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Rural schools could teach Kenney about choice in education


October 27, 2020 Kevin Van Lagen, Principal, Altario School and Consort School

Kevin Van Lagen administers a Facebook page entitled Prairie Principal, which originally published this piece on Oct. 12.


As is the case with all my articles, the following is my personal opinion. It does not represent the views of my employer. I normally do not comment on anything political, but as a voice for rural education, I have a few things to say.

Premier Kenney took time on Thanksgiving weekend to release a somewhat confusing answer about choice in education. So while I wait for my turkey to cook, I thought I would respond from a rural, public school principal perspective.

First, in our riding of Drumheller–Stettler, we elected a UCP MLA with almost 77 per cent of the vote in the 2019 election. Nate Horner is a hardworking MLA who consistently advocates for rural issues and does an excellent job representing his constituents. He also has a strong understanding of rural education and emphatically supports local schools. Many, many of the citizens (including teachers) that voted for Nate share his support for local rural schools. One doesn’t have to be a left-wing ideologue to support public schools. As much as the premier tried to insinuate this in his video clip, the fact is rural, conservative citizens do support public education.

Second, rural citizens do want a choice when it comes to education. They want to have the choice to send their children to their local community school. Unfortunately, in the past year, several rural schools have closed in Alberta. The premier and the education minister did nothing to protect this choice for local citizens and just referred to it as a local school board decision.

Third, rural citizens also want the opportunity to send their children to a public school down the road, but if they are just across an arbitrary divisional line, that choice is taken away. The premier has done nothing to allow parents to choose schools for their children that are a better fit. For example, we are regularly contacted by parents who want to send their children to Altario School because of our agriculture program. Parents realize that some children may be better served with this non-traditional school program. If they are not in our catchment area, it is up to the neighbouring division to release them. Failure to do so means that if these students do end up coming to our school, the provincial government keeps the transportation funding and thereby limits parent choice.

Fourth, rural parents in Alberta want local public schools that are robust, vibrant and centres of innovation. Look at the amount of financial donations that rural schools receive from their local communities. I have posted this before, but I will say it again, both of my schools receive donations in the tens of thousands of dollars each year. It’s not because our communities are fabulously wealthy. It’s because they value the local school. I have never heard parents say that the best thing we could do for our local rural school is to have a private school open up down the road, or to encourage parents to homeschool. Rural communities understand that we are more sustainable with strong rural schools.

Fifth, some rural schools are demonstrating the ability to be entrepreneurial. The premier and education minister would do well to have a look at what is happening in these rural public schools. With the support of the community, rural education has the ability to transform the way public schools operate. We have made and are making choices in public education that are for the betterment of education and rural Alberta. We are creating a blueprint to help rural schools and communities thrive.

Personally, I don’t believe it is about choice for the premier. Rather, it is about devaluing public education. It’s about driving a wedge between educators and their communities. It’s not even about the bottom line. I believe it’s just an inherent belief that all teachers are left wing, and that conservative supporters will enjoy these types of messages. So, to the premier: come to rural Alberta. We will show you what choice in education really looks like.

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