• Dawn Riley

Meet The Candidates Running For Buffalo Trail Public Schools Trustee Positions

When voters within the County of Vermilion River receive their ballots next week, they will be casting their vote for a Buffalo Trail Public School Trustee in their Division. These important positions represent residents on the Public School Board along with five other Trustees from around the school division. Ten people are vying for the opportunity to support the students and families of the public schools in the County of Vermilion River. The county is divided into four subdivisions for school board representation.

Trustees were asked the same three questions as councillor candidates:

What do you want voters to know about you when they go to vote on October 18?

Why did you choose to run for trustee?

If elected, what is something you would like to see accomplished in your four-year term?

In Electoral Subdivision #1 (Town of Vermilion), four candidates are running. Candidate Marty Pawlak wants voters to know that his first priority is the children attending Buffalo Trail Public School (BTPS). With three children in the public system right now, he is very familiar with some of the obstacles facing both students and teachers these days.

“I would like to see a budget that allocates more money to support classroom learning, not just the students, but the classroom staff too,” stated Pawlak.

He is running for trustee as he believes this polarized world has emphasized how important representation for the children in the buildings is, they need a safe environment to learn and need to have their voices heard too. If elected, Pawlak would like to address the curriculum that is being presented and add a voice to the opposition of the changes they want to implement.


Marty Pawlak

Incumbent Bruce Marriott for Subdivision #1 believes that every student deserves the best education possible.

“I have seen the hard work that teachers and staff put into ensuring this,” states Marriott, adding that, “I am running for trustee again to continue to fight for rural schools in Alberta. Funding for schools continues to go down affecting not only classroom needs but also transportation, staffing and resources for students and staff well being.”

If re-elected Bruce says that he will continue to fight for additional mental health funding in schools. Fiscal responsibility is key to ensure that funding is directed to schools and classrooms. Developing honest and trusting relationships between teachers, administration, board members and the community is essential.

“I will continue to serve students, families and provide good governance ensuring the safety and wellbeing Buffalo Trail Public Schools provide,” commented Marriott.


Bruce Marriott

“Students are our future leaders and education is crucial!” said Darla Rae Yonkman who is running for a Trustee in Subdivision #1, Town of Vermilion. Darla has lived in Vermilion for over 21 years, she is a proud mother of three and grandmother of five, who all have and/or currently are attending the Vermilion Elementary School and J.R. Robson High School. Yonkman states she is very aware of what has been happening within the education system, and what has changed in the past 20 years. Darla is an active community member and volunteer and strongly believes she needs to do her part to help make the community successful. She has volunteered for the very successful Vermilion Elementary Hot Lunch Program. This program ensures all students have a nutritious meal at school, no matter what their situation. As a town committee member, Darla has worked to bring the Regional Centre and Splash Park to reality. Currently, she is the Chair of the Family and Community Support Services Committee (FCSS), which supports many programs for adults and children. She has volunteered for the Heart, Stroke, and Diabetes Campaigns and implemented the “Work-Stress-Life: Striking a Balance Conference” in Vermilion. During the past 21 years, Darla has worked within the education sector and fully understands how strong quality education from kindergarten to grade 12 impacts the rest of a student’s life, no matter what path they may choose.

Yonkman has put her name forward to be a trustee believing she can be a strong advocate for students and will always put students’ and parents’ needs first. Darla says she has the administrative skills and experience to be a goal setter, planner, organizer, evaluator, financial planner, policymaker, legislator, communicator, advocate for education, and experienced adjudicator. As a lobbyist, Yonkman has communicated with all levels of government to ensure that her voice was heard by those who have the power to make decisions.

Yonkman stresses that we must continue to lobby the government to keep education high on the list of public priorities.

“If elected my top priority would be to promote and support 2-way communication with all stakeholders, students, parents, teachers, and community members,” said Yonkman.

Darla stated that she would use her leadership skills as a team member to establish priorities, set goals, measure progress, allocate resources, establish a respectful, caring, professional climate, create collaborative relationships, and promote continuous improvement. She believes positive, open discussions between parents and teachers would build a relationship of trust and this collaboration will help ensure the students are provided with safe and healthy learning environments. She would assist in creating educational policies in terms of what is best for the development of all students, while being transparent and accountable to the public.

With the new curriculum currently being piloted, Yonkman says she will be checking in to view the findings and communicate with parents to find out their concerns.

She also has seen some curriculum that is concerning to her.

“I have the passion, dedication, and work ethic to put towards quality education that all students deserve. Let me be “YOUR VOICE” and TOGETHER we can make education the best that it can be and ensure our schools have a positive image in the community that we can celebrate together and be PROUD OF!” said Yonkman.


Darla Rae Yonkman

Nicole Hauck is running for Subdivision #1. She loves living in Vermilion, and has a vested interest in public education as she has two children who will be entering school soon. She wants voters to know that she supports parents health decisions for their children. Helping everyone to be courageous and brave through this pandemic is a goal of Hauck’s, she would like to see all students have access to school, sports, and extracurricular activities regardless of their COVID vaccination status.

Hauck is running as she saw a need for the community to have strong individuals stepping up to act as a voice for parents and to provide better transparency to board decisions.

“We haven’t had an election in this subdivision in a decade, so I felt there was a need for a trustee who was elected and could be held accountable by voters,” stated Hauck.

If elected, Nicole would like to help establish some stability for everyone in the division, she stated that we need to step forward together to provide the best educational experience for our students.

Hauck commented that core competency and hands-on learning are important to her, education needs to challenge strong students, and help those who need it. She would like to look into bringing band and music instruction back to some of the schools that have had to let the programs go.

“I want to help make school fun and engaging,” states Hauck.


Nicole Hauck

Jim King, incumbent for Ward 4 Electrical Subdivision #2 (Rural Vermilion) brings eight years of experience as a trustee. As a Vermilion native, he is very familiar with the school system from both the perspectives of a parent and a board member. Along with his wife, his four children are all recipients of public education and graduates of J.R Robson High School in Vermilion. As an employee at Lakeland College, Jim has seen the benefits of the collaboration between Buffalo Trails Public School Division and Lakeland College through such things as dual credit programming, Green Certificate and the high school CTS programs. This collaboration has continued with the Out Reach programs and the High School SKILLS competition.

King is running again because he enjoys working with all the leaders, staff and most importantly students in the school division.

“Working with eight other trustees and their communities gives me a broad viewpoint to rural education,” states King, “allowing me the opportunity to continue using my experiences to enhance the success of the students.”

King originally ran as a trustee to learn more about the educational system, and has stayed on because he enjoys contributing as a community member. If re-elected, King would like to continue advocating for the modernization needs or new builds of schools in the jurisdiction that will benefit all students in the division.

“I am glad to see so much election interest this time, and I wish the best of luck to all the candidates.” stated King.


Jim King

Running against King in Subdivision #2 is Kathy Nelson. Nelson believes that as a trustee she can better understand the system from the inside, with a student in the school division right now, she wants voters to know she is familiar with the education system from the family’s perspective.

Nelson chose to run as a trustee as a result of some of the political doings in the past year.

“We put a lot of faith in the system, vote and then assume all is well and our politicians will do what’s in our best interest. The last 18 months have made me aware that we should all be paying better attention to all levels of government. This is my way of doing that,” commented Nelson.

Nelson commented that she has witnessed the direct impact of decisions made by politicians on children’s mental health, and what the world is doing to children.

“I felt school trustee is the place where I can make sure that the system is working for children,” stated Kathy.

If elected, Nelson says she will be focusing on what is in the best interest of the students, and that she is not guided by a political position and will instead be motivated to do what is best for students.


Kathy Nelson

For the Kitscoty/PV area, (Subdivision #3) Kayti Eldridge wants voters to know her main focus is the children. She noted that she is a strong supporter of inclusion learning and wants students to leave school prepared and eager to keep learning throughout their lives.

“Educators need the tools and support to give that to children throughout their scholastic career. I believe in community involvement where kids are concerned, it really does take a village to raise a child,” Eldridge says.

Kayti feels that she was fortunate that her parents were very involved in her education, she believes that engaged parents are very beneficial to a child’s education. Running as a trustee Eldridge believes it will provide the opportunity to be strongly involved in the education journey.

If elected, Kayti says she will focus on enhancing options available to all BTPS students so that they can continue to receive a quality rural education, and have the necessary skills to succeed and continue learning as adults. Elridge states that she will also be a loud advocate for not accepting the curriculum that is being presented. Eldridge is aiming to be a balance advocate and a voice for the community, sharing the subdivisions resident’s voices with the board.


Kayti Eldridge

The second candidate for Subdivision #3 is Jessica Kaastrup.

“I am honoured to have the opportunity to run for this position,” states Kaastrup.

Before starting a family, she was an elementary teacher for five years with the Buffalo Trail Public School Division. During that time, she worked at Vermilion Elementary School and Kitscoty Elementary School, teaching grades one, five, and six.

“My experience as a teacher and the initiatives I was involved in within the division lend a unique perspective on how to best support our teachers and how to support students to be successful and robust lifelong learners,” states Kaastrup.

Having been a teacher with Buffalo Trail Public Schools, education is a passion of Jessica’s.

“I feel that this is an incredible opportunity to make a positive impact within our school division in another way,” stated Kassstrup.

A key reason for her interest in running for Trustee is her concerns with the draft of the Kindergarten to Grade 6 Curriculum.

“I strongly feel that what was presented was developmentally inappropriate and sets very unrealistic expectations for students,” commented Kaastrup, “the learning outcomes were not relatable nor inclusive to the students. Our curriculum should result in excited and engaged learners making connections from their own lives to what they’re learning. That is how active and engaged learning happens. The K-6 students of our division (and the province) deserve and need a better K-6 curriculum to encourage successful lifelong learning.”

If elected Jessica would love to create a consistent program of Standardized Literacy Assessment throughout the school division. Currently, this is a practice that occurs in some schools - but, she believes consistency is important, so she would like to advocate for a common literacy tool to give teachers an understanding and ability to share experience and intervention strategies to further support and engage students. She wants to foster successful, enthusiastic, and lifelong readers in Buffalo Trail Public Schools, and believes a consistent program of Standardized Literacy Assessment would do that.


Jessica Kaastrup

Running in Subdivision #4 (Marwayne/Dewberry area) Cameron Stevenson wants voters to know his concerns about rural education including the centralization of things happening, and how funding from the province has focused on urban schools. The proposed curriculum changes for elementary students also greatly concerns him, and he is running as he felt it was the best way he could contribute to ensuring quality education is provided in the division.

“I am running a campaign of honesty, integrity and transparency,” states Stevenson.

He has spent the past 11 years on the county fire department, and is their chief training officer at present. He noted that he is very familiar with the teaching process through his past volunteer experience coaching volleyball and teaching at fire etc, he mentioned that he has a wealth of knowledge working with students. With a wife who teaches in BTPS, and two children in school, Cameron has been exposed to many different perspectives of education in Alberta.

If elected, Stevenson would like to see the rural schools be given the opportunity to have an academy school, perhaps a rodeo or chuckwagon option for students to partake in. He would like to look at ways to bring students back to his communities after they graduate.


Cameron Stevenson

Also running for Subdivision #4, David Bensmiller wants voters to know that he, “believes in hard work and that strong family values are what is needed in the world we live in today.” His family has been in this area for four generations and he is an active community volunteer.

“I decided to run in this election to help the children in my area. I went to Dewberry school and loved the rural lifestyle and that’s why I chose to move my family back to Dewberry ten years ago from Calgary. I believe rural schools are the heartbeat of our communities and I worry about the survival of our communities without them,” says Bensmiller.

His main goal if elected is to help with the children’s mental health.

“COVID has stolen so much from the children and they are struggling daily with the world they live in,” stated Bensmiller. “The kids help phone received 1.9 million calls in 2019 and over doubled to 4 million calls in 2020, ten of these are suicide calls per day in Canada and these numbers are unacceptable.” He commented he will fight to get more sporting options, drama clubs, school dances, counselling etc. to help with youth mental health issues.


David Bensmiller


601 views0 comments