My Response to the Edmonton Catholic Teacher’s questionaire

1. Please provide a brief personal biography:

Marilyn Bergstra grew up in Edmonton and St. Albert. After graduating from St. Albert Catholic High School, she obtained a Bachelor of Science at the University of Alberta and worked as a research assistant for several years at the University of Alberta Department of Medicine. Marilyn then entered the Faculty of Education and received her Alberta Teacher’s Certification. Her education experience includes several positions both in and outside of Canada including a position as chemistry instructor at NAIT where she was nominated for an Excellence in Teaching Award.

Over the years Marilyn has participated in a range of volunteer activities such as tutoring, the Eucharistic Ministry at St. Thomas More Church, motivational speaking, and in government policy development.

Marilyn, her husband Ray, along with their two teenaged sons have resided in Ward 76 in Edmonton for over ten years and attend St. Thomas More Church. Their two sons have attended various Catholic schools from elementary through high school, including St. Stanislaus, St. Mary, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, St. Rose, and Archbishop MacDonald.

Marilyn’s current hobbies include running and swimming. This includes participation in local community Triathlons and half marathons. Her newfound love is to cycle through the many beautiful trails in Edmonton.

2. What are the fundamental Attributes of public education:

The fundamental attributes of public education are to ensure that we prepare each child to maximize his/her potential. This includes preparing youth to be active participants and stewards of their community. It also means that students are challenged and given access to a strong curriculum that will prepare them for entry into their community, which in turn allows this generation of youth to mold and influence our future economy, making it sustainable over the long term. It demands that our students are prepared to be flexible, collaborative and above all innovative. It also requires that teachers be provided the necessary support and resources to accomplish these goals. Further, it means teachers are given access to a variety of quality professional development opportunities and are supported in their goals by colleagues, administration and community.

3. What are the essential roles of a Catholic School Trustee?

In Action:



The primary role for a Catholic Trustee is to live according to a firm commitment to Catholic values and this is done best through action. Our faith component and the qualities of character that accompany it are what must differentiate Edmonton Catholic Trustees from neighbouring public board Trustees. It gives us that base from which we operate. This Catholic foundation and the messages of the Bible create the opportunity to live through action, where students, staff and community are valued. Leadership through Christ must include respect for each other, that we are good stewards of the earth and our environment. We need to demonstrate our faith as it naturally lends itself to providing a strong moral compass to deal with daily aspects of education. Trustees must use their Catholic faith to guide decisions in dealing with the issues of today. Also, this faith component must be reflected in policy particularly on issues such as bullying, health and wellness, and staff and student equity.

Further to this, the primary fiduciary responsibility of Trustees is to the community we serve. We must operate by building bridges between this community, our teachers and our administration to achieve our goals in creating a superior faith based education system. Everyone needs to feel respected, valued and seen as contributing members. In turn, all three parties deserve a role in molding the future vision for our district.

In policy:

Trustees drive change through governance based on policy development and this is the primary role of the Board of Trustees. Policy must reflect the needs of the community, respect the autonomy of the teacher in the classroom, build and support best practices in teaching, and provide safe, clean, and respectful working environments in the classroom and through the District.

Each decision in creating policy should be hinged on the following principles:
– “Is this going to benefit our students?”
– “Is this going to build trust in my community?”
– “Is this a responsible use of our funding?”
– “Is this going to improve our outcomes?”
These questions are guiding principles, congruent with effective Trusteeship.

Further, it is essential that Trustees understand and continually strive to develop and re-evaluate policy as the needs of education evolve. Decisions must be built on sound and relevant research of facts so that any redirection of policy has the desired outcomes. Ultimately, Trustees should strive to maintain policies that are proactive rather than reactive, that put quality education and safety of our students at the forefront, and provide the flexibility for maximum student exploration and growth.

On Budget:

Fiscal accountability is a critical responsibility of the Board of Trustees. Through responsible allocation of dollars we provide avenues to implement and achieve our goals. Responsible spending is of utmost importance, particularly given the recent recession and the corresponding shortage of funds and maximizing outcomes in the classroom must be our primary goal. It is only here that we can meet student outcomes by ensuring that each the classroom teachers is provided supports such as special needs teaching assistants, resources, access to technology and opportunities for professional developments.

Trustees must have a broad vision for education. One that includes developing and providing services to students that are external to the classroom. As the Minister has repeatedly stated,” too much has been down loaded onto teachers”. We must make use of other institutions and Ministries to alleviate both the cost of providing services to our students and to alleviate the stress that many teachers experience on a day to day basis.

Trustees must continue to push for sustainable reliable funding. It is only through longer term funding commitments that can we be effective in delivering on our vision to continually evolve as a superior educational jurisdiction.

4. What programs or initiatives would you propose, support or eliminate to improve Catholic education?
Support:
I fully support early childhood education. However, given our current shortfalls in funding, boards across the province must therefore lobby government for full funding in this area. Included in the lobby efforts is educating our MLA’s, highlighting the long term benefits in literacy and numeracy for students as seen in research literature. Over the long term, this is a cost effective investment in our society.

Eliminate: There are several programs that I recommend for review based on a cost/benefit criteria. One is the IP Program. While the District has had have some success with IB at some schools, it may not be viable in every case. We also need to examine and clearly understand how programs offered at one school may negatively impact another school within our district. We should try to avoid internal competition for our own students and for this reason I recommend a review of this issue.

Propose: We must move to a model of “true inclusive education” for our special needs students. This means that we welcome all students into their local school. It means that we provide opportunity for all to enter the regular classroom. But it also means that we provide opportunity for specialized programming where needed, and that teachers are given the necessary support, including Special Needs Teaching Assistants, access to a variety of specialists, resources and professional development to accomplish the goals as clearly set out by the Ministry through Setting the Direction. We must ensure that the government takes full responsibility for financially supporting this initiative for our implementation.

5. How do you plan on supporting schools in mature neighborhoods?

A solution to this ongoing problem is long overdue. I believe the answer is simple in that all levels of government and other stakeholders need to work together to develop neighborhood sustainability plans. This investment can save entire communities and it’s success will have a significant impact on the quality of life for the residents. It is well known that schools are a key aspect to any community and to close a school is a serious blow. We need to work together at the grass roots levels to ensure the continued growth and health of our older communities.

6. Describe the oversight role of a trustee in regard to the District’s leadership, planning, budget and programming.

As Trustees and as outlined in the School Act, we are responsible for the quality and care of our students. Therefore, Trustees must develop policy and set expectations for District administration that support these outcomes.

7. What steps would you encourage the Board to take ensure that teachers have an adequate religious and spiritual formation?

First and foremost, policy must ensure that our staff accepts the teachings of the Catholic faith. Further, it is important that these values this must be lived through action. Nothing is more destructive to faith than hypocrisy of people that claim to be devout.

Trustees must encourage teachers and administration to set guiding principals within their school community. Trustees can and should acknowledge in a meaningful way those individual teachers that strive to make the school community a place of love, kindness, generosity and other qualities that reflect the actions of Christ. I would love to visit my schools and acknowledge these gifts of love emulated by our teachers.
As a district we should also continue to support teachers and administration who wish to pursue faith development.

8. Regarding the 2010 decision by Edmonton Catholic Schools to pursue inclusive education:

A) What is your opinion on this decision?

Clearly I have elements of concern on this issue. In essence we are moving from a model of consolidation to one of dispersion in the sense that our special needs students are entering regular programming across the district. For this reason we will require more support for our classroom teachers rather than less. As noted in Question 4, this model is only going to serve everyone if we can provide teacher support, resources, and opportunity for student to access special programming when required.
I am aware that some programs are being maintained but have limited access and in many cases, are no longer taking in students.

B) What are potential advantages to this policy?
To move to a position where each child is welcomed and embraced into the community or other school of choice is awesome. We all have our gifts. It is always amazing how one can be taught something so profound when they least expect it. And I believe that we accomplish this when are hearts are open and inspired by seeing and believing in everyone.

C) What are the potential disadvantages?

Many of these students will still require additional support and programming that neither the teacher nor the curriculum can meet. Therefore without funding and corresponding services to address the unique needs of many of our Special Needs Students, this system will not be able to meet all of its objectives.

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