Andrew Ault made it a race this year when, on the final day for nominations in the 2022 municipal election in August, he registered to run against incumbent Marie Murphy-Foran to represent Elliot Lake as the school trustee on the Algoma District School Board (ADSB).
He self-identifies as a change candidate in the race for school trustee in the municipal election.
We asked him why he decided to toss his hat into the ring in the Elliot Lake Oct. 24 election.
ElliotLakeToday: Why are you running to be a public school trustee in Elliot Lake?
Ault: I am running because we need to recognize the issues with our local schools and work collaboratively and boldly to get them back on track with fresh insight and experienced leadership.
ElliotLakeToday: What specific issues are you looking to address?
Ault: We need to be paying attention to the issues we have in our schools, and acknowledging any one individual, does not have all the answers.
It is very important to be proactive in addressing barriers to student success, collaborate with our students and parents to identify major issues, be bold to look beyond ourselves, and implement successful initiatives that have shown they work in other areas across the province.
Here in Elliot Lake and other outlying areas of Algoma, the results of chronic underfunding and attention have been compiled.
As a result, we have some of the lowest-performing schools in the province when it comes to standardized testing.
Elliot Lake Secondary ranks in the bottom 10 per cent, while Central Avenue ranks in the bottom 0.2 per cent.
Other schools in rural areas of our board fare similarly. While standardized test scores certainly don't tell the full story, they clearly show that there is an issue."
ElliotLakeToday: How do these low test results relate to student attendance?
Ault: That issue carries forward, also in the long run, as we have the second lowest post-secondary attendance of any city in Ontario."
ElliotLakeToday: We hear much about mental health in our society. Is there any correlation between that and people who have gone through two years of restrictions and change during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ault: My first, immediate priority is to recognize that reported levels of anxiety, depression and overall well-being of students and teachers in our region have sincerely worsened following the pandemic.
To address this, I hope to build consensus around the room for ADSB to launch a Mental Health Action Plan, a document in the works at many other boards that will make a sincere difference.
ElliotLakeToday: You are advocating for change in the educational system. How can this come about?
Ault: I believe there needs to be far greater collaboration and engagement between our board, our parents and our students. The first step to solving any problem is understanding it.
We need to be very proactive and seek insight from students and parents first-hand, and not just the ones that attend PTA meetings.
These conversations will allow us to clearly identify where the gaps exist so that we can develop solutions."
ElliotLakeToday: Is the Ministry of Education and Training pushing for this or offering a template for change for school boards to follow?
What approach are you suggesting?
Ault: We need to be bold and innovative and take a look at what other boards are doing in the province that have similar challenges to us. Many boards in the northwest have developed unique after-school programs that address their unique needs.
This includes those which address elementary to secondary transitions, students at risk, and accommodating students whose achievement levels are exceptional.
We should closely examine some of these initiatives, and where there is a fit, implement programs in our region."
ElliotLakeToday: From my own school career, it seemed one of the barriers to learning was that many students could not relate their classroom teaching to the practical lessons to be learned in the outside work world. Is there a remedy for this?
Ault: In areas of southern Ontario, high school STEAM programs bring people together to leverage skills in science and entrepreneurship to build an app and, with good literacy, communicate its function to a non-specialist audience.
This program puts students in a real-world environment and allows them to see the purpose of the disciplines they study. If students do not see a need to study a discipline, they won't do it."
ElliotLakeToday: You are an economist. What does your education and training in that field tell you about finding funding solutions for public schools in Elliot Lake?
Ault: The many issues in our schools are the result of chronic underfunding and attention over the past while.
As an economist, I am keenly interested in ensuring our smaller communities receive an equitable share of our $182M budget and (offer) similar after-school programs as those in the Sault.
As just a few examples, we have less staff than the number of students that they have in Sault Ste. Marie.
(There is also a) lack of a high school robotics program, and (our students) do not participate in literacy programs like 'Battle of the Books' - a partnership found between other schools and public libraries, in other regions of the province and board."
ElliotLakeToday: Your opponent in the election for the trustee (Marie Murphy-Foran) leans heavily on her experience in education and other fields and community service as major attributes.
What experience are you bringing to the table in your run for ADSB trustee?
Ault: Believing strongly in the value of interdisciplinarity, my background includes studies in science, economics and business.
Uniquely, I have attained three master's degrees from Lakehead, including an MA, MBA and MSc; and I am working hard on a PhD in Finance from Carleton.
My area of research is pharmacoeconomics (cost-effectiveness analysis of new pharmaceuticals), which necessitates a strong understanding of biology, economics and technology.
I work full-time in health administration and have worked as a business consultant in the East Algoma region for the past five years.
I started teaching college at the age of 22, having taught over 15 online and in-person courses in health and business and assisted with curriculum development.
Currently, I teach as an instructor at Lakehead University's Orillia campus, where I commute once a week from Elliot Lake to teach economics and strategic management.
ElliotLakeToday: So you have local roots?
Ault: I am deeply committed to local literacy and community development. As an Alumni of the Board (ADSB), I have been a vocal participant on numerous committees, including having served on PTA meetings by the seventh grade.
In university, I served as a senator to Lakehead University (the body responsible for academic programming offered by the school) in the midst of COVID-19.
In the community, I have been involved in serving on several community boards, focusing on mental health, diversity and community development, as a chair, treasurer or director for terms in excess of four years.
ElliotLakeToday: Judging from your academic qualifications, you have a stellar record. But sometimes, we learn much from our failures. Can you comment on that?
Ault: I am a firm believer in providing access to quality education.
Despite doing well in school eventually, I failed my first year, though I was given a second chance, and one I never forgot.
My focus is to ensure students are well-prepared as they leave our board's educational system for their life pursuits and inspired to realize their full potential.
I believe we have quite the work ahead of us to transform the performance of our schools, and I believe strongly that we need to get down to business and start to move in the right direction.