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Four up for school board race in Canmore

While school boards are often overlooked at municipal elections, the Canmore ward – also known as Mount Rundle – for the Canadian Rockies Public Schools has four candidates aiming for two spots.

BOW VALLEY – Though not all voters have children in the local public school system, all homeowners pay a significant part of their property taxes that are earmarked towards education.

As one of the most important outlets for public spending, schools have a significant role in the community and can often be the lifeblood of a neighbourhood.

While school boards are often overlooked at municipal elections, the Canmore ward – also known as Mount Rundle – for the Canadian Rockies Public Schools has four candidates vying for two spots.

Trish Bartley, Brian Callaghan, Carol Picard and Lonnie Tipler are running in Canmore. While the board will continue to focus on funding as it does each term, the ripple effect of COVID-19 will leave schools across the world having heightened attention on the well-being and mental health of students and staff for years to come.

The controversial draft curriculum being brought in by the provincial government has also faced significant backlash from people across Alberta and a greater push to improve Indigenous culture and tradition as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.

Trish Bartley worked as a teacher in CRPS for 20 years and previously taught in the Northwest Territories, but also has experience as a social worker and an addictions counsellor.

While having worked with Indigenous youth in CRPS to help promote graduation rates and being the mother to two Indigenous people, she said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action are a priority. She noted further importance in ensuring schools are an inclusive and diverse space and the continued mental health of students, staff and families are vital.

“I think well-being, health and safety is a big priority of students, the families and staff. If you have staff that is healthy and emotionally well, that’s going to transfer to the students and the students will be less stressed and that will transfer to the families and a community as a whole.”

Other issues important to Bartley include pushing for a change in the recently released provincial draft curriculum.

“It’s outdated, it doesn’t address critical thinking skills, it doesn’t address the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action. There are so many things that are not appropriate. … It really needs a lot of work. Educators who are experienced who are concerned with fairness to all students, it needs to be addressed. I’m happy to work with them and change things. I want to be an active voice for our community.”

Having lived on and off in Canmore since 1978, she said being in the community and the classroom gives her an added viewpoint in potentially serving as a trustee.

She said she learned from former school board trustee and current Canmore councillor Esmé Comfort the importance of being a board member and listening to those in the school system.

“She was in the school, listened to teachers, listened to staff, listened to students and families and she took those concerns to the school board and made things happen. That’s what I want to be, someone who listens to the concerns, acts on them and makes the changes that are necessary. I’m going to be the person who is there and is actively involved.”

Former CRPS superintendent Brian Callaghan put forth his nomination papers as a way to give back to the community.

Callaghan has lived in Canmore for 40 years and served in the school division’s top administrative role from 1989 to 2012. Since retiring, he has worked as a consultant for school boards to help with governance operations and the Edmonton-based social sciences research group PolicyWise that examines topics on mental health, Indigenous education and maternal health.

“I’ve given my whole career to education. I’ve raised my whole family here. … I still see it as a moral obligation to help in any capacity,” Callaghan said. “I’m passionate about it and it’s something I still want to give to the community.”

He also served as a former executive director with the Public School Boards Association of Alberta (PSBAA), continues to be an education consultant with PSBAA and is a former education consultant with the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA).

Callaghan said while the province has the ultimate authority on the draft curriculum, he said a pause is needed given it is not “age development appropriate for our kids at this time.”

However, an effort to advocate for increased funding in the valley, where costs are significantly higher than other parts of the province should also continue, he said.

“Education funding has been slipping away, so we’re literally being eaten by inflationary costs. The taxes continue to leave the Bow Valley and aren’t controlled by the local board, so we have no access to the funds we need to meet the cost of doing business in the Bow Valley,” he said. "If you look at costs in Canmore to Leduc, they’re different but the boards get the same money. You pay a premium to live here and those are the things we need to advocate strongly to the government of the day.”

He said his main focus is mental and physical health for students, families and staff, a new engaged process for curriculum renewal and allocating funding and resources to help staff and students.

“We’ve seen a lot of stress come into families in society as a result of COVID and we’ve had to adapt our pedagogy. We want to make sure the students and families have all the supports we can muster for them.”

Incumbent board chair Carol Picard was first voted as a school trustee from 1998-2001 and again elected in 2010, having been the CRPS chair the past nine years.

She spent more than 30 years as a journalist, including as a co-founder of the Outlook, and covered education issues among many topics.

Picard said the toughest job she had in her professional career was two years as a team teacher in a Japanese exchange program.

Picard said goals for the coming years are keeping students and teachers safe while COVID-19 remains a threat. In addition, she said mental health continues to be a pressing matter.

“They are and have been going through an incredibly stressful two years,” she said of staff and students. “Our Grade 12s were last in school full time in Grade 9. We need to ensure an appropriate level of resources are available for all schools to keep them appropriately staffed.”

She noted an increase in career counselling services at the high school level, within budget parameters, is a further goal that has led the board to consistently chase grant funding. Short of achieving grants, entrepreneurial programs such as international students and the outdoor learning centre supplement the local division's budget.

Picard said the draft curriculum is problematic, which has led to the board expressing numerous concerns to the ASBA and PSBAA, to bring to the education ministry.

“A large part of our role is to advocate, advocate, advocate. We are a very small division with a very small voice, but we have always punched above our weight. Our trustees and senior admin team have worked hard to forge relationships in the halls of power and at the tables of our provincial organizations. … A lot of people see us as meeting once or twice a month but in fact, we put in hundreds of hours outside of the public eye, reading massive reading files and pushing our little rock uphill inch by inch.”

Lonnie Tipler is relatively new to Canmore, having moved to the mountain town in February, but worked with the Buffalo Trail Public School division in an administrative position for 14 years.

She said CRPS’ four-year education plan lays out the division's vision, and students’ well-being and providing tools for success is at the forefront.

“I think with those areas as their priority, all other focused areas of education will naturally align to provide the best possible education for our students. I am excited to take an active part in implementing their plan, watching it come to fruition and witnessing the amazing results it creates within our students. Everything that the board has laid out for the next four years is definitely something I want to be part of.”

The highly contentious draft curriculum has led to many opposing the rollout of the plan. Tipler said as a student-focused organization, it is important to involve all voices from teachers, parents, staff, the community and the province.

“Listening, thinking, then taking action is an important three-step process that produces successful implementation and results in all areas of life.”

Tipler said as a parent with a student in the school division, she has had “extremely positive” experiences, particularly during the various public health guidelines to help students and staff during the pandemic.

“We are all very aware of the current situation and the many regulations that have affected not only our schools, but our entire world. Even so, I do recognize that our schools are making efforts to encourage and maintain the extremely important concept and culture of togetherness. During a time when provincial regulations are currently encouraging and enforcing division, separation, and bodily choices, I am still very hopeful to actively work towards promoting individual and corporate intellectual, emotional, and physical freedom.”

Arlene Rheaume, who served as the vice-chair for the CRPS school board in the last term, and Luke Sunderland were each acclaimed for the Banff ward. Dale Craig was also acclaimed for the Exshaw ward.

For Christ the Redeemer school board, Chennin Liedtke was acclaimed for the Bow Valley. The riding is the No. 5 electoral subdivision for the St. Thomas Aquinas-Foothills ward and was held by Canmore council candidate Vijay Domingo.

The FrancoSud board of directors for the electoral district that serves Canmore, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Brooks and Bellevue acclaimed their two trustees. Marco Bergeron of Lethbridge and Geneviève Poulin of Canmore are the two trustees.

*** Correction: A prior version of this story incorrectly stated the trustees who were acclaimed for the FrancoSud school board. The story has since been updated. The Outlook apologizes for the error.

About the Author: Greg Colgan

Greg is the editor for the Outlook.
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