Candidates vying for a spot on the Yellowknife 1 Education District board of trustees wrestled with nearly two hours of questions from the public Wednesday night during its only election forum of 2018 campaign.

Eight of the nine candidates were present at the event held in the lobby of Sir John Franklin School.

Incumbent Terry Brookes was the only candidate not present due to a family matter.

There are seven positions to be filled and the trustee election takes place Oct. 15.

Candidates took on various issues including student involvement in governance, representation of Indigenous peoples on the board, the impact of inequality on student learning, the board’s ability to communicate with parents, students, government officials and other interested parties, student involvement in governance, the relevance of alternative learning and the retention of teachers.

About 20 people attended in person and moderator David Wasylciw said there were more than 130 people who viewed the Facebook Live streaming of the event.

Wasylciw opened the floor asking how students may be better represented through governance by the board. One audience member asked about the impending legalization of marijuana on Oct. 17 and how the board could get the community to better be engaged on the issue.

Eight of the nine candidates vying for a spot on the Yellowknife Education District No.1 board of trustees attended an election forum held at Sir John Franklin, Wednesday night. From left are Jay Butler, Al McDonald, John Stephenson, Ozgur Oner, Al Shortt, Satish Garikaparthi, Tina Drew, and Rajiv Rawat. At far right is moderator David Wasylciw. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo.

Most candidates agreed it was going to be a challenge ahead and that addressing the source of drug addiction could be a key factor.

“People don’t chronically use drugs if they are mentally healthy,” said Butler, pointing out the schools are making positive steps to combat chronic drug use, such as raising awareness in junior high school and having a Magnanimous Advocates Generating Mental Awareness (MAGA) club.

“I would like to see mental health insinuated right in education and  English class. Talk about what would a mentally healthy character done, talk about it in science. There is so much more we can do.”

McDonald said drug addiction is a present and continuing problem in education and agreed that attacking the source of the problem is critical.

“The addiction is an escape mechanism,” he said. “If you can find out what they are escaping from and attack it, then you are on the right track.”

Other ideas among the panel included being more aggressive in creating drug free zones, raising awareness and spreading information about drugs is communicated in the schools, and ensuring there are supports like councillors and places for students to talk about their problems.

Another topic of strong discussion was economic disparity among rich and poor students and how effectively the school board was creating equal opportunities for academic success.

Rawat said he feared that trends may show that there is increasing segregation in schools and that this could lead to more separation among students.

“It is already a critical issue  and I think we need to commission a study (to look at) what are the drivers of this  trend to understand it,” he said. “Then we need to look at how we organize our schools and see whether it is driving disparity or not.”

Other responses pointed out the positives that schools have in place,  such as breakfast programs, and that combating homework time to help strengthen families, promoting inclusivity or partnering with business and other organizations are important.

The full video can be viewed on the YK 1 Facebook page.

Yellowknifer will feature trustee candidate profiles from all divisions in the Oct. 14 issue.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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