Alberta education minister appoints commissioner regulating teachers

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Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has appointed lawyer Julia Sproule as the province’s first teaching profession commissioner.

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A Wednesday cabinet order made official Sproule’s five-year term starting Jan. 1. The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) will no longer be in charge of professional discipline and Sproule will oversee a new complaint process for the province’s teachers beginning next year.

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It’s a new job created after the government passed a law in May aiming to eliminate any potential conflict of interest for the association that also represents 46,000 teachers as a union.

A University of Alberta graduate, Sproule has practiced law at Wiebe Wittmann Robertson LLP, a commercial law firm based in Vancouver, worked as associate vice-president of operations at Legal Aid Alberta, and has served as in-house counsel for the City of Edmonton and in the oil and gas industry.

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In a news release Thursday, Alberta Education highlighted Sproule’s experience as a member of a school council and on the board of directors at Die Kleine Kinderschule preschool, adding she was appointed following an open and competitive public recruitment process.

LaGrange, who was unavailable for an interview Thursday, said in the release Sproule’s arm’s-length role is key to the accountability and transparency of the new disciplinary process.

“The legal expertise and senior leadership capability Ms. Sproule brings to the table, along with her knowledge of the education system, are great assets for this important role,” LaGrange said.

Sproule said in the release she is honored to be appointed to lead the commission as it “undertakes its important and meaningful work.”

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Bridget Stirling, a former Edmonton Public Schools board trustee now completing a PhD in education policy at the University of Alberta, said while volunteers for school councils and boards are an important part of the school system, that experience isn’t sufficient for the complexities of the new roles.

“There are a lot of qualified people in this province who could have stepped into that role and been able to really take it on with an understanding of how the system works,” she told Postmedia, pointing to education law specialists, for example.

“It could be done really well, but it’s concerning to see that choice when there are so many other well-qualified knowledgeable people out there,” she said.

Erin Allin, spokeswoman for LaGrange’s office, added in an email Sproule has many other skills required for the role, including experience in overseeing investigations, managing large-scale projects and personnel, and carrying out organizational change.

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The ministry is looking to fill other positions within the commission, including investigators and administrators, this fall.

“Other staff recruited to the commission will hold a wide variety of experience, including experience with the education system,” said Allin.

The ATA has fought against the UCP government’s move to a new disciplinary system, with president Jason Schilling arguing in April the design of the new system is susceptible to political interference.

The government is set to roll out a new code of conduct for all teachers in January, putting out a public call for input on Tuesday.

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