How to increase parent involvement when it comes to public education was a hot button topic during the first Red Deer Public School board election forum Tuesday night at Hunting Hills High School.
The fourteen candidates in the running for trustee titles — the largest pool to contend for the governing spots since 1995 — answered questions on a wide range of topics including the evolving role of trustees, how to move forward with the provincial government’s Inspiring Education initiative and grappling with the ever-changing status of technology in the classroom but it was the subject of parents that came up over and over.
Incumbent trustee Bev Manning, seeking her seventh term on the board, said it’s a matter of hard work and building more partnerships.
“I’ve always been a supporter of our city wide school council. They are a group that represents parents and we need to continue working with that council and expanding their opportunities for input,” Manning said.
Lianne Kruger said the board is doing well at incorporating the wider community, parents included, with its town hall meetings but that she would like them to be videotaped and webcast to allow more time-constrained people to observe the proceedings and get involved.
Incumbent Cathy Peacocke agreed, noting holding open houses for parent engagement is a thing of the past.
“A number of our open houses were sparsely attended. We then put our information out online to our parents and we had over 2,000 responses and that really is the way of the future,” she said.
“I think one of the assumptions we make is that all parents are chomping at the bit to get into the schools and help out and the reality is that about a quarter of our parents at least feel excluded as a result of poverty and less than conducive life experiences,” Bill Stuebing, a trustee for the past 18 years, said. “They feel intimidated. One of the consequences of that is we have schools that don’t have school councils because they haven’t been able to find parents to fill them. We need parents involved across the district . . . We have to go after them.”
Social media is another tool that can be further explored when it comes to involving parents, Kurt Spady told the crowd of about 80 gathered to hear the candidates’ platforms.
“A Grade 3 teacher just put on Twitter that she was looking for volunteers to come into her class and talk about their careers and she had a number of responses. That’s amazing to me. That’s another vehicle to use and break down barriers for more participation.”
Milt Williams, who spent the past 24 years teaching in Red Deer public schools, wants more functions held at schools that are family oriented.
“Why not have chili nights or something that can make the school like a community centre rather than just an isolated school? Let’s tear down the ivory tower approach and make it so parents want to come and interact with teachers.”
It was an idea that registered well with incumbent Bill Christie, who noted hosting things like pot luck suppers could also help appeal to First Nations, Métis and Inuit parents.
“Let’s celebrate the cultures and we’ll find it will bring in not only First Nations, Métis and Inuit parents but other families as well. It’ll bring in understanding and build a team and that’s what’s happened in other jurisdictions. It’s hard but it can happen.”
The candidates also all touched on the importance of supporting teaching staff across the board, especially as new technologies change the way students are learning.
“Don’t pile more work on staff without taking something away. We can’t overburden our teachers,” said Williams.
“When new technology is introduced to the schools, teachers need to be provided with ongoing professional development about how to use it properly. Not one type of professional development suits all. Involve teachers in designing the professional development. They know their students and their needs.”
There are seven positions available on the board. Also in the running are candidates Dick Lemke, Dianne Macaulay, Shari Hanson, Kerri Kenworthy, Ben Ordman, Jim Watters and Raymond Yaworski.