Thank you, Ward G!

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This morning after the election begins with thankfulness.

I am in awe of the amazing people who devote so much time and energy to electing people who represent their values, their hopes, and their vision for our schools and communities. None of this is possible without those volunteers who give their all. Campaigns are impossible without the people who believe in them.

I am so grateful to the voters of Ward G who believed in me and returned me to serve for the next four years. I'm looking forward to having a full term to work even harder for our schools and our communities. In the two years after the by-election, I was proud to be able to hit the ground running and accomplish important things -- I'm excited now to have four years to keep building safe, caring, welcoming, and inclusive schools for every child and to move things forward in our public schools.

I will continue to be a champion for public education, to stand up for the safety and well-being of every child and to work to develop schools that meet the needs of 21st-century learners while serving our neighbourhoods as a whole. I will continue to seek out partnerships and build strong relationships beyond the walls of our schools as a trustee who is engaged in the community and responsive to the challenges of education in a fast-growing, young, diverse city. And I will continue to speak up for the need for school nutrition so that no child is held back by hunger and for the vital work of reconciliation in education.

Finally, I want to thank every person who put their name forward in this election. Standing for election is one of the most important, most difficult things a person can do. My heartfelt congratulations to everyone elected yesterday, both to school boards and city council, as well as to everyone who had the courage to put their name and face out there to run.

Thank you, Ward G, and thank you, Edmonton. I will work my hardest to serve you well.

 

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Staples Survey Responses

On October 4, Edmonton Journal columnist David Staples sent all school board trustee candidates a set of questions that he noted would be used to determine his endorsements with the request that we respond by October 9. I sent him my reply on October 8 and have included both the questions and my responses in raw form below.

I welcome any opportunity to speak about education, and so I wanted to share my responses in full so that voters can read my thoughts on these issues. I welcome your feedback. If you have questions or comments, please email me at info@bridgetstirling.ca with your thoughts.

Very briefly, can you also summarize relevant personal and professional experience for job of trustee. 

First, a little about my background and qualifications to serve as a trustee.

Beyond my experience as an incumbent trustee, I have served on a number of boards and committees, including as a member of the industry advisory committee for the professional writing and journalism programs at MacEwan from 2007 to 2012, which included supporting the program through the transition from an applied degree to the Bachelor of Communication Studies program.

I have spent significant time in the classroom, including as a public educator on consent, healthy relationships, bullying, and abuse topics, working both in junior high and high school classrooms and with parents, early childhood educators, teachers, social workers, and other caregivers on the prevention of sexual abuse and how to help people who have been abused. 

I have also taught at MacEwan University as a sessional instructor, teaching grammar and writing skills for Bachelor of Commerce students. Teaching undergraduate students gave me an opportunity to see how undergraduate students have been prepared for life after high school, an important experience when thinking about how best to ensure young adults can successfully make that transition.

Additionally, I have worked as a consultant and research analyst on public policy, mainly in the area of public health, where I conducted literature reviews and environmental scans and conducted and analyzed public consultations and made policy recommendations. I also worked in communications for the University of Alberta for the last three years.

I hold a Bachelor of Applied Communications in Professional Writing, an MA in Intercultural and International Communication, and I am now pursuing a PhD in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta with a research interest in youth participation in politics and civil society and the factors that drive engaged citizenship.

1. In 1995, nine per cent of Grade Four students in Alberta ranked at the top level for math, meaning they could apply math to relatively complex problems and explain their reasoning. But just 2.4 per cent students hit that mark on the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Even more ominously, our number has exploded in the category of students who lack even a basic knowledge of math. It went from six per cent of Grade 4 students in 2011 to 13.2 per cent in 2015.

In the 2015 general election, Rachel Notley of the NDP expressed concern about Alberta’s slipping math scores on international tests. "It's really surprising me when I see how little basic math capacity otherwise highly-educated young people have. It is strange."

Do you share Notley’s concern? If so, what should be done to fix our math education? What can a school trustee do?

I think you’d be hard pressed to find many people in education who don’t think math is a priority for students. I agree that our students need to have the highest levels of numeracy we can give them, and I support efforts to improve math education for our students. As you know, as school board trustees, we do not have control over curriculum or pedagogy, but we do have the ability to prioritize numeracy in our budgets and in our direction to the district. Supporting every child in basic numeracy – that is, mathematical literacy – is important to me.

As you can read in the report to the board on numeracy on November 29, 2016 (https://www.epsb.ca/media/epsb/ourdistrict/boardoftrustees/boardmeetings/2016-17/november29/02-StrategicPlanUpdate-SuccessforAllStudents-Numeracy.pdf), we have increased our focus on numeracy in Edmonton Public Schools in response to our concerns, as well as the concerns of parents and teachers, about math education. These supports include a new test, the Math Intervention/Programming Instrument, which we are now working with teachers to use so that they can understand at the beginning of the school year where a student is struggling in math. We have also created resources for schools, such as Maximizing Math, that are intended to support teachers and principals in numeracy work in schools. We have also added more teacher professional development opportunities, including full-day math PD sessions as well as summer institute intensive courses.

Some of these approaches are modelled on efforts made in recent years to improve literacy in EPSB, which has been very successful particularly at the elementary school level. It will take time for these changes to be reflected at the high school level, but I believe that by building the foundational skills early, we will see an improvement in math outcomes.

Another important role of the trustee is as an advocate. While we do not set curricula, we are considered stakeholders, and as a large district, EPSB has a powerful voice. We should be asking for the new math curriculum to support students in achieving to the highest levels in math. We are not math experts as trustees, but I hope that the ministry will draw on all available resources and expertise to create success for Alberta students.

2. Education Minister David Eggen has expressed support of Provincial Exams, saying "They are very necessary. One of the key responsibilities I have here is to assess our level of success, especially with a new curriculum. We definitely need to have a sort of mirror that we can cast back on all of our activities in education." Do you agree with Eggen that provincial exams are very necessary? If so, why? If not, why?

I agree that provincial exams are an important part of assessment in Alberta Education. We need a variety of assessment tools in the toolbox to ensure we have a full picture of how students are doing in school.

3. The Progressive Conservative government axed the Grade 3 Provincial Exam. It was replaced by the SLA, which was only used by 20% of schools in 2016 and will now be done only on a voluntary basis. Will you commit to fight to bring back the Grade 3 provincial exam. If so, why? If not, why?

While I support some models for standardized testing, I would prefer to see the province review the provincial model for SLAs to use them similarly to the way we are using the MIPI and HLAT in elementary and junior high schools. Ideally, these tests should enable teachers to assess a child’s learning and knowledge retention from the previous year and determine how best to address any gaps. We need tests that not only allow us to evaluate a child’s learning but also to ensure we are helping them reach the standard. I am not sure the SLA is meeting this need effectively.

4. There is some concern that the new curriculum rewrite in Alberta will move in the direction of more discovery/inquiry learning, with a focus on teachers acting as guides or facilitators, not instructors. They will work with students in group and project work, as the students work at their own pace. There will be less focus on the intensive and explicit teaching of knowledge. As UCP candidate Jason Kenney recently said: "I think parents have had enough of pedagogical fads... The focus should be on teaching knowledge and relevant skills with measurable outcomes in literacy and numeracy.”

Do you share this concern? If so why? If not, why?

I think there is a lot of confusion between curriculum and pedagogy in the current debate around the new curriculum. Curricula set out what should be taught; they do not direct classroom practice on how to teach. I would hope that anyone wishing to be a leader in education would understand the difference between curriculum and pedagogy. Our classroom teachers should be receiving appropriate and relevant professional development and education to improve their pedagogical practice and ensure that it is grounded in evidence on achieving the best learning outcomes for students, including building basic literacy and numeracy skills as well as teaching creative thinking and problem solving. Our children will need both elements to become successful in life after school.

5. In December 2016, results came out from the world's biggest educational assessment - the 2015 results in science, reading and math from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). They showed Alberta students ranked first in Canada and second out of 72 countries or economies in the world, behind only Singapore, in science. Albertans ranked third in the world in reading, behind only British Columbia and Singapore.

To what do you attribute Alberta’s success in this regard in these subjects?

I believe our high level of success in literacy is attributable in part to a culture that places a high value on reading. As I am responding to this questionnaire, I am near the end of a week of reading in schools as part of Read-In Week. We celebrate literacy and make it foundational to the culture of our schools, and it shows. When we partner that with early education programs through public libraries, parents who read to children, and a high level of community literacy, we create powerful readers and writers in our children. As someone who has taught writing at the university level, I believe strongly in the importance of building strong reading and writing skills, and I also believe that good writers are good readers – learning grammar matters, but the art of writing is reinforced by reading great writers.

Our success in science is, in part, a product of the emphasis we have placed for many years on STEM in Alberta. Engineering and science are integral parts of the Alberta economy, and so we have many role models for children and resources to draw on in these areas. Programs such as WISEST and Discover-E, for example, open up the possibilities of STEM to children, helping them engage more in science learning. Science is also an area where combining foundational learning and discovery is key; the scientific method of developing and testing a hypothesis is an essential part of the science classroom, and students can see the principles they learn in class come to life in the lab.

6.  The Alberta Teachers' Association and 13 other groups including Public Interest Alberta and the Public School Boards Association of Alberta say they no longer want the provincial government to pay for the basic education of one particular group of Alberta students, the 20,000-plus who attend private schools.

The province has always paid 100 per cent of the cost for every student attending a public school. But since 1998, for all those parents who have decided that the public system isn't for their children and have sent them to a private school, the government has still made a sizable contribution. It pays private schools about $5,200 per year per student, the ATA said. This is 60-to-70 per cent of the amount that goes to fund each child in a public school

Do you agree with the ATA’s suggestion to defund these students? If so, why? If not, why?

I think that, in some cases, these programs should be offered under a fully funded public model. Programming for children with special needs, for example, should not be dependent on a family’s ability to pay tuition fees, and public schools should also consider making space for other programs, as Edmonton Public has in making space in a public system for both the Christian schools programs (Edmonton Christian, Mill Woods Christian, Meadowlark Christian) and Talmud Torah, all of which are formerly private schools and now operate in partnership with EPSB, including parent boards which support the schools. I believe that there can be more room made under the public umbrella for these students, and I would welcome discussions with private schools who might wish to consider this move. If a program is of high quality, we should find ways to make it accessible to every child, not make access dependent on a family’s financial circumstances.

7. Social studies teachers say that the comprehensive teaching of world history was abandoned during the last curriculum rewrite from 2006 to 2010. In its place is a haphazard focus on social issues. The curriculum moved away from any kind of comprehensive study and analysis of history to narrowly focus on motherhood issues like embracing diversity and environmental stewardship, critics charge. Do you agree with this critique? If so, why? If not, why?

I am not a curriculum expert, but given the concerns you describe, I welcome the efforts to develop a new social studies curriculum. We have not yet seen the curriculum, only a proposed scope and sequence (a document that looks at high-level themes for each year), but I hope that the new curriculum will balance teaching history with learning about the social, political, and economic implications of those histories. I also hope to see a renewed focus on civics; with declining rates of young Albertans participating in elections, I believe that we need to find ways to create engaged citizens by teaching students about the core values of democracy in our classrooms and ensuring that they understand how government and legislation affect their lives, both historically and today.

8. The New Democrats refuse to release the names of the leading professors and consultants doing the current curriculum rewrite. There is a concern that top subject experts in math, science and the humanities will be frozen out of the curriculum writing process and it will be dominated by like-minded professors and consultants who favour inquiry/discovery learning and/or are guided by a pronounced and uniform socio-political agenda. Patricia McCormack, professor emeritus at the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta doesn't buy that the lead curriculum writers should be kept secret, even if some of them worry about harsh criticism: "If they're university professors and they're not willing to stand behind what they do, then you have to wonder how firm their ground is."

McCormack is worried about the accuracy and quality of work being done: "I am not optimistic about the ability of people in the education system to develop good curriculum unless they work with content specialists."

Do you share Prof. McCormack’s concerns? If so, why? If not, why?

Although I know and respect her work as an academic in Native Studies, I am unsure of Dr. McCormack’s background in curriculum development or what her relationship or knowledge of the current process is, so I do not feel able to assess whether her opinion on the process is accurate. However, I agree that we need subject matter experts working on all aspects of curriculum development, alongside the many teachers who are involved in this process (65% of the total number of expert working group members are teachers). I have heard from some professors who are involved in this process, and from what I have seen, they are well-regarded experts in their fields, including professors in history and sciences (and, I am sure, others are involved as well).

Historically, the names of working group members have not been released, in the same way that members of many working groups involved in government policy are not released, so this is not a change that has occurred under this government – these practices were the same under the Progressive Conservatives as well. I support transparency in knowing which Alberta Education staff and/or contractors are leading this process; however, I do not think it is appropriate to publish a list of all participants in the review given that the majority are classroom teachers.

9. More than 26,000 Edmonton public students – and thousands more in the Catholic system - attend alternative school programs for language, the arts, sports and academics. These alternative programs have been available for more than four decades. They are a defining feature of Edmonton Public Schools and people are rightly proud of a system that strains to foster the talents and interests of tens of thousands of students.

But not everyone is happy with the success.

In fact, an influential Alberta education lobby group, Support Our Students Alberta (SOS), sees such school choice in the darkest terms. It links alternative schools to neo-Nazism.

In the wake of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., SOS published the following message on its Facebook page. "Yesterday's tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, reemphasize for us why we cannot afford to segregate our children. Not by class, not by race, not by culture, religion, not by ability."

SOS then listed a number of alternative programs which they say represent "segregation disguised as choice."

Such "segregated" schools include sports, ballet and hockey programs, French, Chinese, Arabic, Ukrainian, Spanish, Hebrew and German bilingual programs, Cogito, Montessori, international baccalaureate, Nellie McClung and Caraway academic programs, Logos and Christian schools, the Victoria performing arts school, and a number of alternative and private schools in Calgary.

Barbara Silva, SOS communication director said:

"We're saying those (Charlottesville) events are a demonstration of intolerance and of a lack of exposure to diversity. So when we have schools in the public system based on lines of religions ... we're dividing kids based on religion. So we're not providing those children opportunities to interact and that provides an opportunity for intolerance to grow ... We believe they're creating divisions."

What about the academic, sports and arts schools? How do they create an atmosphere of intolerance? "I don't know they can necessarily help create an atmosphere. What they do is they don't allow for these children to interact."

Silva wants a school system where children don't have to choose between a strong music, language or physical education programs, but where all children can access a rich curriculum in all public schools.

Do you agree with Silva’s critique? Should Edmonton school systems move away from open boundaries and programs of choice? If so, why? If not, why?

I believe strongly in the programs of choice model. As a graduate of Edmonton Public Schools, I benefitted from strong alternative programs that supported my learning needs, including French Immersion, Academic Challenge, and Victoria School of the Arts programs. I have also seen firsthand how these programs can help keep some of our students engaged and involved through to graduation, whether that is an arts program that keeps a creative child from dropping out, a sports alternative that helps a kid with ADHD feel more engaged in school, a program such as Cogito that offers an educational philosophy that a parent sees as desirable, or a language and culture program that enables a child to learn about their own heritage or embrace the diversity of our community through learning about another.

On a purely pragmatic level, the schools of choice model helps us to use mature community infrastructure more effectively by attracting children to schools in neighbourhoods where the local student population is not adequate to sustain the school. In a city with a significant crunch on suburban school space, attracting families into older schools by offering alternative programs allows us to use our space more effectively without having to draw draconian boundaries.

I also believe that programs of choice allow students to access programs their families might not otherwise be able to afford; whether a child lives in subsidized housing or a spacious riverside mansion, they can be included in a public school program that fits their needs and interests. While there are still barriers to access we need to consider, such as transportation and fees, offering public programs of choice gives all students more opportunities in and beyond their K-12 education.

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Best of Edmonton!

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A huge thank you to everyone who voted to make me Vue Weekly's Best School Trustee of 2017! I'm grateful for all the support that so many of you have shown over the last two years, and I look forward to another term of serving you on the Edmonton Public School Board as your trustee for Ward G.

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Traffic safety

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Over the last few weeks out doorknocking in Ward G, I've heard a lot from residents about traffic and schools. Schools are high traffic areas -- parents dropping off students, school buses coming and going, and children walking and biking to class.

For mature neighbourhoods, these issues are compounded as the city grows and becomes more dense. With more residents in core areas and the added traffic of families dropping children off for programs of choice, we see a lot of cars on the roads in front of our schools. In new neighbourhoods where families sometimes travel longer distances to larger schools, we are also seeing pressure around traffic safety as hundreds of families are dropping off and picking up students every day.

Adding to that is the upcoming Valley Line LRT development, which cuts through the heart of Ward G. The recent traffic impact report to City Council suggests that congestion in the area of the new line will increase significantly in some areas, raising concerns about shortcutting and overflows into neighbourhoods onto collector roads. Many of those collector roads run past schools, raising community concerns about safety for our youngest citizens as commuter traffic may overflow, increasing both traffic volume and speeding past schools such as Holyrood, Avonmore, Greenview, and more.

At the same time, density and development are bringing vehicles into neighbourhoods for other reasons. The very successful Ritchie Four Corners development, for example, is bringing people into that community, which is also seeing infill and densification as part of a thriving neighbourhood revitalization push. The development is helping to bring energy to the neighbourhood, which is also seeing an exciting replacement school project at Escuela Mill Creek, but along with new energy come new challenges. A recent serious collision in the community has raised concerns about traffic safety and the need for calming measures, with an upcoming community meeting to discuss these issues.

Holyrood is also struggling with development-related traffic concerns around the proposed Holyrood Gardens project, which will bring 1200 housing units and double the population of that community. Residents are worried about traffic flows from the community and the impact on the nearby Holyrood School, Southeast Edmonton Seniors Association (SEESA), playground, community hall, and seniors' housing complex.

While the school has a school zone and student drop-off area, these are not adequate measures if traffic flows follow the patterns community sees emerging, and the traffic impact assessment for this project has not taken into account the student traffic pattern around the school during the rush hour periods before and after school. Additionally, no traffic safety assessment has been done for the potential impacts on the broader community. I am registered to speak to some of these issues and other aspects of the impact of development on mature community schools at the September 11 public hearing.

So, what can school boards do to increase traffic safety around schools? When it comes down to it, there's not much we can do on our own. Our planners work hard to design safe drop-off areas for children and ensure that we plan for bus and parking safety on our sites, but once we get to the public sidewalk or roadway, our authority ends and the city's authority begins.

That doesn't mean we are powerless, however. One of the roles I have found myself in as a trustee many times is one of working with the area city councilor to solve traffic problems together. Whether it's been working on traffic and parking around Avonmore with the opening of Metro Continuing Education at that site or meeting with councilors along with the Holyrood Development Committee, as a trustee, I can represent the voice of the school community in discussions of traffic safety.

I also attend consultations and community meetings about traffic-related issues, and along with our planners at the district, I help to connect concerned citizens with the City of Edmonton transportation department to ensure traffic impact assessments and safety assessments take place.

And our city council is taking action on safety too, with the expansion of school zones to include junior high schools and the push to add playground zones to the traffic calming measures available for neighbourhoods. I hope that our new council members will also take up the cause of traffic safety in our communities to ensure all our children -- and all residents -- can move safely through our streets.

One of the greatest needs is for a traffic safety model around schools that takes a proactive approach to pedestrian safety, rather than waiting for issues to arise to do needed safety assessments and bring in safety measures such as lit crosswalks or signaled intersections. St. Albert's Safe Journeys to School initiative offers one possible model for increasing driver awareness and pedestrian safety near schools

We are also working in other ways to reduce traffic around schools. Active transportation can help to reduce vehicle traffic around schools and increase safety while improving health outcomes for kids, but we need to ensure streets feel safe for children walking, biking, or rolling to school. Without improved safety for cyclists and pedestrians, parents will continue to drop their children off because they will perceive walking to school as unsafe, compounding the traffic safety issues near our schools.

I'm looking forward to continuing to work with Ward G communities on school traffic safety. If you have ideas to share, questions about traffic measures, or an traffic concern around your neighbourhood school, please get in touch!

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Affirming support for LGBTQ students

With some of the provincial conversation around LGBTQ students and GSAs lately, I have been hearing regularly from parents, students, and community members who are worried about our practices around protecting and supporting sexual and gender minority students.

As we are coming back to school this year, I believe it is a priority to reassure our students about our practices and to clarify how we protect students' privacy and confidentiality. This has become an urgent issue for children and their families, and I think we need to take a clear stance.

As such, I plan to request a waiver of notice of motion on September 12 and bring forth the following:

Motion that the Board of Trustees affirms our commitment to protecting the privacy and confidentiality of sexual and gender minority students as stated in HFA.BP and HFA.AR, including students' participation in gay-straight alliances and queer-straight alliances, and will not disclose information about students' participation in these groups to any person without the student's consent.

District staff will not refer students to programs or services that attempt to change or repair a student's sexual orientation or gender identity, such as reparative or conversion therapy.

The board of trustees will write a welcome letter to all Edmonton Public Schools GSAs and QSAs including this affirmation of our support.

Further, the board will submit a recommendation that protecting student privacy and confidentiality in GSAs be included in the proposed amendments to the School Act.

I want to note that this is within the scope of our policy and administrative regulation on this issue and reflects the processes the Superintendent has laid out for our district practice as well as the direction from the Minister of Education, and so it is not a shift in direction for us. However, it is a needed clarification and reinforcement of our position for our students and families.

I hope that my colleagues will support this motion as an important affirmation of our board's policies and district practice and that this will reassure worried students, families, and community members that we will protect students' rights to access GSAs and respect the privacy and confidentiality of vulnerable youth.

 

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Numeracy

I’ve been hearing some questions from parents on the doorstep lately about math education. Like every parent and every educator, as a trustee, I am concerned when we see a potential decline in our students’ achievements in mathematics.

Math skills are essential, whether it’s for simple daily living tasks like counting change on a purchase, trade skills like measuring angles properly to build someone’s new home, or advanced mathematics that help a physicist understand the nature of the universe.

As public school board trustees, we have a limited role in shaping the provincial curriculum. We are important advocates and stakeholders, and we can help to advise Alberta Education on the needs of our districts, but in the end, the curriculum is in the hands of the Minister of Education.

Our board has been clear in its support for a renewed curriculum that strengthens math education, but in the interim, we must continue to work with the existing curriculum.

Where we can and are making a difference is not so much in what we teach in the classroom, but in how. As trustees, we are decision makers on where our financial and human resources are dedicated, and for us, one of our priorities is in the area of math education as a part of our commitment to success for every student in our district strategic plan (see priority one, goal two).

Right now, Edmonton Public Schools is embarking on work to improve numeracy across the district. We’re tackling this problem in several ways.

First of all, we’re improving our ability to identify students’ strengths and challenges in mathematics sooner so that we can address problems early and better target interventions to meet a child’s need. The Math Intervention/Programming Instrument (MIPI), implemented in 2014, is becoming an important early assessment tool for teachers. Every September, students write these exams, which allow a teacher to identify a child’s needs early in the school year based on their retention of concepts and skills from the previous grade.

We’re also supporting teachers in developing the skills to appropriately analyze their MIPI results and use them to improve their practice in the classroom.

Through a number of catchment-level projects, schools are sharing their approaches and testing out models for interpreting results to improve classroom interventions.

Along with this work, we’ve also expanded our options for teacher professional development on numeracy. Whether they participate in a professional development day focused on math education or take part in one of our extended summer institutes, teachers have more opportunities available to improve their classroom practice in math and numeracy.

To supplement these efforts, we are developing more resources to be used to teach mathematics, such as Maximizing Math and other resources including handbooks and strategy cards and support materials for principals.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but our efforts in literacy in recent years have shown that a focus on reading and writing skills in the early elementary years are having results. Targeted work on numeracy will have a similar effect as students’ basic math skills form a strong foundation for more advanced math later on into junior high and high school.

Through these approaches, we are improving what we can control -- how we teach -- so that no matter what happens in the curriculum, our teachers are better equipped to teach the fundamental numeracy skills that will help our students reach success in math and in life. Our kids deserve nothing less.

I am committed to continuing this investment in numeracy and literacy to ensure every child gets the best possible foundation for school and for life.

To read our most recent report on numeracy in Edmonton Public Schools: https://www.epsb.ca/media/epsb/ourdistrict/boardoftrustees/boardmeetings/2016-17/november29/02-StrategicPlanUpdate-SuccessforAllStudents-Numeracy.pdf





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Statement on diversity and inclusion

Over the last few days, I have received many kind messages and words of support from people in Ward G and beyond. I’m grateful for the outpouring of love and concern for our students, who deserve to have a trustee who will ensure that every child is welcome, safe, and included.

One of the most powerful experiences for me as your trustee was the first time I walked in Edmonton’s Pride Parade with students from our gay-straight alliances, accompanied by teachers and staff who love and support our kids.

I’m no stranger to Pride. I’ve marched for years, as a member of the community and a supporter of human rights and dignity for every person. But that year, walking with our students, I saw something I’d never seen before. As we travelled along the route, I looked into the faces of so many sexual and gender minority people standing on the sidelines, their faces a mix of joy for our youth and sadness at the memory of growing up in a time when LGBTQ kids were excluded and bullied, not welcomed and celebrated for their beautiful selves.

I remembered, that day, how my friend in high school had been thrown out of his home in a small town for coming out to his parents. He came to the city, lived as an independent youth, scraping by and working so hard to complete his education and have a good future. We welcomed him into our circle at Victoria School. After he graduated, we lost touch. I ran into him a few years ago -- he’s now grown up with a loving husband -- but so many young people like him still end up homeless or abused for nothing more than the way they were born.

Children need us to stand up for them and keep them safe. As educators, we have a responsibility to protect children from harm, whether that’s from bullies in school or bullies in their own families.

And we need trustees who believe that public schools are a place where every child is welcome.

Students in Edmonton Public Schools come from many cultures and faiths. In our district, dozens of mother tongues are spoken at home. Families come from all over the world, with a cultural diversity that enriches our community when we celebrate and share our traditions in a spirit of intercultural exchange. Children embrace a range of faiths -- Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and more -- and some do not profess any faith at all. We all come together in a public education system that reflects the diversity of our community. Discrimination and intolerance are NOT welcome in our schools.

As your trustee, my role is to support safe, caring, welcoming, and inclusive schools. It’s my obligation under the law, both under the School Act and the Alberta Human Rights Act, and under the policies of the Edmonton Public School Board. It’s also my moral responsibility as a leader in public education who should be an example to every child of how we welcome and respect every person.

Thank you to everyone who is standing with me. Remember, always, that love is stronger than hate.

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