My responses to the Alberta Teachers Association Questionnaire

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 where she obtained her BEd. 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.
Currently Marilyn is working towards obtaining a Masters in Client Phycology. Marilyn is passionate about student comprehensive health and is working on the sidelines to build teacher capacity in this area. Also, of significance and related to this issues is the wellbeing of our staff. In this next term, Marilyn is looking to make a real and significant contribution to staff and student mental health and will be looking to government to seek new ways to increase services, reduce system duplications and costs, reduce teacher and student stressors, and to reduce the stigmas associated with mental health.

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 has two grown sons who have attended a number of Catholic Schools from Elementary through to High School including St. Stanislaus, St. Mary, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, St. Rose, and Archbishop MacDonald. The Eldest is starting his Masters in International Business and the younger son is working towards a BSc in Physics with the hopes of attaining his Ph.D in the field.
Marilyn has resided in Ward 76 in Edmonton for over a decade and attends St. Thomas More Church.
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 Catholic 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 human supports 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.

2. What are the essential responsibilities 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. Governance is about respectful leadership.
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.
In the tough economic times I must continue to put forward new ideas that save dollars without impacting the classroom as did my joint transportation initiative with edm public and my work to bring free professional development to the district to build teacher capacity in the area of mental health did
Along these lines I will continue to work with administration to explore collaboration with other jurisdiction with respect to technology, infrastructure efficiencies, staff faith formation and professional development.

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.

3. Are there any programs or initiatives that you would propose, support or eliminate to improve Catholic education? Outline how you would bring about the program or initiative.
Support: I fully support early childhood education and programming supports for English Language Learners. However, given current shortfalls in funding, boards across the province must 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 in addition to our responsibility to allow each student to maximize their potential. 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.

4. How do you plan on supporting schools in mature neighbourhoods?

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. The burden of maintaining costly infrastructure cannot be shouldered by the school system. When student populations shrink, boards must assess infrastructure efficiencies, curriculum choices and staff workloads and take the necessary measures to rectify the situation. In the event of closure we need to work together at the grass roots levels to ensure the continued growth and health of our older communities.

Most would agree that schools are the hub of any community. I believe that Municipal and Provincial Governments need to collaborate and seek ways to fund and support existing infrastructure for continued community use if and when deemed feasible. Of course, this would be hinged on a number of factors including things such as, the condition of the facility and community needs in relations to its demographics and existing services. Thoughtful planning for these facilities will have a significant impact on the quality of life for the residents.

5. 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. This is accomplished through our governance. Therefore, Trustees must develop policy and set expectations for District administration that support these outcomes.

Good governance means that Trustees take a leadership role, challenge commonly held beliefs, inquire and ask tough questions, and seek new and innovative ways to lead change. It demands that we seek out knowledge, listen to stakeholders and maintain cooperative and respectful dialogue with colleagues and administrators. It is a fine balance where policy is driven from the top down and its evolution evaluates the strength of past practices while integrating new ideologies and information. For me, Governance is about the development of strong, innovative policy that serves its stakeholders in an effective and productive way, and at its core maintains a defined strategic direction that results in leading edge practices.

It is about the responsible oversight and allocation of monies. Programming must be examined in relation to cost versus benefits. Please visit my website http://www.marilynbergstra.ca to see the many motions that I have proposed and seen passed that support the many dimensions of effective Governance.

6. What steps would you encourage the Board to take to ensure that teachers have an adequate religious and spiritual formation?
First and foremost, Trustees must set the tone at the top in ALL that they do including leading by example. Policy must ensure that our staff accepts the teachings of the Catholic faith. It is important then, that these values are lived through action. Nothing is more destructive to faith than hypocrisy of the very people that claim to be devout.
Trustees must encourage teachers and administration to set guiding principles 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.

7. How can the school board most effectively influence financial and policy decisions made by Alberta Education?

Lobby, lobby, lobby one on one, collectively as a board and in conjunction with Trustees from around the Province. We must also harness and organize the power of community in doing the same. Finally, we must show effective stewardship in spending the dollars we are responsible for.

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