The economic downturn has hit many countries hard, even those considered rich and wealthy, like Canada.
In Alberta, perceived as the fastest growing province in Canada until the oil and gas prices took a nosedive last year, the provincial government was caught so unprepared by the crisis that all vital public services suffered cuts, foremost among them health and education.
The appropriately named clawbacks have been clipping funds from the school budgets for the past few months and the provincial government has been asking school boards to prepare for even more cuts next year.
In such challenging circumstances, it takes a lot of courage for anybody to assume leadership to mobilize support against the cuts and hearten people to speak in defense of proper education.
That courageous person turns out to be someone from among us, a devout campaigner for education and a Clearview School Division Trustee for many years: Meet Patty Dittrick.
Dittrick was recently elected the president of the Alberta Public School Boards Association, a responsibility that can not be duly discharged without a thorough understanding of the workings and requirements of the education system in the province.
“My dedication to a better education comes from my school experiences and also that I want my children and other children to have excellent school experiences,” says Dittrick when asked where her devotion to the cause of education comes from.
Although she had some very good teachers and graduated with a diploma on a mostly academic-based curriculum, “But still when I look back, I wish that my experience had been different,” she said.
“A lot of children just don’t understand the importance of their high school education and like a lot of kids I wish I had applied myself differently.”
So, in her new capacity as the voice of the public education in the province, Dittrick says she will try to convey a message to everybody, a message on the importance of the education as an investment in the future.
“I will focus on working for 34 public school boards making up the association. Some of our work is certainly in the area of advocacy, how to communicate our messages effectively to the public, to the other branches of government that public education is a locally driven success story.”
“We do have to be making local decisions for our local schools to support our local communities.”
“We look at education as an investment,” Dittrick stresses.
“We need to invest in education for our children because they are the future.”
Born in Ontario, but raised in Calgary from the age of five, Dittrick says she had her post-secondary education in broadcast journalism and had a short assignment in TV news before deciding that she preferred radio news to TV.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” says Dittrick in reference to her work in radio news.
“One of the first beats that I actually covered was education.”
“But when the time came to start a family, the two did not fit. Working in a smaller center meant that in some cases you were one of the two newsrooms.”
After relocating to Stettler in 2000, Dittrick says she lost no time in getting involved in education matters and immediately volunteered to become part of the activities to improve things, including starting the kindergarten.
“It was important for me to get involved when my kids were in school,” Dittrick said.
With two children of her own in high school and having accumulated a lot of experience in her eight years as a trustee of the Clearview Division, Dittrick says she has been concerned about the fragmentation of resources because of having two separate school systems, the public schools and the Catholic schools.
“I do wonder if in rural Alberta we could afford having two systems, but in the end we do.”
Dittrick says the initial feedback she has been getting from the member school boards signals a significant level of concern regarding the future cuts.
Now is the time for the public to add their voice to that of the school boards by going to their MLAs and keep telling them they have to maintain investments in education because it is the investment in the future, according to Dittrick.
“We are advocates for communities, but there are times when, even as advocates, we need help from those people in the communities to say what their priorities are.”