An Announcement and a Call to Action

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With the election coming this year, I’ve had a lot of questions about whether I’ll be running again this fall. I’ve made the decision that I will not be seeking a third term in October.

It’s a difficult decision — the work I’ve been able to do in Edmonton Public Schools for the last six years has been incredibly meaningful, and I’m grateful for the relationships and the connections I’ve made and the ability to serve my community.

However, there are times when a person needs to step back and ask what the next best steps are for their work. For me, that next step falls outside the role of a trustee. My academic work on the politics of childhood and education in Alberta, along with my community advocacy for the lives and voices of children, are my priorities, and in many ways, that work is increasingly difficult to further as a school board trustee in this province.

I’ve made the decision not to run again this year, not because I don’t care about the work of fighting for public schools that are truly inclusive and welcoming to all, but because I care about it deeply and see that the path forward does not lie in seeking re-election. I plan to shift my focus to completing my PhD and to continuing to be a strong public advocate.

There are longer conversations I hope to have along with this about the role of school boards in Alberta.

One of my greatest concerns is the capture of public school boards by provincial governments through increasing encroachment on local board autonomy and threats of disciplinary action that have largely silenced the voice of elected trustees. This is a fundamental disrespect for citizens, who rightly expect their elected trustees to represent their local interests, not the demands of the education minister.

I am also concerned about how boards themselves have subverted the role of elected trustees through the adoption of formal and informal practices that do not allow trustees to speak freely to the public or express dissenting positions without fear of discipline and censure — rules that go far beyond principles of ethical conduct and infringe on the democratic role of trustees. In many cases, trustees are barred from speaking to media on critical issues, and board processes are used not to ensure respectful debate but rather to silence dissenting voices. Motions are defeated through backroom pressure, rather than vigorous public debate.

This trend has furthered the public perception that school board elections are meaningless and has undermined boards’ role as political actors on behalf of public schools. In many ways, boards have made it difficult or impossible for trustees to be the advocates our students, staff, and families need to have in the face of deep provincial cuts and government’s ideological restructuring of Alberta’s education system.

At the same time, school boards are walking into their own demise with pleading letters in their hands, offering to be good partners in the dismantling of public education.

These are critical issues as we move into the fall election. Ask your trustee candidates:

1. Why are you running?

2. How do you see the role of a trustee?

3. What will you do to stand up for public education?

We need trustees who are not just in this as a steppingstone to a political career but instead are committed to strong and inclusive public education. That doesn’t mean trustees aren’t politicians — the failure to understand that trusteeship is political is central to the current failings of public school boards — but they must be politicians who are committed to the politics of education.

However, we need to look beyond elections when it comes to the fight for public schools.

What I have learned over my time on the board is that we cannot count on any one elected person to carry our fights for us. When I look back on some of my most significant accomplishments as a trustee, they came about because people came together to demand change — while I was the public face and could carry things forward to the board, I did not stand alone.

When I called for provincial privacy protections for students in GSAs and QSAs, I was taking action following years of work by youth and their allies. When I worked to bring in non-discriminatory dress codes, it was because of the calls from students and parents. When I advocated for funding support for Syrian newcomers in schools, it was in response to teachers and groups supporting newcomers who identified a critical need. And when I brought forward the difficult conversation about the role of police in schools last year, it was in response to and alongside the voices of hundreds of students, families, graduates, and community members calling for the end of the SRO program.

I am proud of my accomplishments on the board, but I could not have done any of these things without the work of thousands who organized, laid the groundwork, and mobilized in support.

The lesson in this is that we can’t ask one trustee — or any elected official — to carry the fight. The old idea of the “great man” lives on in our popular culture, where we tell stories of superheroes, bold public crusaders, and noble leaders who can save us, and we tell those stories in our politics too. In reality, if we want to fight to protect and save our public education system and make it better for all kids, we can’t count on being able to elect people to do it for us. It is up to every one of us to organize — through our school councils, our community leagues, our student bodies, our unions, and our families and social circles — to fight for schools together.

And I believe that fight is critical now in the face of an ideological attack by the UCP government on public education. Part of my academic work is looking at how international education reform movements that seek to further privatize and commodify our school systems are at work here in Alberta.

We can fight back, and we can win. We’ve seen that in the forced walkback of the cancellation of the 1976 provincial coal policy, where people from across the province unified to demand protection of our headwaters and our mountain environments. We saw it when Albertans fought back against the proposed privatization of healthcare 20 years ago and won. And we can do it again, but only if we do it together.

This means we have to stop letting this government pit school boards against unions, parents against teachers, rural against urban, and stand together to demand that every child in Alberta have access to a high quality, inclusive, truly public education. We have to stop playing the game of begging for scraps and start demanding the things we actually want for our schools. What does it look like when we think beyond defending what’s left and begin to demand better?

We are going to have to fight hard. We will need to disrupt, to demand, to march, and, I expect, to strike. I plan to be right there, on the streets and on the picket lines. It will take more than letters and rallies to win — but we can win.

I know some people will be worried that in stepping away, I will no longer be there to fight for them. I want to assure my community that while I will be stepping out of the role of trustee this fall, I won’t be silent. I look forward to the next steps and hope you’ll be there right alongside me in fighting for kids.

Finally, I want to thank every person who voted, volunteered, and donated to make the last six years possible, and I especially want to thank everyone who pushed me and who sometimes held my feet to the fire so that I could do better. Thank you, friends. Solidarity.

Communicator, researcher, explorer, and optimistic world changer. EPSB Trustee. UAlberta Ed Pol PhD student. She/her. GRA:

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