Challenges include draft curriculum and Covid response
An exhausting pandemic and a divisive draft curriculum are among the main challenges facing three teachers who have recently taken on a new role — school board trustee.
Gary Hansen, Laura Hack and Brian Callaghan were all elected as first-time trustees during the municipal elections held in October. As they continue to settle into their new roles, the teachers-turned-board members say they are up to the challenges that lie ahead.
As a newly elected trustee for Black Gold School District, Hansen says his goal is to find ways to continually improve the education provided to students.
“Managing issues that have been thrust onto trustee laps by the province has made this goal more difficult to achieve,” Hansen says. “Curriculum development and implementation, managing COVID-19 in schools, COVID-19–related learning gaps and mental health, and funding are just a few of these issues that will be challenges for trustees.”
According to Hack, trustee for wards three and four with the Calgary Board of Education, the draft curriculum was an issue that brought many Albertans to the polls.
“It was a huge factor. The draft curriculum brought out more than just parents to vote for trustees this election. Parents and citizens were extremely concerned about the content of the draft, the order in which it appeared and the fact that it is extremely Eurocentric,” Hack said.
Hansen says that he heard concern for the curriculum from all voters, and not just those with children.
“I received a predominance of emails asking about my position on the curriculum draft,” he says. “Citizens were motivated to hear trustee positions and said they would be voting according to what they heard from candidates.”
Another issue resonating with voters was how children were being affected by COVID-19, online learning and the government’s response to the pandemic in terms of education.
“Many individuals, especially parents, expressed their frustration with lack of safety protocols that were/are being implemented to keep their children safe from airborne COVID-19,” says Hack.
For Hansen, many of the concerns he heard centered around how the pandemic was affecting mental health.
“Parents pointed out that, with online learning, students are missing learning experiences, they are missing the social interaction that they get at school and mental health concerns among students have increased.”
A fourth concern was issues around supports for students with complex needs. Parents who have children needing specialized supports are upset by the reduction of them. The reduction of PUF funding by the government was one example that was mentioned.
According to Callaghan, trustee within Canadian Rockies Public Schools, the issue underpinning both the curriculum and the COVID-19 response is the erosion of trust between the general public and levels of government.
“People said they were frustrated by a government that was not listening to their voices” he says. “There are just too many political distractions from our core mission.”
However, all of the trustees believe that their experience as teachers will be critical to their roles as advocates as they bridge the divide between Albertans and the provincial government.
“I have a passion for supporting a public education system that provides students with high-quality and relevant educational opportunities to achieve their best,” Hansen says. “As a recently retired teacher with over 40 years of experience, including time spent as a teacher leader, I ran because I believe that I have some knowledge and skills that may be useful as a trustee.”
Like his colleagues, Callaghan, who has served as a teacher, principal, superintendent and consultant for 40 years, finds hope in the role of trustees.
“Boards can be such a force for good in the lives of students and staff,” he says. “I am motivated by what is good in what we do.”
For Hack, this is what lead her to run.
“I care about students. Being a teacher myself and now having kids in the public school system, I arguably care more on a personal level now. I believe in public education, being a public school graduate myself, and I know how important it is to the progress of society as a whole.” ❚