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Good News for the Artist in Residence School Program

On August 2, 2017 I received the following good news from the Government of Alberta in response to my email of April 28, 2017.  I asked that since the AFA had had their funding levels restored, could the Minister of Culture encourage the AFA to restore funding to the Artist in Residence Program (The AFA had received their own funding cuts in 2015 which they passed along to artists).  My constituents will be happy to hear that the 50% funding cut to the Artist in Residence program from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (AFA) in 2015 has been reversed.   A new government with an understanding of the importance of the AFA’s programs, including the Artist in Residence school program, has made a big difference.  Not only would I like to thank the Alberta Government, but I would like to especially thank the late Helen Clease then President of the Alberta School Board Association for joining Mark Henderson, Executive Director of Theatre Prospero and I last spring in a meeting with Ricardo Miranda, Minister of Culture to request that the government restore funding to the AFA and their programs.  Helen’s leadership on this issue led to writing a letter of  support on behalf of ASBA to Minister Miranda.  I appreciate as well the support of my fellow trustees across the province who passed a resolution at the ASBA Fall 2016 Conference to support arts experiences in our schools.  Here is the email from Minister Miranda:

Dear Ms. Grell:

Thank you for your email concerning artist residencies in schools and available funding through the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (AFA) Artists and Education Project Funding stream.

The Government of Alberta believes exposure to the arts has a positive impact on the lives of all Albertans. Our government is proud that thousands of artists and arts organizations across the province each year benefit from support through the AFA.

With an increase of $5 million to the AFA, Budget 2017 increased its support of the arts and creative industries to more than $31.5 million. This investment will help to sustain and grow the arts sector into the future.

Arts organizations will receive additional operational and project support to help weather the continuing economic challenges caused by the steep decline in global oil prices. More individual artists applying for project funding will receive AFA support. By creating new economic opportunities for artists and arts organizations, we help ensure people will continue to enjoy and fully experience Alberta’s culture and creativity.

The AFA announced its 2017-18 budget, which outlines how it allocated these additional funds. The AFA board approved a budget that supports greater access, excellence, and sustainability of the arts sector and seeks to increase funding for as many stakeholders as possible.

I am pleased to share with you that the AFA’s Artists and Education project grant stream has been allocated a budget of $1.02 million, more than double last year’s support levels. This is the largest single project opportunity increase in the AFA’s 2017-18 budget. The AFA board recognizes the importance of having youth participate and learn from Alberta artists and felt it was important continue to support this program.

Arts access for youth is also being increased through additional funds for the AFA’s Summer Schools program and the Alberta’s Future Leaders program. The AFA is committed to developing a long-term strategy to promote youth engagement in the arts.

More information about the AFA’s 2017-18 budget can be found on its website at If you have further questions regarding the AFA budget or the funding allocation to the Artists and Education program, please contact Ms. Helen Chimirri‑Russell, Director, Arts Development, at 780-415-0307 (toll-free by first calling 310-0000) or

I appreciate your interest in this important issue.

Best Regards,

Ricardo Miranda

Minister of Culture and Tourism


NDP Government Commits $ to Playgrounds for New Schools

The following good news was provided by the Government of Alberta:

All new and replacement schools will soon get a $250,000 provincial grant for a playground, saving Alberta families millions of dollars. Premier Notley and Minister Eggen announced a playground grant program at Vista Heights School in Calgary. The $20-million program will apply to all new schools with kindergarten to Grade 6 programs announced between 2014 and 2018. Replacement schools approved in 2017-18 are eligible if the school is being built on a new site without an existing playground. “We know that playgrounds not only benefit the students who get to use them, but they serve the community as a whole. They are hubs where parents and children meet and play together. Our government believes playgrounds are extremely important to local communities and that is why we are funding them to make life better and more affordable for Albertans.” Rachel Notley, Premier. More than 50 previously announced school projects across the province are currently eligible for the playground grant funding. Should additional schools be announced in 2018, those schools would also be eligible. Alberta’s Capital Plan commits $20 million over the next four years towards school playgrounds. “Building a playground at the same time as a school is being built just makes sense. I am proud that our government is working to protect and improve education, and this includes the interactions and activity that students take part in outdoors.” David Eggen, Minister of Education. “Playgrounds are an essential part of all students’ school experiences. Our children deserve safe, outdoor play areas that encourage engagement while they learn and develop their physical and social skills during free time and recess. I’m happy the province is committing more resources to playgrounds, and I would really like to see an even greater commitment to playgrounds in the future.” Justin Murray, parent and member of the Vista Heights School Council and Parent Enhancement Society. Should a school community wish to build a playground that costs more than the $250,000 provided, they will have the option of fundraising to supplement the project. New schools that receive the Education playground grant will not be eligible for other provincial grants that support playground construction. If a community wants to upgrade or replace an existing playground, they are able to apply for the Community Facility Enhancement Program grant offered through Culture and Tourism.



Trustee Inquiry: May 30, 2017

I made the following inquiry at the May 30, 2017 ECSD Public Board Meeting:  The inquiry is in relation to Resolution 3-61/17 passed at the ARA conference May 20- 21, 2017 which stated:

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Alberta Teachers’ Association urge Roman Catholic school boards to recognize and respect the right of their teachers to exercise their individual professional judgement with regard to religious instruction and permeation of religion in the planning and teaching of lessons, evaluation of students, the selection of learning resource and professional development.

Trustee Inquiry:  Have ECSD teachers been directed not to use the Professionals Respecting and supporting Individual Sexual Minorities Toolkit (PRISM Toolkit) which was created by the ATA and Alberta Education?  If so, who is directing them not to use it and why?

Motion for June 20 Public Board Meeting

To:  Board of Trustees

From:  Patricia Grell

RE:  Alberta Teachers’ Association Resolution

The ATA passed the following resolutions at the 100th Annual Representative Assembly (ARA):

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Alberta Teachers’ Association affirm the importance of constitutionally established denominational education and support the legitimacy of denominational education provided by Roman Catholic separate school boards as a vital component of Alberta’s public education system, insofar as they operate in accordance with human rights legislation (3-59/17)

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Alberta Teachers’ Association urge separate school boards, notwithstanding their denominational rights, to treat all teachers equitably relative to their employment rights (3-60/17)

Given the fact that

  1. Alberta’s Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression,
  2. The Canadian Human Rights Act includes Sexual Orientation in its list of prohibited grounds of discrimination
  3. that in early June the Canadian Senate is poised to pass Bill C-16 which will add Gender Identity and Expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act’s list of prohibited grounds of discrimination
  4. given the fact that money designated for the classroom is currently being used to fight denominational rights in regards to these protections such as in the case of Jan Buterman, I propose the following motion:


That the ECSD Board of Trustees support the ATA resolutions passed at the ARA 2017 conference and not use our denominational rights as a basis for discrimination against LGBTQ teachers and

That if the Board passes this motion, that no more of ECSD’s educational dollars will go to support the case against Jan Buterman.

Apology to Counsel Karbonik

The following was read at the May 30 ECSD public Board Meeting:

I would like to wholeheartedly and unreservedly apologize to Counsel Carole Karbonik for the disrespectful remark that I made at our Public Board meeting held March 21st, 2017. Carole is a professional who is following orders, like any other district employee, and she deserves to be respected at a public board meeting and it is the Superintendent and the Board who should be held accountable, not our staff. I’ve blogged before about how I believe she is put in a terribly awkward position in her role in the district which is under the direct authority of the Superintendent.  I should have been mindful of this when I made my remarks. My issue is with our process, not with her and I regret my remark. This has been a teachable moment for me and I hope also for the Board and Superintendent.  We should be mindful of the difficult position with which we are placing our staff – especially our legal counsel when we ask them to provide an opinion on an issue that affects their role in our district directly.  Asking Ms. Karbonik to give a legal opinion on her supervisor’s contract was completely and unequivocally unfair.  On January 27, 2017 prior to the vote on the Superintendent`s contract I did recommend to the Board that we get an external legal opinion on the contract however, my recommendation went unheeded by the Board.  So it is the Board and the Superintendent to whom I should be directing my concern not to Counsel Karbonik.  For this I am very sorry. Again, my apologies to Counsel Karbonik.

Strategic Alliance for Alberta Students With Learning Challenges

On Thursday, April 20, 2017 Greta Gerstner, founder of the Strategic Alliance for Alberta Students with Learning Challenges was introduced in the Alberta Legislature.  The following is the Hansard which explains what the Alliance is hoping to accomplish.  Here is a link to their Facebook page if you are interested in learning more.  Thank you Greta for all that you are doing to promote better support for our students with learning challenges.

The Speaker: Welcome.

The hon. Member for Edmonton-Ellerslie, Loyola: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s my pleasure to introduce to you and through you to all members of this Assembly a valuable constituent of Edmonton-Ellerslie, Greta Gerstner, the founder of Strategic Alliance for Alberta Students with Learning Challenges. This group was born out of Greta’s strong desire to change the education system to help all students with learning challenges. I’ve been working closely with her as she hopes to change how the system works, specifically focusing on how to eliminate roadblocks. She hopes to bring awareness to all Albertans that by not providing the students with learning challenges the help they need to succeed, we will add a long-term cost to the health care, justice, and social services systems. However, if we invest in appropriate supports now, these students can be productive and contributing members of society. I ask her to please stand and for all of us to welcome her with the traditional warm welcome of this Assembly.


Open Letter to Catholic Constituents

It would have been helpful had the Board Chair called Trustee Bergstra and I to ask if indeed what was written in the Edmonton Journal was in fact what we said to the reporter Janet French.  I told Janet French that we need to be more transparent that 9 credits of Religion are required in order to cross the stage at graduation.  Put it on the high school registration form and in the Administrative Regulation 300 #6 c).  Please go to the registration form and the AR 300 links and you will see that there is no mention of being denied graduation for incompletion of the 9 Religion credits.

Trustee Bergstra and I both suggested that perhaps there is another way of encouraging students to take their Religion credits without denying them graduation with their peers.  I told Janet French that it seems counter intuitive to use Religion which teaches students about compassion and mercy — to threaten students.  I suggested to Ms. French that those students who are denied attendance at their grad for not completing their 9 credits would not feel too warm toward the Catholic faith in the future.  Perhaps then there is a better way.  My son for example, who is graduating this year form his ECSD high school was very anxious about not completing his Religion credits because he had 2 diploma exams scheduled at the same time as the required Religion seminars.  One of his friends due to illness had difficulty completing his Religion credits and began to worry that he wouldn’t be able to cross the stage with his friends.  I read through their high school’s Student Handbook and didn’t see it written anywhere that grad would be denied to those who didn’t complete their Religion credits so this policy is an “oral policy” which is leading to great confusion and unneeded anxiety.  Archbishop MacDonald High at least states it in their Student Handbook and references AR 300 6, c) on page 32.  If you read AR 300 however, there is no mention of grad being denied as a consequence of not taking the 9 credits.

Had Trustee Bergstra been permitted to bring her motion forward at the April public board meeting, all of what I am telling you now would have been made public.  All we were saying was, “is there a better way of encouraging students to take their Religion credits without denying them graduation with their peers?” and if there isn’t, can we be more transparent about what is required?  Can this requirement and the consequences for not fulfilling them, be put in our Administrative Regulations?  Can we also ensure that the requirements and the consequences be clearly stated on the ECSD Registration Form?  If not, why not?  Why is this policy not made clear to our parents and students?

Neither Trustee Bergstra nor I told the reporter that religion shouldn’t be taught in Catholic schools or that learning religion should be optional.  We were calling for more transparency and for more compassion—values I think as a Catholic constituent you probably would agree with.

Just for your information though, because our Catholic schools are 100% publicly funded by the Alberta government, the School Act S. 50 does state that if a parent wishes to exempt their child from taking Religion classes, they can do so without academic penalty.  I suggested this very solution to the reporter: let the parents who are the first educators of their children (as Parents for Choice in Education repeatedly state), write a letter to exempt their child if there is an issue with completing the required credits.  Sometimes there are occasions when a student may need to be exempted from the Religion requirements – for illness or for conflicts with diploma exams for example.  Let’s not use grad attendance which is a non-academic requirement as a carrot to coerce our students into taking Religion.  It is creating unnecessary anxiety in our students and in my opinion conflicts with the values of Catholic education as expressed by Pope Francis in his book Education for Choosing Life:

“an essential mission of every Christian educator is to commit entirely to inclusion, to work for inclusion…our schools must govern themselves according to a well-defined standard: fraternal solidarity…teachers, directors, pastors, fathers, mothers, students, all of us can be signs of a different world where each is recognized, accepted, included, dignified, and not only for (their) utility but for (their) intrinsic value as a human being, son or daughter of God” (pp. 26-27)

My advice to you and all the other Edmonton Journal readers out there – including the members of our Board:  please remember that you can’t believe everything you read.  This is something I learned very early on in my education. Trustee Bergstra’s and my comments were taken out of context and because of this I am no longer granting Janet French any more interviews.  My question is why was Ms. French so willing to do this?  What were her motives?  And why did members of the Board not phone either Trustee Bergstra or I to verify the accuracy of Ms. French’s article?  Why were they so prepared to judge us without any prior conversations?  Is it because we don’t accept the status quo and ask questions?  Is it because we have supported vulnerable LGBTQ students and staff?

In his book The Church of Mercy, Pope Francis writes:

“Let us accept others;  let us accept that there is a fitting variety, that this person is different, that this person thinks about things in this way or that – that within one and the same faith we can think about things differently.  Or do we tend to make everything uniform?  But uniformity kills life. The life of the Church is variety, and when we impose this uniformity on everyone, we kill the gifts of the Holy Spirit”. (p. 35)

Please in the future, if you have any concerns about my actions as a Catholic trustee, please give me the benefit of the doubt, don’t judge me and give me a chance to explain myself.  Conversations are much more productive and helpful than instant judgement and condemnation.


ECSD Trustee Patricia Grell, Ward 71