We are at a pivotal moment in public education and now is the time for continued strong leadership. I have loved serving as your elected school board Trustee and speaking up on issues important to students and families in Edmonton. Over the last four years I have fought for:
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught me many things, not least of which is this: our schools are the hearts of our communities and they’re worth fighting for.– Trisha Estabrooks
Anti Racism and Equity
One of the greatest recent accomplishments of the Board of Trustees, has been the creation of a new Anti-Racism and Equity policy. Work on this policy began more than two years ago and involved hundreds of hours of consultation with students, families, staff and community members. It is not enough for a school board to say it is anti-racist;a plan and actions must follow. The policy the board passed is the first of several steps, including the decision by the Board of Trustees to direct our administration to begin collecting race-based data. EPSB is the first school division in Alberta to undertake this initiative.
The Anti-Racism and Equity policy is an important foundation but we know the work won’t stop. What’s needed now is action and putting this policy into practice so that our schools can be anti-racist and we can do the hard work of dismantling systemic racism.
This critical work will get underway during the term of the next Board of Trustees, and if re-elected I look forward to making it happen.
EPSB has been one of the most vocal school boards opposed to the current draft of the K-6 curriculum. I have been outspoken on this curriculum because the parents, families and communities I represent in Ward D have told me loudly and clearly to do all I can to stop this draft curriculum from being implemented. While the job of a Trustee does not include drafting the curriculum, it is part of our job to ensure that the best curriculum possible is taught in our schools.
Students must see themselves reflected in the curriculum they are learning. The current draft is not inclusive and does not sufficiently represent Alberta’s diversity. It does not tell the stories of Black, Indigenous and people of colour in meaningful ways. 58 of 61 Alberta school boards have refused to pilot the curriculum.
I have serious concerns about the current draft including:
- Age appropriateness of the curriculum
- The lack of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit perspectives as well as the concerns raised by the Metis Nation of Alberta and Treaty 6 First Nations
- The plagiarism and inaccuracies as pointed out by Deans of Education, including social studies professors from Alberta’s universities and colleges
I am proud to have been part of a Board of Trustees that brought forward a motion to the Alberta School Boards Association, in partnership with Evergreen Catholic (representing schools just west of Edmonton), to lobby Alberta’s government to delay, review and rewrite the draft curriculum. The motion passed but without the word “rewrite.” To me this was a missed opportunity, but the motion was still a success because school boards came together to say this curriculum deserves a failing grade.
If re-elected I will continue to push for a rewrite of the draft curriculum. I will advocate that teachers and First Nations organizations be meaningfully consulted and included in the drafting process each step of the way. The overhaul of Alberta’s K-6 curriculum has been going on for many years under successive governments. The best way to avoid the hyper- politicization of a curriculum rewrite, is to review and update the curriculum on a more regular basis, and to give that work to an independent, non-partisan committee made up of teachers, Indigenous representatives, curriculum experts. We need to get the politics out of our kid’s curriculum.
As board chair I have been pushing hard for open, honest communication about what has been happening with COVID-19. As a parent of two EPSB students myself, I know parents want clear communication about the COVID situation in our schools. EPSB Administration have been open, honest and clear with the information shared with staff, students, families and Board Trustees alike. Unfortunately, there were times when information from the provincial government was not as clear as it could have been. When that happened, I amplified the call for transparency, specifically the sharing of data around in-school transmission and the metrics by which decisions were being made at a provincial level about shifting between in-person and online learning.
“I think we all want to get off what I’ve been calling the COVID coaster,” Trisha Estabrooks said at an EPSB meeting held via video conference on Tuesday. “This on-again, off-again disruption to student learning that happens when students return to classes during the pandemic.
From the beginning of the pandemic, I saw clearly that all school-based staff were in fact on the front lines. Staff were and still are the silent heroes of the pandemic in our schools. Teachers, educational assistants, custodians, administrative assistants and principals saw first-hand the pandemic’s impact on families, witnessing an increase in the needs of our kids and the strain on physical and mental health.
EPSB students have been impacted by this pandemic. An overall loss of learning has occurred. Looking ahead to the next two years, greater attention and therefore funding will need to be re-directed to address learning gaps and support children’s mental health. We must take the opportunity to learn from the past two years and talk about ways to support students more effectively. These are critical conversations that Trustees and Administration need to have in order to move past the pandemic in a positive way.
The pandemic affected people differently. People of colour and Indigenous people were disproportionately negatively impacted by COVID-19 with higher rates of COVID, more job loss and greater impacts to physical and mental health. The pandemic exposed chasms in our society, further widening the gap that exists between those who have enough and those who do not.One out of eight kids in Edmonton lives in poverty. One in eight. Our schools have long been on the front lines of support for these kids and their families, and the pandemic amplified this relationship. School boards like ours are going to have to step up to find innovative ways to make precious education dollars stretch to support families post-pandemic, and reduce barriers to education for children living in poverty. Here are a few ideas about how to do that
- Improve access to programs that support kids and families. Our schools are the hearts of our communities and as such our buildings need to continue to be accessible and affordable for after school programs and daycares to use. We need to leverage the federal government’s commitment to $10/day daycare and push for all new school buildings to include daycare spaces. One of the most exciting infrastructure projects undertaken in the last four years was the construction of Dr. Anne Anderson School. This school is a community recreation centre and a school combined – a future model that I’d love to see EPSB, the City of Edmonton and the Province emulate for future school builds. (By the way, it has 678 solar panels and will generate 278,000 kilowatt hours of energy!)
- Continue to support full day kindergarten programs in communities with high social vulnerability.
- Expand nutrition programs in schools.
- Find new ways to work with partners, such as the United Way, to support students living in poverty.
- Continue to move ahead with providing free menstrual products in schools.
- Make bus fees more affordable for families
- Continue finding ways to work with Alberta Health Services to meet families in their communities by providing access to mental health supports directly in schools.
- Hold Administration accountable for the recently passed Anti-Racism and Equity Policy that was recently approved and has amazing potential to make real, lasting change for all students.
If re-elected, I will ensure that EPSB budgets continue to support student needs as we recover from the pandemic.
Cuts to PUF or Program Unit Funding
One of the most devastating moments of the last four years was the news that the provincial government was significantly cutting Program Unit Funding (PUF), which pays for extra supports for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students who live with disabilities. This crucial funding program provides key supports for some of the most vulnerable children in Edmonton. I remember speaking with many parents about these cuts, and those phone calls often ended with all of us in tears.
The provincial government’s 2020-21 budget cut PUF for EPSB students by 76 percent cut, or about $30 million. As a result, 22 PUF sites were closed, affecting more than 400 children.
In response, parents rallied and new organizations advocating for a reversal of these cuts were formed. During Fall 2020, EPSB successfully convinced the majority of school boards in Alberta to join us in our fight to reverse the cuts to PUF. Unfortunately that has not happened yet.In its spring 2021 budget the provincial government re-directed an additional $40 million for PUF programs across the province, but this was not a fresh investment. The money was reallocated from operational and maintenance funding for schools. For example, EPSB is forced to allow school buildings to deteriorate in order to pay for PUF programs.
This situation is not acceptable. If re-elected, I will continue to fight for a reversal of the cuts to PUF.
Continued leadership is needed to advocate to the provincial government for predictable, sustainable and adequate funding for school divisions. The current funding model, introduced by the provincial government in 2020, unfairly disadvantages growing school divisions. Because of this new formula, EPSB is never fully funded for the actual number of students that it serves. For example, 20% of an Alberta public school division’s funding is based on enrolment from two years ago.
Thirty percent is based on enrolment from last year, and the remaining 50% is based on projected enrolment for the current school year. This is not an adequate formula for ensuring there are sufficient staff and supports in place for students. It’s as if we are always looking in the rearview mirror, which is not a good way to think about children’s education. I look forward to continuing to work with other metro boards to ensure that growing school divisions receive predictable, sustainable and adequate funding. An investment in public education is an investment in our future.
If re-elected I will continue to fight for a fair, equitable and adequate funding formula for EPSB.
In addition to ensuring there is strong content about climate change in Alberta’s new curriculum, there are necessary steps that EPSB should be taking to mitigate the effects of climate change. We have an opportunity right now to show continued strong leadership in this area.
EPSB has a solar energy strategy that the Board passed in 2017. Unfortunately, the division has not been able to advance this strategy as effectively as I would have liked. So much of what the EPSB builds depends on the provincial government and its willingness to fund projects, including solar energy projects. I would like to see a renewed focus on our solar strategy, as it makes so much sense for all new school buildings to include solar panels. In 2019, I voted in favour of a motion asking Alberta’s Education Minister to make future school construction projects energy-neutral. These are conversations that require collaboration, innovation and advocacy. I look forward to working with all three orders of government to achieve greater efficiency and greener buildings.
There are definitely other steps EPSB can and should be taking on climate change, including upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and energy systems within our schools. The success of such initiatives continues to depend in large part on support from the province.
But there are other steps we can take. EPSB recently passed a motion to participate in the City of Edmonton’s Corporate Climate Leaders Program. Participating in this program means EPSB will now track the division’s greenhouse gas emissions and develop a plan to reduce them. I’m keen to see this work continue, particularly in partnership with bus carriers as we explore options to transition to green transportation technology, such as electric and hybrid buses.
I find it gratifying to witness the passion and ingenuity of EPSB students as they learn about climate change and show their determination to find solutions. Our student leaders have much to teach us about ways to reduce greenhouse gases in meaningful ways that are here and now, within the control and purview of a school division. I look forward to working with future student senators and student trustees on this critical issue.
If re-elected I will continue to work with students, families and other orders of government to find and implement meaningful solutions to the climate crisis that is the most challenging issue of our times.
This past year, the Board of Trustees received a report about the literacy and numeracy gaps for EPSB students. It showed where those students go to school whether their first language was English, whether they identified as First Nations, Metis or Inuit, and if they had any identified special needs. This report used the the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), rating system that is based on student mobility, family income and lone parent status, and categorizes schools into groupings.
The results were staggering and demanded action. There is a clear correlation between poverty and literacy rates in Edmonton. As a result of this report, the Board of Trustees passed a motion asking Administration to come up with an action plan to support vulnerable learners. This work needs to continue under the next Board of Trustees.
If re-elected I will make sure Administration implements a plan to address the equity gap detailed in the literacy and numeracy report. This work must continue, in conjunction with EPSB’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit Education Policy, the collection of race-based data and defining accountability metrics.
The history of inclusion within Alberta schools is worthy of further analysis and exploration. A good starting point is the report: Setting the Direction for Special Education in Alberta, which was published in 2009. This report has three goals that chart a path for inclusion in Alberta classrooms.
GOAL ONE: CURRICULUM
Alberta Education’s definition of students’ educational success encompasses achievement and progress for every student, so that each may have the opportunity to “…achieve success and fulfillment as citizens in a changing world”. (Alberta Education Business Plan 2009-2012)
GOAL TWO: CAPACITY
The education system is equipped, resourced and ready to support and respond to the needs of all students in an inclusive way.
GOAL THREE: COLLABORATION
A collaborative process to support children, students, communities, schools and families is evident across Government of Alberta Ministries.
Community schools continue to support the inclusive education model, which is imperative to maintaining a strong public school system. In the same way that mental health supports should be offered in our schools, we also need to meet kids who have special needs where they’re at: in their communities, as much as possible. We need to ensure, however, that all community schools are truly inclusive and that there is consistency in the support for students and families who require extra supports.
A coordinated provincial approach to inclusion is needed in order to make steps in advancing the goals laid out in the 2009 report. I believe working closely with the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) as well as the Public School Boards Association of Alberta (PSBAA) is needed in order to elevate the profile of this issue with the provincial government.. There are many strong parent organizations that are doing critical work in this area and their voices need to be heard and included in these conversations.
Valid questions remain about whether the vision and the goals outlined in this report from 12 years ago have been realized. One area I am concerned about in particular is the second goal and whether the education system is adequately resourced to support all students in an inclusive way. Conversations with parents of children with special and neuro diverse needs suggest the funding is not adequate, and that the resources for these children in our classrooms are not sufficient.
The current funding model is all based on the weighted moving average. This amalgamated approach of tying funding to previous years enrolment does not keep pace with the increasing number of EPSB students.The grants that support special needs students in EPSB are also tied to the weighted moving average, which again means that the division is not adequately funded for the actual number of students, including students with special needs, in our schools.
A recent media story about Alberta’s Minister of Education moving ahead with changes to special education standards highlighted the importance of the idea of “nothing about us, without us.” The current EPSB of Trustees unanimously passed a motion advocating that the Minister do the right thing and engage with parents and stakeholders on the revisions to the standards on special education.