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School board trustee questions: Grande Prairie Catholic School District

Leading up to the school board trustee election on October 16, 2day FM posed two questions to the candidates running for Ward 1 of the Grande Prairie Catholic School District board. Their responses are listed in alphabetical order and are unedited. They have not been fact checked and 2day FM is not responsible for any errors or inaccuracies.

Q: Why are you running to be a board trustee and why should residents vote for you?

Jennifer Ann Adam-Hessel

A: I am running as trustee because I believe very strongly in Catholic education. I value my faith very strongly. Growing up I had excellent educators who lived their Catholic faith; their beliefs permeated every aspect of their teaching in the classroom. I believe that the strong faith of my teachers was instrumental in strengthening my spiritual connection to family, to the church, and to God. I also believe in living my faith. I am a Catholic who believes in compassion and taking care of people: students, staff, and parents in our school communities.

I will put the needs of the students first. Because of my decades of experience as an independent business owner I feel that I will be able to talk to individuals of all walks of life as I gather the views of stakeholders in our community and engage with decision makers to advocate for the needs of our schools.

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My son has attended Grande Prairie Catholic schools in both Fairview and here in Grande Prairie. The experience of being a parent in both rural and urban settings has given me a unique insight into the challenges of our schools.

Michelle Boyd Boisvert

A: I am running as a board trustee because I believe it is important that all students have a successful Catholic Education. Through my interactions with teacher, parents, and students as an Education Assistant and Family & Children Minister I have had the opportunity to develop an understanding of the importance of sharing our faith with our children throughout their learning. I hope to use my faith and my experiences to create an environment that encourages success for all students, parents, teachers, and support staff.

Jason Gunther

A: I am running for the position of a school board trustee because I want to make sure the Grande Prairie Catholic School District is a place where everyone feels loved, supported, safe and welcomed and for it to be a faithful representation of our Catholic beliefs and principals.

They should vote for me because I want to be their voice. I want to give my best effort to best represent their needs and to be their support.

Daniel Jodoin

A: When we attach the word “Catholic” to education, what we are really saying is that we are providing an opportunity for young people to be educated in a particular style, setting, or flavour. The word “Catholic” means “universal”, and when it comes to Catholic education we are saying that the truths, the higher goals, and the purpose with which we learn is universally good for everyone precisely because what is taught is true, good, and beautiful. For this reason, it is vital that the board, administrators, and teachers develop an appreciation and a commitment to being true to the Catholic identity they have.

I am seeking election as a trustee because I have a deep appreciation for Catholic teachers, students, and the content of the education presented. I care about our kids and our community. As such, I am committed to be a servant of the school community, dedicated to the best interests of students, staff and parents connected to the GPCSD specifically, and to the cause of Catholic education in the Province of Alberta. Catholic education is a great gift to Alberta’s families, cities, and to the province itself, and if elected it will be a great honour to serve in this capacity.

Part of the principle of Catholic education is that the more we invest in our children by developing their intellectual gifts, physical abilities, moral strengths, and spiritual maturity, the more we will be able to teach them how to become mature, free, and responsible adults who can make good decisions. I hope to join the Board of Trustees of the GPCSD so that I can do my part to contribute to the good decision making process that will ensure Catholic education in our district continues to strive towards all the excellence it has to offer.

Michael Ouellette

A: The reason why I let my name stand for Re-Election to the Grande Prairie and district Catholic school Board is to continue to bring a business voice to the board and to work with our teachers and support staff who are the true champions in our District.Every board needs diversity and I want to bring to the board my experience that I have gained over my past seven years on the board.I Know the time commitment that is needed to do this job, It’s not 2 meetings a month as some people will tell you..

Michael Popek

A: I am running for election in the upcoming election because I believe that Catholic education is an integral part of the parish and greater community. The atmosphere of a catholic school should reflect the beatitudes. The catholic school should be a safe and welcoming environment for all students to grow and learn. This is the ideal and something that the system as a whole needs to strive for. I have a vested interest in that my oldest son just started kindergarten and his siblings will follow suit. I want to insure that they get the best quality education that they can.

Keith Redl

A: I am running for Trustee because, with all my life, work, and religious experience, I will be able to make thoughtful and respectful decisions and work hard towards providing the best spiritual and academic education possible for our children and providing a happy, spiritual and equitable work environment for our teachers and staff.

In 2012 I retired from the RCMP at the rank of Inspector after serving 32 years. I am a practicing Catholic, have been married 38 years and have four adult sons and five grandchildren.

Over the course of my career we lived in 10 different communities across three provinces. I was in a management position for 16 of my 32 years. Having been a manager in an organization of 29,000 people, I am experienced in seeing the “big picture” and being part of something greater than my area of responsibility.

Throughout my career I was actively involved in schools doing talks to all ages on a variety of topics ranging from Halloween safety through to Applied Physics in Collision Reconstruction. I have had articles published in the Science Teacher magazine and was a small part in helping change the high school physics program to make it more interesting for students.

I have a vested interest in the Grande Prairie Catholic School Board as three of my grandchildren currently attend School here. One of our sons is an Assistant Principal and our daughter-in- law is a teacher. My wife was a teacher’s aide for 6 years. Having family and friends involved in the administration of Catholic education and children and grandchildren participate in Catholic Education I feel I have a fairly good understanding of the administration of Catholic Education. Being a manager in a large public organization I also understand the bureaucracies involved in managing within a Governmental framework.

Alyeska Silvester-Degen

A: My name is Alyeska Silvester-Degen. I am a wife, a mother of three and I hold a BSc degree from the University of Saskatchewan. I have several reasons for seeking re-election as a Catholic School Board Trustee, but the primary reason is that as a former student and current parent of Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools, I am extremely passionate about its future. While student success is the ultimate goal, I believe that this can only be achieved by working closely with our staff and parents, as each brings valuable insight into each individual child.

I am a proud Catholic and have been a member of St Joseph Catholic Church my entire life. I volunteer as a greeter and gift bearer and I am a member of the Catholic Women’s League. I am eager to participate in faith development when opportunities arise and I am always seeking to deepen my understanding of our Catholic faith.

As a trustee, I have attended many conferences and forums in order to better understand the business and politics involved in my role. I am confident in my ability to take on a leadership role and to work cooperatively with my fellow trustees in order to ensure the success of all students.

Finally, as a parent of an autistic child, I bring a unique perspective to the board which I use to advocate for all students with special needs. I understand the need for increased classroom support and access to sensory/quiet spaces in all of our schools. I believe that every child has a right to a quality education and that we, as a district, have a responsibility to provide it.

For these reasons, I believe that I am a well rounded and very suitable candidate for this role. I humbly ask for your vote on Monday, October 16th.

Stacey Twerdochlib

A: I have 3 children in the school district in 3 different school (Holy Cross, St Joes, and John Paul ll). This alone makes serving on the board very important to me. I have volunteered on school council for 10 years, 5 of which I was the chair. This experience has been incredible rewarding for me and helped me gain important knowledge of the schools, district, and government. As a parent I have been in the trenches and have first hand knowledge of some of the challenges our schools and staff face on a regular basis. I have also witnessed the beauty of Catholic education and am committed to protecting our incredible school system. I feel I can bring a new perspective to the board with fresh ideas. I have always been a person who can see both sides of an issue and always ensure I am making educated decisions. Making sure every child and staff member in our district are having their needs met will be one of my top priorities moving forward. If elected I assure all voters that I will do everything in my power to make sure that their voices are heard. I look forward to working with the amazing parents, children and staff we have as part of our district

Q: What issue is most important to you in this election?

Jennifer Ann Adam-Hessel/strong

A: The most important issue to me in this election is to ensure that every dime of our instructional funding reaches the classroom. To me this means that as a member of the board I will personally visit schools to ensure that each school and each student receives the best possible resources to succeed. As a board member I will take my oversight duties very seriously; I will ensure that the dollars the board receives from the province find their way to the classroom to the benefit of students.

Michelle Boyd Boisvert

A: I believe that the most important issue to address is providing a voice for students and parents
who may feel unsupported within our education system. My goal is to have each student
complete their education with a sense of pride in their accomplishment and hope for their future.

Jason Gunther

A: One of the issues that we need to focus on is communication. Parents and students need to know how to contact us to let us know their needs. It is very important for them to know if we are truly representing their trust and voice in issues like Inclusivity, Mental Health and Pastoral Support or the Snack and Lunch Program. We should be closer to our school community to work promptly and efficiently on their issues and concerns.

Daniel Jodoin

A: In order to put the theory of Catholic education into practice, I believe the School Board should be composed of members who are strong in both faith and reason, two things that should always go together. The board will come across many different issues to deal with on a vast number of topics; in order to come to the best decisions, the
decision makers need to come to the table with good decision making principles. In a Catholic setting trustees need to be steeped in Catholic teaching and tradition while maintaining a practical and logical eye on real problems that affect real people.

It is not my intention to be elected as a trustee because I have a list of personal agenda items. To come into the position with passion for one or two things that are important to me (and maybe only me) is a shortsighted approach for a position of service that deals with a wide range of issues with many stakeholders to be accountable to, and which requires perseverance and dedication over at least four years. The Board of Trustees acts as a group, not a one-person team, and tries to make good decisions based on sound principles for the benefit of students and staff.

For this reason I am presenting myself as a candidate with a listening ear. Instead of aiming to impose my own list of ideas, why not hear from those who know what the weaknesses are, from those who already know what needs to be done and can suggest wise courses of action? The Board’s job is to hear the needs, and then to be people of discernment to find the best solutions to the difficult situations and problems that will inevitably present themselves.

Michael Ouellette

A: One of the most important issues in this election is the attack on Publicly-funded Catholic Education. Preserving the right to Publicly funded Catholic Education is a Priority. The Public School Board association of Alberta is saying we could become a program of choice in there public System.

Catholic Schools is much more than a Program. Catholic schools are a place we’re faith permeates everything we do. We must continue to show why we are unique and why we are a great benefit not only to Catholics but to all Albertans. We are leaders in early learning, inclusive education, High school completion rates.

With the huge growth in our district, The numbers show Albertans want Publicly funded Catholic Education. So I want to continue to lobby government on the Strengths of Catholic Education and with my role as a board member of Alberta Catholic School Trustee Association I feel I can do that.

So on October 16 RE-ELECT Michael Ouellette for Trustee.

Michael Popek

A: One key issue that I want to focus on is the decline in academic achievement in math and science in our district. The district data shows that there is a downward trend in achievement over the last four years. I want to find out why and see what we can do to fix this issue. We are not doing our students any favours in life by lowering standards. That is just setting the students up for a big downfall after school.

A vote for me is a vote for catholic values and academic achievement.

Keith Redl

A: I would have to say quality of education would be my number one issue going into this election with budgeting a very close second. After listening to teachers and students, volunteering at and doing talks at schools, I felt I needed to be part of the process to ensure we have a high standard for education and the inclusion of our faith. I reviewed the Combined 3-Year Education Plan and Annual Education Results Report that was published in November of 2016. It shows that the number of students in grades 6 and 9 achieving the acceptable standard on Provincial Achievement Tests has been declining as well as those achieving the Standard of Excellence on the tests. More disturbing is the number of students achieving the acceptable standard on diploma exams has declined as well as those achieving the Standard of Excellence on the diploma exams. There are numerous possibilities for the decline, it could be class sizes, lack of Educational Assistants, school overcrowding, the economy causing family stress or a combination of any. I don’t feel we should accept mediocracy and feel it is incumbent upon the board and Superintendent to explore possible causes for the declines and do whatever we can to address the issues so that our students are better positioned to embrace future possibilities. I spent two years working at the RCMP’s Headquarters in Ottawa in the Audit and Evaluation Branch. As an Evaluation Manager with the RCMP I conducted Evaluations of RCMP Policies, Programs and Procedures across Canada. I was also a trained Reviewing Officer conducting Managerial Reviews of Units and Detachments in the RCMP. I feel the experience I gleaned during my career will assist me in my roll as a School Board Trustee.

Alyeska Silvester-Degen

A: There are many issues facing Catholic Education today and I feel it would be impossible to identify only one as the most important. In no particular order, these are the issues that I feel to be the most pressing at this time.

First of all, the existence of Catholic Schools in general is a major issue. Although we have a constitutional right to Catholic Education, the constitution can be changed, as we have seen in many Canadian provinces already. Catholic trustees are unique in that they must deliver a quality education to students while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the Catholic faith.

Another important issue is the journey toward Truth and Reconciliation. I feel that it is extremely important that we continue to acknowledge our history and honour those who have been affected by the injustices of our past in order to promote healing.

One topic that is frequently discussed is that of the LGBTQ community. It is my belief that as a school district, it is our responsibility to ensure that ALL students are educated, safe and loved. As Christians, we are called not to judge, but rather to love one another. I believe in safe and caring schools for all, as well as an environment that teaches and promotes the Catholic faith. I do not believe the two to be mutually exclusive.

Locally, the most pressing issues are the need for more schools due to growth, the remediation of St. Patrick School and various issues that are unique to our rural schools.

If re-elected, I will ensure that these topics remain a priority going forward. Please feel free to contact me to further discuss any of these issues or any issue that I have neglected to mention that is important to you.

Stacey Twerdochlib

A: Programming is probably one of the most important issues to me at the moment. Our schools are changing very quickly and parents are looking for specialized programming for their children. We have many great programs in our district but we need to look further into the future and what families are needing from us as a district. We lose high school students every year because we may not offer the program of choice. French immersion, and academy programs are areas I feel we can do a better job. Our district does a great job of these programs in the younger age groups. When these children move towards high school some are choosing to move out of district to have their programming needs met. As a district we need to find a way to keep these children through to graduation. The answer to this issue I do not have yet but I am dedicated to finding a way to offer these students the programming they want without having to move to a different district. I look forward to finding many answers and doing what is best for our kids

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