Class size is still the top issue facing teachers, and Alberta Teachers’ Association president Greg Jeffery intends to take it up as soon as possible with the new education minister.
“The election is over, but our work is not done,” Jeffery said. “We need to keep working to inform new members of the legislative assembly about our concerns and the importance of reducing class size.”
“Classroom teachers are going to keep doing the good work that they have always done with the kids in their class — that will not change. However, we would like to see fewer students in front of them.”
—ATA president Greg Jeffery
As predicted by pre-election polls, the United Conservative Party achieved a landslide victory in the April 16 provincial general election, winning 63 of 87 seats. A new cabinet is expected to be announced May 1.
“Certainly, a meeting with whoever is named the next education minister would be number one on [my] list of priorities and perhaps a meeting with the premier,” Jeffery said. “Whether or not that’s possible, that remains to be seen, but we need to get things off on a good footing and we need that to happen right away.”
In a move that isn’t typical for the non-partisan ATA, prior to the election Jeffery issued a statement pointing out flaws in the UCP’s education platform. Nevertheless, now that the UCP has formed government, Jeffery expects to forge a good working relationship with the new government and education minister.
“We’re going to be working with this government for at least the next four years — and I want to stress ‘working with.’ We are not going into this in an adversarial position,” Jeffery said. “We want to communicate to the new government that education is a file that can make their government look very good and working with the Alberta Teachers’ Association will help them.”
While it’s not yet known who the minister will be or how warm the relationship will be, Jeffery isn’t concerned.
“In my time on Provincial Executive Council, we’ve worked with some very difficult education ministers, and we’ve accomplished a great deal. Lyle Oberg and Ron Liepert are two names that immediately spring to mind. And while we weren’t terribly friendly with those ministers, we did get things accomplished.”
On the issue of class size, Jeffery is wary of the UCP’s suggestion that it will conduct an audit to determine how class size funds have been spent, given that the auditor general already flagged this in a report released last year.
“[The UCP] are acknowledging class size as an issue here. I’m not certain, however, that the audit is needed. I would go with the work of the auditor general on this one and let’s just get down to it,” Jeffery said.
Another issue on Jeffery’s radar is the UCP platform’s mention of teacher testing and the 2013 Task Force for Teaching Excellence.
“We really don’t know what that one looks like … so I would really like to determine what the new government’s thinking is in regard to that particular document,” he said.
Also of concern is the UCP’s pledge to lift the cap on the number of charter schools and lift charter school enrolment caps.
“We’ve seen examples in a number of jurisdictions in the U.S. where the charter school system is a first step in privatizing education, and that would absolutely be the wrong decision for Alberta,” Jeffery said. “There’s a whole lot more freedom now proposed to be granted to the charter school system.”
Overall, Jeffery suggested that teachers will continue to do their work while the Association continues its work to bring action on the most pressing issues in public education.
“Classroom teachers are going to keep doing the good work that they have always done with the kids in their class — that will not change,” Jeffery said. “However, we would like to see fewer students in front of them.” ❚