Alberta’s proposed school curriculum was harshly criticized by many Red Deer Public Schools trustee candidates in a virtual election forum Tuesday night.
Candidates also emphasized the importance of supporting mental health initiatives and helping students whose education has been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring schools remain diverse, are adequately funded and all students feel welcome and supported was another common theme.
In his opening remarks, Nathan Davies expressed a sentiment that would be echoed by many other candidates.
“As your trustee I will ensure I will do everything I can to ensure the draft curriculum does not become the curriculum. Our children deserve better.”
Candidates were broken down into groups with each group given a question, including what their stand was on the curriculum.
“I believe the draft curriculum needs to be paused and reconsidered,” said incumbent candidate Cathy Peacocke, who called for a committee of unbiased curriculum experts and teachers to come up with something else based on the input that has been received since the draft was released.
Matt Gould said he has yet to hear a single person he has met at their doors or at the public market say they supported the curriculum, pointing out the current school board voted against testing it in Red Deer.
“I think the point is, to be quite honest, is has to be turfed.”
Jaelene Tweedle said she was not only concerned with the content of the draft curriculum but the way it was developed without teacher input.
“Not only do we see racist content in the social studies curriculum, we see recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee not being implemented,” she said. “I believe implementing the curriculum in its current form would be a great disservice to our students and staff.”
Incumbent Bev Manning said many concerns have been raised with the draft, including the content and the age appropriateness of some of the concepts and the way it was developed.
“However, I want to speak to the reality of the situation. And the reality of the situation is the minister of education (Adriana LaGrange) has been extraordinarily clear, that this is going ahead. So that puts the impetus on us as to what we’re going to do about it and I think we need to continue to fight hard and get our message through to the government.”
Angela Sommers said she doesn’t believe the curriculum has accurate and relevant history and equity written into it and called for a non-partisan council to create a new curriculum.
Sommers pointed out that schools and parents have been waiting for 12 years for a new curriculum “and it scares me very, very much that this is what we get after 12 years of waiting. So, we need to be strong and fight this.”
Later, candidates were given an opportunity to answer questions they were not asked. Several returned to the curriculum question.
Incumbent Dianne Macaulay said she was proud to be part of the board that refused to support the draft. “That was one of the great moments from 2021 for me.
“The new curriculum that is being proposed has some major flaws. Our students and teachers will not be successful if it gets implemented as is.”
Candidates were also asked to sum up the most important priorities for the school division in the next four years.
Reg Warkentin said the board must focus on the “nuts and bolts of education.
“We need to focus on educational outcomes and we need to focus on making sure we have teachers who are happy to work in the school district and we need to make sure we are attracting and retaining the best teachers.”
That will mean working with the government while strongly advocating for the school district, he added. Schools and the business community can work together to ensure that students are getting the education and the skills needed to succeed in the workplace.
Matt Chapin sees mental health as a priority and offered his personal insight having grown up with a mother who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder when he was an infant.
“Personally, I think mental health is one thing that is not talked about enough in our public schools. A lot of times there are students who do not know where to get help for these problems,” he said, adding he hopes to help change people’s perspectives.
Paul Peters also spoke of the importance of supporting teachers and students and making it easier to access mental health resources and fostering a welcoming environment at schools.
“I want to make sure we’re for inclusion, equity and diversity. I think we need to actively support our students and staff there. I don’t think diversity week does enough.”
Incumbent Nicole Buchanan said the next four year’s priorities should be based off of local autonomy and the board must advocate on behalf of students, staff and families to ensure the diverse needs of the community are heard, addressed and communicated effectively.
“Every individual student, staff and family should feel welcome and safe to express their own individual thoughts, ideas and perspectives without discrimination and fear of criticism.”
Buchanan said she considers herself a survivor of mental illness and “I think we need to focus and allocate resources to address growing and increasing concern so that our students’, staff’s and family’s needs are met.”
In responding to a question about the province’s new funding model, Jim Watters, a former trustee, said it is frustrating to see school budgets shrinking.
“We need to stop playing the government’s game. We need to start standing up.”
Watters said it is important to get parents involved. “We need your support because, quite frankly, we don’t get enough money to do all the things we need to do.”
Terri Grills said like the old system the “new funding model does not do enough to address school disparities.”
Many students have experienced trauma or come to school hungry and simply don’t have the basics necessary for educational success. “These students require more resources, more funding than their peers in order to achieve an equal shot at individual success.”
Meagan Parisian said public school boards must advocate and demand appropriate funding for all students, including advocating for a return to the per-pupil funding model as opposed to the weighted moving average model.
“The weighted moving average creates confusion based on convoluted formulas and it leaves school boards guessing when they are putting their budgets together.”
Candidate Kari Elliott and Mark Swarek did not participate.