Survey Response: David Staples, Edmonton Journal Columnist

On October 4th, Edmonton Journal Columnist David Staples sent Trustee Candidates an email letting us know that he would be endorsing candidates in his opinion columns this week. As an opinion columnist he has the freedom to write endorsements and write articles as he pleases. As there are 40+ trustee candidates and he only has a 600 word column, I thought it would be helpful to share my responses to his questions here.
I would like to hear your feedback. Did I miss something? Is there something you would like to share with me that I should supplement on my page? All constituent feedback is valuable, whether you are a student, parent, or Edmonton Journal columnist and I appreciate hearing from you.

Here were the themes of his questions which I have answered below:
1. Math education?
2. Provincial exams?
3. Grade 3 provincial exams?
4. New curriculum rewrite?
5. To what do you attribute Alberta’s success in PISA exams?
6. Do you support public subsidies for private schools?
7. Social studies 
8. Process for developing new curriculum?
9. Support for open boundaries?
(The full text of his questions are below my responses)
Very briefly, can you also summarize relevant personal and professional experience for job of trustee.
I have served as your Public School Trustee since 2010, serving as Chair from 2015-2017. I live in Ward F (Strathcona) and am the a father of a future EPSB student (program TBD). 
I am proud to have served our community in several other capacities:
  • Manager with Boys and Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters Edmonton
  • Former Marketing Director for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues
  • Masters in Education Policy Studies from the University of Alberta
  • Avenue Magazine 2012 “Top 40 Under 40"
  • Served as President of the University of Alberta Students’ Union
  • Six year Trustee, Edmonton Public Library Board
Response to Questions:
First, an overall comment:
Our public school system requires adequate, predictable, and sustainable funding to continue to meet the needs of growth, diversity, and complexity of our students. We must continue to invest in new school construction to meet our growing demand and support choice, programs, and opportunities for all families. 
I have backed this up with action over the last seven years— over a thousand hours of community meetings & school councils listening to constituents and taking forward concerns. Hundreds of hours asking the tough questions of government(s) and administration(s) in McCauley Chambers or at the Legislature. While school boards have lost their powers of taxation, I have attempted to redefine my role as ombudsperson, advocate, and influencer on behalf of students & families in our community in the context of strengthening the institution of public education, the cornerstone of our democratic system.
With regard to #9, Since I first ran in 2010, I have always supported open boundaries. I think that the programs of choice model (and I include community/neighbourhood schools as a choice to be offered) has been functioning very well to accommodate different learning styles, teaching philosophies, special needs and much more. 
One of my priorities that I talk about on the door steps is to conduct a program placement review to ensure that wherever you are, you can have access to great choices in your sector. This could include more Cogito, French Immersion, Mandarin, and much more. Ultimately, I want strong schools for all. All schools should have a variety of choices and a diversity of learning options and programs and locally developed courses responsive to the needs of students they can find a way to be engaged and excited to come to school in the morning. 
You would know that the key indicators of academic success are socio-economic status and mother’s level of education, so we need to make sure that educational opportunities and choices are accessible for all kids across the city (regardless of socioeconomic status). I know that not all children or families would thrive in a program like Cogito, so I support having other options for other families. Some flourish at Victoria Arts while others are supported by programs like L.Y. Cairns.  This is not rhetoric, as I have a proven track record of 7 years of budgets and policy decisions that back up my commitment to academic quality and parent choice and student options.
With regard to #6, I support the right of private schools to exist but the public subsidy should be phased out (with the exception of the special needs programs until we are able to meet all of their needs through public education and health care). 
This issue to me is a defining issue of principle and speaks to the core of what a public education system is or is not. A public school system must accommodate by law all students in the community, while private schools by definition select and reject students. I believe that “private" by definition should be private and thus not receive any public subsidy. To me this is the difference between a Public Library or a Private Bookstore. If you do not like the selection at your library, you can still buy a book at the private bookstore, but you should not receive reimbursement for your purchase because you chose to opt out.
On a economic/pragmatic level, surely, David, we can agree at the outset that not all private schools need subsidy. 
Given that some private schools are routinely posting million dollar surpluses while still charging tuitions greater than $15,000 a year, they have proven that they don’t require a public subsidy. These dollars should be reinvested in the public system to address the needs of children who need the most support. 
The second tier of private schools includes those of a religious nature. Removing public funding would allow them more flexibility in terms of their operations and free them from the level of scrutiny that other schools receive. Edmonton Public religious alternative programs are non-denominational and do not require a pledge of adherence to a particular faith to attend. Private religious schools can select and reject their students on the basis of religion. We don’t subsidize Sunday schools in churches, and for the same reasons taxpayers should not subsidize church schools.
Given the fact that we can offer so many programs and choices within the public education system, we have eliminated the need for so many private schools in Edmonton. In Ontario, private schools have proven to flourish without a cent of public subsidy where they have three times as many private schools as Alberta.
If you wish to make a private choice to attend a private school, or a boarding school in British Columbia or Paris, France, I will continue to support your right to do so, but we must ensure public dollars remain in the Alberta public system.
With regard to #1,  You will not find one trustee, parent, teacher, or educator who does not want to improve math education in Edmonton Public — and across Alberta. We must ensure that all students have mastery of the basics (mental math, making change etc.) and that each student is able to excel at complex problem solving questions. 
This is not a question of "either/or" but rather of "both/and". Everyone in Education wants to improve Math results and we know that it is complicated and requires multiple strategies and interventions in curriculum, assessment, teacher training, and much more.
At the Board level, we’ve spent a great deal of time reviewing Math and Numeracy outcomes, and we’ve improved access to teacher professional development with a prioritization on numeracy. Since 2014, I have supported and celebrated the MIPI (Math Intervention Programming instrument), a formative evaluation tool to assist teachers in identifying areas needed for intervention.
Everyone agrees that there’s more work to be done and there are short-term and long-term steps that the provincial government is taking that will help ensure outcomes in Math improve.
I will use my role as trustee to focus district efforts on improving math outcomes by continuing to review and support emerging tools and training options. I will continue to remain in constant dialogue with the provincial government, advocating for a stronger math emphasis in the provincial curriculum.
I know it wasn’t in your questions, but on the topic of provincial curriculum, please review the advocacy I've led for financial and consumer literacy for students: (http://www.edmontonsun.com/2017/05/09/edmonton-public-school-trustees-want-more-finance-lessons-in-classes
With regard to #2. Of course. I agree provincial exams (and preferably those with written response portions) are necessary to meet the legitimate need for public accountability.
With regard to #3, The SLAs have not worked and we have room to bring forward a new solution that satisfies legitimate concerns for public accountability while at the same time being consistent with the realities of grade three classroom teaching and learning. We have an opportunity to look at other models of assessment and how they might be more effective. This could be a new opportunity for something more useful, creative, and effective.
With regard to #4, Teaching knowledge and relevant skills with measurable outcomes in literacy and numeracy is very important. I also want to ensure that in addition to mastery of literacy and numeracy our graduates are the critical and creative thinkers that we need as society evolves. 
With regard to #5, I attribute our success in these areas to a sustained focus on reading, such as the district literacy plan. We also have great teachers and have strong support through our public systems. As a new dad attending the “welcome baby” programs at our public library I have seen firsthand how the whole community in our province from schools to libraries to public health nurses have bear hugged literacy and the importance of reading right from birth.
With regard to  #7,  Like you, David, I’m a huge fan of the series (HARDCORE HISTORY - Favourite series: Wrath of the Khans hands down— you might also like his other podcast, Common Sense). His podcasts are engaging because he has the right mix of historical context, facts, figures, and stories. He also demonstrates how the stories of the past can teach us lessons relevant to our world today.
I have a BA in History from the University of Alberta. Some of my greatest school memories were visiting museums (especially Military History such as the Museum of the Regiments in Calgary) and learning all about the stories and the narratives that came alive. Facts tell, but stories sell. We need to make sure that curriculum still has the wide array of facts and knowledge to help students place themselves in the arc of history, but if we forget the stories and the narrative and the biographies, we will be losing out. 
With regard to #8, Good curriculum must consult a variety of experts for their input. Although as a trustee this is not our process or our role, what I have seen so far appears to indicate that there has been a systematic attempt to include content specialists. I will be asking questions and will judge the draft curriculum based on the finished product. It is also important to me that the development of critical thinking plays a central role in curricular outcomes to develop active and engaged citizens in our democracy.


——
First of all, thank you for stepping up to run for school trustee. As a parent with children in the system, I appreciate your keen interest.
I write on education issues in my opinion column with the Edmonton Journal. There are numerous crucial issues around education and I will not dig into all of them right now. My own focus is on the academic side, on doing what we can to ensure that our excellent public school system remains academically healthy, competitive and strong.
For this election, I will endorse a number of candidates in board races.
I’d like to know where you stand on a number issues, so I have a few questions here for you (attached docukment). I will follow up with telephone interviews on Thursday if I’m unclear on your answer.
I will most likely be writing about this for this Friday’s paper, so if you can have your answers back to me by Thursday morning, that would be great (There is no need for your to write a lengthy answer to any question, just a few hundred words at the very most, though a sentence or two will do).
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?
 
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?
 
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?
 
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?
 
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?
 
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?
 
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?
 
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?
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?

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