PUBLIC FORUM - Members of the public had a chance to meet with public school trustee candidates to talk about various issues Oct. 10th at Don Campbell Elementary School. Carlie Connolly/Red Deer Express

Red Deer Public School candidates weigh in on issues

Inclusion of students a top priority for public school trustee candidates

Inclusion of students is of primary importance for public school trustee candidates among other issues.

Members of the public had the chance to informally meet the public school trustee candidates running in the upcoming election Oct. 16th in the Don Campbell Elementary School on Oct. 10th.

Candidate Laurette Woodward, who is running for the first time, said the model of inclusion is something that everyone supports, which is kids with different levels of ability, different challenges and strengths taught in the same classrooms, not segregated from others.

“That’s a really great thing, but often its a challenge to get enough resources behind that, so I’ve had a number of parents talk to me about that,” said Woodward.

She said something she feels strongly about is strong relationships between schools and parents.

“The research shows that when we make those strong relationships that all sorts of great things happen including better behaviour, better grades, better self esteem, better attendance. All of those things go up when we have parents and educators as partners. I really believe in that and would like to bring that voice to the table,” she said.

Candidate Chris Woods, who is also running for the first time, said his oldest son has special needs, and that he’s seen some of the challenges the schools face in supporting those with special needs.

“It sounds like inclusion can be challenging and making sure they’re integrated into the school system can be difficult on the resources they have, but I think if you focus on getting them supports and services early then you’ll be able to see more success in the classroom and the classroom will run a little smoother,” he said.

Mental health was also a topic touched on by candidates.

“Red Deer Public is an excellent school division and I’m very proud of it. We’re not perfect. There’s a number of things we can do better at. Our mental health issues in the schools are there but we’re improving. We just hired mental health professionals to work within the schools,” said Dick Lemke, who has been on the board for three terms.

He said graduation rates, however, aren’t great.

“Out of every four students, one doesn’t make it,” he said, adding that they need to find a way to address it.

He also touched on inclusion.

“I’m a high school teacher by trade, and I’ll tell you how I taught. When they opened the door, whoever came through that’s who I taught and loved it, so inclusion and diversity were part of my creed,” said Lemke.

Incumbent Jim Watters said the issue is always money.

“I think for us for our student grants that we get from the government, they haven’t increased in five years and it’s getting tougher and tougher to keep meeting the needs that we’re (having),” said Watters.

He said Red Deer Public is doing a fantastic job working with mental health in the high schools.

He also touched on inclusion, saying that he believes in knocking down barriers.

“Quite frankly I’m for all kids,” he said, adding that inclusion is something big for him and he wants all kids in Red Deer Public to be successful.

Patrick O’Connor, who is running for the first time said he’s learned a lot going through the ASPIRE program with his son.

“What I’m hearing from the public is a lot of people want to see a parent on the school board, but the issues that are really important to me are things like a Pre-K program for three- and four-year-old children,” he said.

Other issues of importance to him are standardized testing and inclusion.

Also running in the Oct. 16th election for the position of public school trustee are Bill Stuebing, Jason Chilibeck, Bev Manning, Jaelene Tweedle, Angela Sommers, Cathy Peacocke, Matt Chapin, Dianne Macaulay, Ben Ordman, Bill Christie and Nicole Buchanan.

carlie.connolly@reddeerexpress.com

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