By Tim Kalinowski on October 12, 2017.
SD76 board of trustee candidates took part in a passionate debate at the Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club on Wednesday evening.
About 100 Hatters attended the ATA Local No. 1-sponsored debate to hear from each of the nine candidates on various issues of concern ranging from diversity and inclusion in public schools, to provincial education policies on collective bargaining, to the defence of public education as a fundamental human right.
The evening started with candidates Greg Bender, Deborah Forbes, Carolyn Freeman, Rick Massini, Aaron Myradon, Celina Symmonds, Terry Riley, Jeremy Williamson and Catherine Wilson-Fraser each giving a five-minute introduction of what is driving them to run for election to Medicine Hat’s public board.
Bender spoke about his previous experience as a trustee and his more than 60 years as a resident of the Hat. Forbes spoke eloquently about her vision of public education as the steady advancement of greater humanism toward a better and more perfect society. Freeman gave an incredibly passionate speech which served as a call to action for all trustees to make a difference in the lives of students and families in SD76.
Massini spoke of his experience in education, his leadership at the provincial and local level in public education and his well-known commitment to the community at large. Myradon spoke of his personal feeling that education is the fundamental building block of all economic and social activity in society, and his absolute commitment to inclusive education.
Symmonds touted her proven leadership experience on city council and said she would be a staunch advocate for children with disabilities if elected.
Terry Riley spoke humourously about his experiences in education, including the time he took on the role of cheerleading coach because no one else in his school stepped forward to do it rather than see the squad fold.
He concluded his story by expressing his desire to see all students who want an opportunity to take part and learn be given those opportunities no matter what school they may attend.
Jeremy Williamson, the founder of Concerned Parents of SD76, spoke about his commitment to parental rights and parental choice in education of children, and the need to retool board policies so parental rights are observed.
Catherine Wilson-Fraser, who has children in the public school system, spoke about her learning experiences of the past four years on the board and her ongoing commitment to her father’s, Roy Wilson, principles in enhancing public education for all.
A key moment of the debate came when candidates were asked what they would as trustees do if faced with a possible change in government provincially in the next four years. Carolyn Freeman drew a strong round of applause for her comments.
“Some of the rhetoric I have heard in the (provincial) leadership races, and through the candidates, is back to basics,” said Freeman. “We have to be very careful about what back to basics means.
“The basics from the 1960s education are no longer relevant, and we have to make sure they know that. In the province of Alberta trustees outnumber MLAs five to one so it is incumbent upon us to become a voice that matters.”
Aaron Myradon also scored a definite touch in his comments on the question.
“Anyone in Edmonton who doesn’t understand the value of a more educated Albertan,” he said, “doesn’t understand the basis of our (provincial) employment and what our economy is based on.”
But it was Terry Riley who elevated the question to a staunch defence of the privacy rights of students, and their right to feel included and protected in their school system. His comments drew a resounding ovation from the audience members in attendance.
“If one kids gets outed (by a teacher) then that will be the last kid who ever seeks that help, and that would be disaster for hundreds and hundreds of other kids who would have sought that help if they hadn’t thought they would be outed.
“The kid has to make a choice of what information gets to who, not the school board, not the teacher, not the principal … I believe that is absolutely vital for kids, and it would be a disaster if we do not adhere to that principle.”
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