MEDICINE HAT, AB — The local Teachers Association in Medicine Hat held a public school board trustee candidate forum Wednesday night.
The event started at 7:00 P.M. and ran until 9:00 P.M.
The questions all came from the audience. There were over 150 people in attendance from teachers to politicians, parents and community members.
Some of the question involved the way bargaining is done between teachers unions, the province and the local school board, others were about mental health supports for teachers.
One of the questions that got a lot of response from the candidates was about expanding education beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Incumbent trustee Catherine Wilson Fraser said everything from outdoor classrooms to field trips can have a big impact on students.
“They come back and they’re excited and they’re learning, and it’s exciting even as a trustee to hear them talk about what they’ve learned or how they’ve learned it.
Candidate Jeremy Williamson said he supports these kinds of initiatives. He said his daughter even had the opportunity to go to a local farm and discover where her food comes from.
“I think those programs are important, hands-on experience is an important process of learning,” he said.
Celina Symmonds said it’s critical to teach children these life skills and lessons both within the classroom and outside of it.
“I think schools really need to bring the community back in to school,” she said. “I was really interested to hear the thoughts on how do we do outdoor education and really bringing kids back into the community as well.”
The problem is finding the funding for schools to keep such programs going. Symmonds suggests getting businesses and other organizations more involved in local schools.
“I really believe that we can potentially go to community to talk about how we might fund some of these things,” She said.
The candidates all acknowledged there’s a divide between schools who can afford outdoor classrooms and trips and those who can’t.
The struggle is figuring out how to provide equal opportunities to all students.
“We have to ensure that we find ways that if those schools can’t raise the funds within the school to participate, that we will find a way to get them the supplementary help,” said Incumbent trustee Terry Riley.
The issue surrounding LGBTQ policies came up once again during the forum.
When asked why the Concerned Parents of SD76 pursued legal action when their petition didn’t meet the requirements candidate Jeremy Williamson said they felt they had no other choice.
“[The signatories I spoke with] felt that they were being left out of the conversation, they felt that they were not satisfied with the answers that they received and they wanted to get those answers.”
The court costs and the time it took the school board to review the petition ultimately cost around $25,000. The board was able to recoup the maximum $2,200 from the CPOSD76 group.
“Our secretary treasurer and his staff spent and incredible amount of time checking every single name and address on the petitions to ensure it met the school act,” explained incumbent trustee Deborah Forbes. “In both time and outlay of funds, there are quite a few community classrooms that come out of $25,000.”
Williamson said if elected he’d want to return to policy 622 and adjust the wording in it to better fit with what he calls parental rights.
“I’m for the principal of the policy to prevent bullying and harassment of children,” he explained. “I just think we need to go back with the policy and go over the wording a little bit more.”
Riley later spoke about why it’s so important to protect LGBTQ students who don’t yet feel comfortable coming out to their parents.
“We have to respect the student’s right to when and if information can be released to other people other than to whom they’re talking,” Riley said.
Thoughts reflected by all the other incumbents and most of the other candidates.
All in all the candidates said the forum went well and they were happy with the turn out.
“I thought it was wonderful for public education,” said Wilson Fraser.
“I think certainly there are great candidates out there and voters will get the chance to have some great people represent them,” Symmonds said.
“The number of people that showed up shows public education is alive and well in Medicine Hat.” Riley said.
“I think that the questions were well articulated and I’m glad to hear the answers from the fellow candidates as well,” said Williamson.
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