Edmonton·Edmonton Votes

Here's what you need to know about school trustee elections in Edmonton

Find out who's running, how to find you school board ward and what the issues are at the ballot box

40 candidates seeking a spot on Edmonton's public school board

Only two members of the current board for Edmonton Public Schools are running again. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

They control hundreds of millions of dollars of public funding, make decisions on school closures that have far-reaching impacts on property values and, most recent, have been grudgingly making public health decisions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But when it comes to the process of selecting new trustees for school boards, the turnout by Edmonton voters is typically low, with some voters saying the election is eclipsed by races for mayor and city councillor.

Parents with children in school may take a keener interest, all voters have a stake in the quality of education schools deliver as it shapes the next generation of adults — from the workers who service their cars to their caregivers in old age, said Heather Quinn, president of the Edmonton Public Teachers local No. 37, which represents about 6,500 teachers.

"To me, the most important election right now is our trustee election."

The basics on boards

Edmonton's school board ward boundaries are different from city council. When electors go to polling stations, workers will ask if they identify as a public or Catholic school board voter. They can only vote in one trustee election.

School board trustee elections are more important than you might think

1 year ago
Duration 4:13
CBC’s Janet French takes a deep dive into the issues and importance of the school board trustees and how your vote could change future plans in your neighbourhood.

The Edmonton Public School board consists of nine trustees, who represent wards labelled A through I. They oversee a $1.2-billion budget and a superintendent in charge of 212 schools with more than 105,000 students.

There are 40 candidates across all the wards, including only two incumbents  — Trisha Estabrooks in Ward D and Nathan Ip in Ward H. Estabrooks is currently board chair and Ip is the vice-chair.

The Edmonton Public School Board meets in early 2018. (Kaylen Small/CBC)

Edmonton's Catholic School board has seven trustees, representing wards 71 through 77. The board oversees a $512-million budget and hires a superintendent in charge of 96 schools with more than 43,000 students.

On Monday, only Catholic voters in Ward 77, located in Edmonton's southeast, will be casting ballots, Incumbents seeking re-election in the other six wards went unchallenged.

In Ward 77, three-term incumbent and past board chair Laura Thibert is challenged by parent and school council member Kara Pelech, who was a trustee from 2007 to 2010.

The six trustee candidates for Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord, the francophone school division that includes the city of Edmonton, were all acclaimed.

The issues

There are some common refrains among candidates running for both wards, including concerns about adequate funding for K-12 education, particularly for students with disabilities.

Some candidates promise they'll fight the government's controversial draft elementary school curriculum from reaching classrooms without major revisions.

Others raise concerns about a lack of racial diversity on the school board, or inclusion and safety in schools.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a key priority for many trustee candidates. (Therese Kehler/CBC)

Quinn cautions voters to research candidates, some of whom oppose masks in schools or vaccination against COVID-19. Others have opposed same-sex marriage.

Quinn is looking for trustees who will put students' best interests before their own — including "calling out" bad decisions by the provincial government, even if it means risking blow back.

"To just sit back and say nothing, it's detrimental not just to our students, but to society in general," she said.

Edmonton Public Teachers asked candidates to take a pledge committing to seven principles, including respecting the privacy of students who join a gay-straight alliance. Twenty-nine of the 40 contenders have signed it.

Alberta School Councils' Association president Brandi Rai says she's looking for trustees who will continue pressuring the government to protect students from COVID-19.

"Where is the courageous provincial leadership that says, 'We are creating a quality, equitable education system that looks the same and is equitable across the province?' " Rai said.

"We do not have that. Instead we have a patchwork approach that's being offloaded onto school boards and, unfortunately, before an election."

Divisive issues driving engagement

A side effect of school boards navigating these sometimes polarizing issues is an increased level of interest in trustee campaigns, education advocates say.

Robin Henwood, chair of Equal Voice Northern Alberta, says she's also heard from voters who feel their trustee selection is the most critical choice on their municipal ballot.

Six candidates are vying for the trusteeship in Ward G. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"They're now much more vocal than they ever have been," Henwood said of trustees. "Everybody's paying attention to what's happening in schools with COVID. Even if you don't have school-age children, you're a lot more engaged in that."

And engagement is historically a challenge. In Edmonton's 2017 civic election, 6.5 per cent of voters who chose a Catholic school board ballot didn't cast a vote for school trustee. Among public school board voters, nearly 10 per cent of people who voted didn't select a trustee.

Edmonton Public Schools trustee candidates

Ward A

Perry Chahal: Post-secondary lecturer and executive director of an education-focused non-profit. Long-time volunteer for schools, classrooms, community leagues and sports teams. Ran for trustee in 2017. Key issues include classroom sizes, ventilation and proposed curriculum.

Sherri O'Keefe: Thirty-five years with Edmonton Public Schools, in roles ranging from educational assistant to teacher to principal. Key issues include  curriculum, safe and caring school environments, early intervention funding and additional learning spaces.

Everline Atieno Oloo: Former Edmonton Public Schools employee. Has worked with special needs children, volunteers for her church. Key issues are curriculum, multicultural exchange programs and advocating for children struggling with bullying, cultural differences and communication barriers. 

Sheeraz Rahman: Information technology project co-ordinator, former business owner, 20 years working in the corporate sector. Key issues include: aging schools; equity, diversity and inclusion; early childhood learning; classroom sizes; and special needs children.

Belen Samuel: Zimbabwean-born refugee, completing a master's degree in educational policy studies. Key issues include equitable access and opportunities, such as by hiring more Black and Indigenous success coaches and advocates, and prioritizing student safety.

Ward B 

Dakota Drouillard: Licensed practical nurse, completing a degree in health administration. Alberta Association of Nurses board member; community and school volunteer. Key issues: health and education; curriculum and class sizes; student safety including harm reduction and inclusive environments.

Esther Ekpe Adewuyi: Born in Nigeria, earned a PhD in cancer research. Has worked with Alberta's biggest universities. Key priorities are evidenced-based thinking for improved academic achievement and educational programs that support student learning needs and cultural diversity.

Keltie Marshall: Full-time parent and co-founder of Hold My Hand Alberta, an advocacy organization fighting cuts to education. Extensive community volunteer experience. Key issues are the proposed K-6 curriculum and an updated Standards for Special Education.

Marsha Nelson: Recently retired from a 35-year career in the public educational system. Earned a master's degree in educational administration. Key issues include: public education funding; the proposed new curriculum; and supporting students to high school completion.

Ward C

Kassie Burkholder: Entrepreneur, former business owner, now a senior leader at NAIT. Cites recent funding cuts, COVID-19, and a challenging political environment as trustee concerns. Priorities are the proposed curriculum, inclusivity and helping students with mental health needs.

David Dougherty: Works in procurement for the City of Edmonton. Concerned about the impact of pandemic on children's' educational and social development. Priorities include: BIPOC representation in schools; improved services for special needs; and celebrating school district successes.

Leticia Gomez: Education instructor at U of A's Faculté Saint-Jean, former teacher of preschool through junior high students. Active in numerous non-profit organizations. Priorities include encouraging Truth and Reconciliation processes and supporting professional practices.

Marcia Hole: Instructor with the Alberta School Councils' Association; former teacher, school council leader. More than 25 years of experience in the education field. Priorities include: community engagement; support students and staff; strengthen diversity; and the proposed curriculum.

Lisa Shefsky: Twenty years of mortgage brokering experience. Key issues include: proposed curriculum; fears that EPSB is seeing an exodus of students because of mandatory health requirements; spending; and funding.

Ward D

Trisha Estabrooks: Former CBC  journalist. Serving her first term as trustee and currently serving as EPSB board chair. Key issues include adequate funding for the district and for programs for vulnerable students and a curriculum that adequately represents Alberta's diversity.

Jen Martin: Experience in business, marketing, real estate and property management. Key issues include: the proposed K-6 curriculum; funding; class sizes; and investing in infrastructure for urban schools.

Ward E

Sam Filice: In social work and construction prior to teaching at several of Edmonton Public's schools for three decades. Key issues for Filice include COVID-19 in schools and more input on the K-6 draft curriculum.

Rebecca Graff-McRae: Political researcher and analyst. Emphasizes values of reconciliation, decolonization, and anti-racism. Main issues for Graff-McRae include schools for growing west-end communities, scrapping the draft curriculum and ensuring complex learners have access to all needed supports.

Dawn Hancock: Background in finance. Taught performing arts to elementary students for a few years. Director for a program that operated 30 community kitchens across Edmonton. Platform includes: programming choice for parents of all-aged students; funding; and renewing social and emotional well-being in school communities. 

Judy Kim-Meneen: Background in teaching and school administration as well as health and policy. PhD focused on impact of residential schools and intergenerational parenting. Key issues for Kim-Meneen include: anti-bullying; reforming the draft curriculum; and emphasizing Indigenous history and teachings in schools.

Kim Doyle Thorsen: Work history in textbook publishing, specializing in Indigenous Studies, Social Studies and French resources. Has worked with curriculum developers. Key promises include: restoring funding; not funding private schools with public money; and ending the school resource officer program. She also wants mental health supports in schools.

Ward F

Nancy Hunt: Career in business management, marketing and her own business. School volunteer activities, including parent societies. Priorities include: pandemic recovery; the proposed curriculum; funding; learning supports; high school capacity; anti-racism education; and listening to parents.

Julie Kusiek: Works in communications and outreach at an environmental non-profit; master's degree focused on youth engagement. Campaign vision is "strong, equitable, inclusive and connected communities with schools at the centre."

Ken Lister: Runs a public affairs business, former teacher with Edmonton Public Schools and a former Toronto school trustee.  Fourteen priorities include: financial analysis; mental health; early learning; class sizes; new schools and school repairs; COVID-19; road safety; and the proposed curriculum.

Kimberley McMann: Professional musician, music instructor and conductor whose work shifted dramatically as a result of the pandemic. Priorities include: actively listening to parents, teachers and students; fighting the proposed new curriculum; and a COVID-19 recovery plan. 

Ward G

Guri Dhaliwal: Experience creating community infrastructure ranging from after-school programming to helping international students get on their feet. Priorities include: decreasing language barriers; increasing diversity in teachers and staff; supporting a research-based curriculum; and funding public education.

Hannah Hamilton: Background in professional writing and photography. Has worked at the U of A for 10 years as a graduate adviser. Priorities include: community and collaborating; the proposed curriculum; and a well-funded public education system that provides inclusive learning.

Angela MacLaggan: Full-time parent and former teacher of special needs students. Key issues include: listening to parents; early literacy and numeracy skills to build a foundation for future learning; choice in education; and mental health.

Saadiq Sumar: Engineer who works as a field supervisor for Atco. Concerned about board's current lack of racial diversity and of the actions of the provincial government, including the proposed curriculum. Priorities include promoting inclusion and protecting vulnerable students.

Heather D.Swain: Self-employed artist who has spent the last 40 years working as a professional humourist, actor, writer, and director. Believes a good education opens doors for students who "graduate with a firm belief in their own talents."

Inderjeet Tuli: Post-secondary instructor, research group member of community service learning department at the University of Alberta. Volunteers with education and settlement programs for immigrants. Priorities include building healthy relationships between communities and schools.

Ward H

William Haines: Semi-retired after working in accounting and surveying. Wants copy of Charter and Rights and Freedoms prominently displayed in every school. Wants curriculum to delve deeper into charter rights and how they were won.

Nathan Ip: Seeking a third term as trustee, Ip is an advocate for equity and the inclusive education of students with developmental disabilities. Has more than 15 years of experience in youth engagement and community development.

Ward I 

Ricardo Casanova: A tech entrepreneur, Casanova leads an advocacy organization called YEG Soccer and helped found the Laurel Community League. He supports Edmonton Public Schools' stance on the proposed update to provincial curriculum.

Taranvir Dhanoa: Believes children who graduate from Edmonton Public Schools should feel capable of succeeding in whatever journey they choose. In his platform he says schools should serve as community hubs in the neighbourhoods.

Navjot Kaur: Has a master's degree in educational policy from the University of Alberta. Kaur advocates for inclusivity and says schools should be safe spaces for all students. Also wants an inclusive holiday calendar and climate-science programming.

Emily MacKenzie: Says public education, including its funding, has been under "constant attack" from the provincial government, and that school boards must take a strong stance to defend public schools, students and their families.

Corrine Rondeau: Experience as a community league president. Priorities include emphasizing literacy, numeracy, knowledge and skills. Says board needs to look at ways to improve how it organizes programming and funding to support basic learning needs.

Jan Sawyer: Worked with Edmonton Public for 35 years as a teacher, curriculum coordinator, assistant principal and principal. Key issues are school safety with COVID-19, adequate mental health supports, and programs for diverse children in schools. Supports anti-racism initiatives and reviewing the draft curriculum.

Simran Villing: Villing has volunteered extensively in the community and runs a towing company. At 22, he is one of the youngest in the race. Campaign values include: increased funding; infusing Indigenous history into classrooms; and anti-discrimination initiatives. 

Edmonton Catholic Schools trustee candidates

Ward 77

Kara Pelech:  Previously served as Edmonton Catholic trustee 2007 to 2010, community volunteer and mother of four. Pelech describes herself as a passionate advocate for children of all abilities and a strong voice for inclusiveness.

Laura Thibert: Three-term trustee first elected to the Catholic board in 2010. Has served as chair and vice-chair. Thibert says she has an excellent understanding of governance at the political level.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.

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