Vying for the Foothills School Division trustee seat in Ward 2 are John Evans and Toby Kliem.
The Foothills School Division’s Ward 2 covers a large swath of territory, taking the eastern half of the county, excluding Okotoks and High River, which each have their own trustees. Contained within are the schools of Cayley, Blackie, and Heritage Heights, and each candidate was motivated by a perceived necessity to engage and shape education in the area.
“Right now there’s a lot going on, between COVID, the funding for education, and Truth and Reconciliation,” said Evans, who resides in the area of Heritage Heights with children attending there and at the Foothills Composite High School.
“There’s some issues with our current government and education and I felt it was time.”
A major motivation for Kliem is the modernization of rural schools.
“I’ve been involved with Blackie School since my kids were there as school council,” said Kliem, adding he had been chair of the council for a time. “One thing about rural schools is they’re easier to forget, in the hubbub of bigger cities.
“With all the excitement going around even in Okotoks, it’s enough to distract what’s going on with Cayley or Heritage Heights.”
His latest efforts involved working with Blackie School’s council to get the small elementary modernized.
During a cold snap last winter, he said, the students had to walk to the nearby Blackie Arena to use the washrooms when the plumbing froze.
Both candidates take issue with the Alberta government’s draft K-6 curriculum.
Evans, who has worked with Statistics Canada and Elections Canada, found the curriculum problematic in its teachability to students and weighted heavily with memorization.
“With the curriculum they’re proposing, it’s not very teachable,” said Evans, who added teachers haven’t been properly consulted. “They weren’t part of the process. The province brought in outside consultants, didn’t consult the Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA), and I believe teachers and parents alike have to be involved in the curriculum process.
“The curriculum has to be non-partisan—I don’t care what political stripe you’re under—it needs to allow kids to make choices for themselves.
“They’re going to be 18 once they get through the school system, they should be able to make the choices themselves with how they’re going to vote.”
Kliem described his feel of the new curriculum as “hot and cold,” adding he sees the debate around it as heavily politicized.
The IT professional is hoping to pick out a few parts he sees as a step in the right direction, such as the introduction of coding.
“They’re introducing coding to kids,” Kliem said. “I’ve been involved with computers since Grade 5, when they brought in the Apple 2Es.
“Kids are adaptive, and if we want the next generation to be competitive, then we have to introduce them to the tools that we’re using in 20 to 25 years from now.”
Access to technology and skills is a key driver, Kliem continued, especially in rural areas.
The social studies portion of the curriculum, he said, is wanting.
With the rapid itinerary the government is following in the rollout, engaging with feedback is important for the Blackie area resident.
“They want to implement the draft in fall of 2022, then start the draft on the next series,” Kliem said. “Community involvement is the big driver.”
Another priority for Evans is the inclusion of Truth and Reconciliation in the new curriculum.
“The problem as parents, we were never taught it, it was never part of our school system,” Evans said. “It was never part of our school system, so I think there needs to be a bridge, and I think parents need to be involved as well.
“We need to have an understanding, especially when we’re helping the kids with homework when they have questions.”
He also wanted to see what he described as culturally appropriate education programs for Aboriginal families.
“That’s very lacking, and it’s just making sure there’s respecting and honouring the treaty relationships with our First Nations neighbours,” he added.
If he were to get elected, Kliem said he hopes to forge better channels of communication between government, teachers, parents and administration.
“We’re all on the same team, we all have the same ideas of what’s best for our kids, but we all get embroiled in whatever the hot topic of the day is and we lose sight of that,” Kliem said.
He would also push for a full audit of the rationale behind the budget, pointing at a deficit of $4 million which he understood from their guiding documentation to be to bring the reserve target down to the Education Ministry’s 3.15 per cent, where the FSD was sitting on 5 per cent.
“I’m not a fan of borrowing from savings to make your budget,” said Kliem, adding he also had issues with a 26 per cent budget increase for transportation.
On Oct. 5, the FSD sent a letter to families indicating that entering cold and flu season, bus drivers may have to isolate due to symptoms, and there would be no alternative transportation provided.
This, he said, essentially left parents fending for themselves.
“We’re having potential service issues due to COVID and with how much we’re putting into our transportation, the letter they sent out, I find it a bit disingenuous,” he said. “It’s unfair to parents, and I’ve already talked to parents driven out of the school system due to failed promises.”
Coming out of the pandemic, Evans would seek to improve mental health supports if elected.
“Coming through COVID, mental health is one of the biggest things I want to make sure we’re tackling, not only for our students but for staff as well,” Evans said, pointing out suicide is still the second highest cause of death of teens in Canada (next to traumatic injury).
That mental health aspect, he continued, carries over to students having safe spaces.
“I also want to make sure there’s freedom for students to join a GSA (gay-straight alliance) without fear of their parents being notified about it,” he said. “That’s a huge mental health issue as well for kids, making sure they can join clubs of kids that are like them, where they can express themselves, that are teacher-supervised, without fear of being outed.”
Making sure schools were safe from a COVID-19 standpoint was also a point he would fight for.
“There’s been no funding this year for schools for PPE, hand sanitizer, for sanitizer or masks or anything,” said Evans, adding he too wanted to see modernizations and improvements to schools.
“The HVAC systems in our schools are horribly outdated, the infrastructure in our schools is underfunded, and a lot of things need to be replaced and fixed to make sure our schools are safe for all of our kids, our teachers, and staff.”
For more information, visit https://www.foothillsschooldivision.ca/page/5124/candidates