any friction between the Public Board’s decision-makers and their respective parent body – no need for their superintendent to have a designated security detail, simultaneously pulling ‘double duty‘ as an ad-hoc ’consultant’, keeping concerned and inquisitive parents at bay. And, here is the part of the Public Board’s meeting that ‘sealed it’ for me, and frankly, made us want to jump ship and move our kids from the current regime to the Public School system.

The Public Board’s leadership group actually took open-forum questions from the floor! Yes! The parents were allowed to ask questions. They were invited to bring up concerns that could possibly resonate with others. They were trusted with the microphone – they were actually allowed to hold it! No need for a bouncer to monopolize the floor and keep parents quiet. There was no sign of demonstrated paranoia of the "unknown question" as has been witnessed repeatedly through the Catholic model.

The Public’s dignified and mature approach was the complete polar opposite of the Catholic Board’s strategy to silence the infidels – to ensure they could check-off the ‘consultation box’ without having any true consultation. And, unlike the Catholic’s harsh and impersonal wrangler barking at parents to write their questions on a paper if they had any, the Public Board clearly recognized that there is no better time to answer an anxious parent’s question than at that very moment.

So refreshing was it to see that the Public’s process roadmap was filled with decorum, openness and transparency – no hired help telling parents that the Board would determine if a question was valid or not.

Gotta say it. While on my way home from the meeting, I was thinking to myself that the Public School system might actually be a healthier place for our kids, and any other families feeling forced out by the Catholic Board’s hostility. 

Parents at the Public School meeting should know that while they won’t all like the eventual outcome of their deliberations (can’t please everyone), they should enjoy the reality that their Board of Trustees, when it comes to a truly inclusive consultative process, seem to be getting it right from the very start.

I chuckled at the irony that, based on everything seen and heard to date, I now have more faith in the future of the Public Board than I do for the Catholic Board’s struggling attempts to find their way.

I’m left wondering if the Catholic Board actually knows and acknowledges that their current playbook has done more to hurt the larger team than to help it, and that in doing so, this preventable ugly mess will be their legacy.

Shawn LeMay, St. Albert

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