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ARA goes virtual

Modified version of annual assembly to take place in August

May 20, 2020 Mark Milne, ATA News Staff


The ATA’s Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) will take place via videoconference on Aug. 13 and 14. 

At an emergent meeting held virtually on April 30, Provincial Executive Council (PEC) cancelled its previous plan to hold ARA in person on Aug. 15 and 16. 

“We had to find a way to hold our meeting that would still comply with the safety orders from Alberta’s chief medical officer,” said Jason Schilling, ATA president and member of the ARA steering committee.

The annual event has taken place over the May long weekend since the early 1990s. It brings together approximately 450 teacher representatives from the province’s 61 ATA locals to debate ATA policy and the budget that will guide the organization for the upcoming fiscal year. Normally scheduled for three days, the event has been pared down to two for this year. 

Nailing down the specifics for this year’s ARA has been unbelievably challenging due to the everchanging restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Schilling said.

“It was a difficult decision to postpone this year’s assembly because it’s such a fundamental part of our organization. It’s how our membership directs the Association,” Schilling said.

The meeting will be held via the Zoom webinar platform, which will allow delegates to participate in a free and equitable discussion forum, a central tenet of ARA, but options are still being explored to allow only authorized delegates to vote on resolutions. Accurate tallies are vital to the outcomes that shape the ATA, Schilling said. 

“At ARA, it’s the floor that decides the outcome of the issues being debated,” Schilling said. “Our policy forms the fabric of what we believe in. It becomes our belief statement of what we value.”

Pedro Carriel, the ATA’s treasurer and chief financial officer, says it is an essential right of ATA members to debate and vote on the upcoming year’s proposed operating budget. 

“Members need direct participation in the budgetary process,” Carriel said. “The debate provides a forum where they can guide the priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.”

Traditionally, ARA also conducts several other orders of business, such as the presentation of the Honorary Membership Award, the Association’s annual report and the president’s report. 

“We’re still working those details out,” Schilling said. “We’ve received some advice from Provincial Executive Council about what things we’d like to keep and what things might be better done in person [at another time].” 

The ARA Steering Committee continues to meet regularly to finalize details about this year’s assembly. Instructions for attendees will be sent out prior to the assembly. 

COVID and the Association

The effects of the COVID-19 crisis are also being felt in several other areas of the ATA’s operations. 

Summer Conference, which usually takes place in mid-August in Banff, has been completely cancelled. For 72 years, the gathering has provided a range of information sessions and learning opportunities. 

Joni Turville, conference organizer and associate secretary for the ATA, says the restrictions on social distancing have left organizers no choice but to cancel this year’s event. 

“It will certainly be missed as it’s one of the key events that brings members together,” Turville said, “but we’re working hard to find alternate ways of providing information and support to teachers who take on leadership roles in the Association and their profession.”

Additionally, 2020 has also seen the postponement of the popular uLead conference, member training sessions and various committee meetings. An up-to-date calendar of all scheduled/cancelled ATA events can be found on the Association website,

Fortunately, the Provincial Executive Council (PEC) has been regularly meeting online to discuss the issues facing Alberta’s teachers and public education. ATA president Jason Schilling points out while the virtual meetings possess their own set of challenges, the commitment, determination and flexibility of the council is impressive. 

“We’re still able to do the work of the Association. We’ve not missed a beat in that regard,” said Schilling, “though there’s a certain nuance of ‘in-person’ debate that’s missing when meeting online.”

The pandemic has also resulted in the physical ATA building being closed to the public. However, the majority of employees still continue their work from home. Turville emphasized that each program area — Professional Development, Member Services, Teacher Welfare, Library Services, Government — is fully operational and only a phone call or email away. ❚

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