Teacher recruitment and retention, and hiring a new district psychologist for School District 52 (SD 52) were the main focal points of the school board trustee debate on Oct. 11.
Eleven of the 13 candidates — including incumbents James Horne, Terri-Lynne Hudlestone, Bart Kuntz, , Tina Last and Louisa Sanchez, and new candidates Kate Toye, Jessica Newman, Steve Finnigan, Kristy Maier, David Cook, and Joanne Lewis Dudoward (rural) — took part in the debate, which took place at Javadotcup in front of approximately 50 audience members.
Incumbent Janet Beil (rural) and candidate Al Ernst were not present.
After each candidate was given an opportunity to offer an opening statement, they answered questions on topics including: implementation of the province’s new curriculum, plans for SD 52’s 7.8 per cent surplus, ideas on how to address the teacher shortage crisis, student transportation, the importance of educational assistants, engagement with the teaching community, improving Indigenous education, bullying and more.
While the candidates mostly agreed on the debate’s broader themes, there were still a few points of contention. One of the early questions dealt with students with special needs not receiving adequate support because they have not received an psycho-educational assessment from a district psychologist.
After being asked what she would recommend to ensure that the school district can attract and retain such professionals, current SD 52 board chair Tina Last said the district had made efforts to recruit psychologists, but none want to come to Prince Rupert.
“It’s not for lack of trying,” she said.
Last said despite the lack of a readily accessible psychologist, she did not believe that a designation is the only mechanism available to support the students who need it.
“Does that mean students went without? No they absolutely did not,” she said. “Can it be improved upon? Absolutely, everything can be, but I don’t believe a designation is the only thing that will help a student.”
Kristy Maier, on the other hand, referred to the lack of access as “unacceptable”, children and families can sometimes wait for years for a designation, which puts them at a disadvantage.
“This is not putting children first,” she said. “We need to attract more than one district psychologist to help our children.”
Maier pointed to the Coast Mountain School District 82 between Prince Rupert and Prince George as an example of a remote community that has found a way to employ multiple psychologists.
“We should talk to Coast Mountain to figure out how they were able to attract theirs and work with existing teachers to give training to those who are interested,” she said.
After answering some final questions, all the candidates had an opportunity to mingle with the audience.
General voting day is Oct. 20.
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