Teachers, executives express mixed feelings about premier's decision to step down

redford5 webAlison Redford's decision to quit her post as premier has some educators pondering what Alberta schools will look like with someone new at the helm. Predictions range from optimistic to less than hopeful.

Post-secondary reaction

Redford's legacy will be one of "unfulfilled promises" when it comes to education in the province, said Gerry Cross, president of the Mount Royal University's faculty association.

"She ran on a platform of change, which was to go back to the progressive days when Peter Lougheed was premier," Cross said, speaking from his university office located on the edge of the premier's Calgary-Elbow riding.

Redford rose to power on a platform full of promises related to funding and support for Alberta's education systems. While she may have aimed to be a champion of education, said Cross, her vision was not supported by her cabinet or her caucus. Cross equated this lack of support to something resembling a "right-wing coup" within the party, that in the end prevented her from delivering.

"She clearly failed to convince her cabinet and her caucus to support the agenda that she ran on, both during the election campaign and in her campaign for the leadership. So the old-line fiscal conservatives won out," he said. The fiscal conservatism referenced by Cross was embodied in the 2013 provincial budget, which slashed operating grants to post-secondary education and delivered significant cuts to the K-12 system.

Two high school educators; Two views

Brent Juul-Hansen teaches gym and sports medicine at Calgary's Centennial High School in the city's S.E. With Redford gone, he said he hopes the PCs will take a different direction under new leadership.

"I think that she just [didn't] get it. People who aren't in the classroom on a regular basis who make decisions for the school often are out of touch with what's going on in the classroom," said Juul-Hansen. He added he hopes that under new leadership, the province will seek more input from teachers on funding and policies.

"I hope they can figure out what's going on in actual schools, and fund [schools] properly."

Alison RedfordThe 2013 provincial budget saw significant cuts to Alberta's school system, both K-12 and post-secondary.

Photo courtesy of Premier Alison Redford
While uncertain which changes can be attributed to Redford directly, Juul-Hansen said the legacy of the PCs under Redford over the past few years has been one of increased class sizes and decreased funding.

"I can't necessarily attribute everything to Redford, but I can tell you as a teacher what I've seen in the last few years. As a teacher I've seen class sizes go up to the point where basically we don't have enough desks in some classrooms."

However, Vince Hunter, principal at Foothills Composite High School and Alberta High School of Fine Arts in Okotoks holds a different view. Hunter said the PCs under Redford were working hard to advance Alberta's education systems.

"I think [Redford] has been a huge advocate for public education and public services in general, and I think that she worked really hard to try to support and honour her promises throughout her years in that role," Hunter said.

While Hunter said he saw Redford as a figure committed to education, he suggested the PCs will continue to serve Alberta's education system in a positive way.

"While I think we've lost a figure who was very dedicated to public schools and driven to renovate schools and to accommodate class sizes, I would hope and believe [the government] will continue that work as servants of the province and of the people."

Looking to the future, but not hopeful

As for Gerry Cross, the MRU associate professor said while Redford's original platform earned her party support from many Alberta teachers and educators, her failure to deliver may well translate into the PCs losing ground among educators in the next election.

"It will depend on the next leader to some extent, but most likely the answer is no, they won't [maintain support from educators]. Once a leader or a party has lost the trust of the people, it's very difficult for it to get back."

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