A Q&A with FMCSD trustee byelection candidates

Advance polls are on March 30 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Election Day is April 8 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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The Fort McMurray Catholic School Division (FMCSD) is holding a byelection for trustee. The only two candidates running are, in alphabetical order, Timothy Byron and Louis Elliott Pierre.

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Advance polls are on March 30 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Advanced ballots can be cast at Holy Trinity Catholic High School at 230 Powder Drive. Election Day is April 8 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters can cast ballots at:

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  • Our Lady of the Rivers Catholic School (8553 Franklin Avenue)
  • Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School (455 Silin Forest Road)
  • Holy Trinity Catholic High School (230 Powder Drive)

Fort McMurray Today emailed an 11-question Q&A to both candidates about their priorities and concerns for FMCSD. Pierre declined to fill out the questionnaire, and chose to instead send a brief statement.

More information about the election is at FMCSD’s website. Get the news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo in your inbox every Friday morning by signing up for our newsletter.

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1. Why are you qualified to be a FMCSD trustee?

Timothy Byron: I come from a family of teachers: my brother, sister and my brother-in-law. As a senior lawyer and member of a board of directors, I have experience assessing and writing policy, and interpreting legislation and regulations. I advocate for my clients’ interests and I will advocate for Catholic education.

Louis Elliott Pierre: As a dedicated advocate for quality education rooted in faith and values, I am honoured to announce my candidacy for the position of Fort McMurray Catholic School Board Trustee.

I am a lifelong member of our local parishes and Fort McMurray Catholic Schools with a passion for nurturing the academic, spiritual, and personal growth of our students.

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I am committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment where every child can thrive.  Currently serving as a board member of the Wood Buffalo Multicultural Association, I advocate for multicultural youth and families, bringing diverse perspectives to the forefront. Immersed in daily community engagement, I listen attentively to all stakeholders, ensuring that every voice is heard.

With 20 years of actively volunteering, mentoring, and supporting the learning and leadership experiences in Fort McMurray Catholic Schools, as well as engaging as a parent,  I humbly ask for your support and trust.

2. What would your priorities be as a FMCSD trustee?

Timothy Byron: Top priorities are to advocate for Catholic education generally and seek appropriate funding for the new curriculum to ensure resources are in place for teachers. Additionally, to promote a strong board governance process, to emphasize fairness and equity in hiring and employment retention, and to allocate budgets appropriately.

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3. What are your thoughts on the Alberta government’s revised curriculum?

The revised curriculum may require a slower rollout from the Province to ensure adequate resources and training are in place for teachers and staff.  One approach may be to start with pilot projects and then move to delivering appropriately measured resources towards implementation.

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Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Timberlea in Fort McMurray on Saturday, October 3, 2020. Laura Beamish/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

4. Do you believe the current education funding formula for FMCSD needs improvement? If not, how will you convince the Alberta government to provide sustainable and adequate funding?

Timothy Byron: The current funding model is equality based, not equity based. An equity-based model may better serve our centre where more funds are needed to cover higher operating expenses. Also, we need to fund more training, testing, and educational support for vulnerable students with complex needs.

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5. Schools across Fort McMurray are at, or nearing, capacity. What can be done in the short-term for this problem and how will you lobby the province for solutions?

Timothy Byron: More teachers are needed. Recruitment and retention are identifiable issues.  One solution is to expand Keyano education program to produce more local recruitment opportunities. This may benefit retention. Teachers need to know they are appreciated, respected, and included in the dialogue with political leaders and post-secondary education policy agents.

6. Why should Catholic families support a faith-based education and what should that faith-based education look like?

Timothy Byron: Faith-based education requires balanced cooperation between teachers, church leaders, and parents. Church leaders offer the wisdom of tradition and scripture to navigate social and cultural changes. Parents know best their children and should be respected. And teachers can help church leaders and parents understand their demanding work managing complex classrooms.

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7. Few provinces maintain separate Catholic school systems. The 2021 census on religion from Statistics Canada shows most Catholics do not practice their faith. Why should Alberta continue supporting Catholic schools?

Timothy Byron: Approximately half of students attending schools in Fort McMurray are enrolled in Catholic schools. Parents want children to learn values taught by Catholic faith. Also, Catholic education is entrenched as a constitutional right in Alberta: see the excellent explanation of the Honourable Justice Kevin Feehan on YouTube.

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Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School in Fort McMurray, Alta. on Saturday April 16, 2016. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

8. After the April 2020 flood and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, how can FMCSD meet the emotional and mental health needs of its students and staff?

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Timothy Byron: Developing a strong faith life, as well as adequate support staff and community partnerships for children and families, is crucial in this regard.

9. With so many staff and students coming from Indigenous backgrounds, how can FMCSD promote reconciliation?

Timothy Byron: Reconciliation starts with truth by incorporating indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing into the understanding of staff, children and families, thereby bringing us closer as communities and individuals.

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Kids wave as they ride the school bus in Fort McMurray on Thursday, April 6, 2017. Ian Kucerak / Postmedia

10. What can be done to help 2SLGBTQ+ students feel welcome in FMCSD schools?

Timothy Byron: Catholics believe that every individual person is a child of God and made in God’s image. Every person, therefore, is valued and loved.  The promotion of interpersonal Catholic values in children and families is one of the most effective ways to discourage and prevent harms and bullying.

11. What other major challenges are facing FMCSD, and what can be done to prepare for them?

Timothy Byron: The major challenges are recruitment and retention of teachers and staff. First, we start with respecting and appreciating their work.  Second, we press the Provincial Government for adequate funding in secondary education to train new teachers. As mentioned, promoting the Keyano program would afford a good local solution.

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