The public has 30 days to tell the School District what they think of a draft school calendar which eliminates the fall break next year.
After a lengthy presentation and discussion Tuesday, board chair and trustee Willow MacDonald along with trustees Angie Delainey, Mary Forbes, Anne Kohut, Alexis Forseille and Ciel Patenaude voted to approve the draft calendar for public feedback, while trustee Linda Martens was opposed to the decision.
The proposal became a contentious issue on social media this week, as some staff in the district aired their frustrations with not being made aware of the draft calendar prior to it being in media, as well as the need for teachers and students to have the extra time off in the fall as a much-needed mental health break.
About eight people were at the meeting and did express those concerns during public comment once the meeting was adjourned Tuesday evening.
Dean Coder, director of instruction, started the discussion on the draft calendar by giving a presentation to the board, which included stating the district’s desire to make the education of students a priority. Coder said the costs of reinstating some not-in-session days are not prohibitive and so the decision “really needs to be around student learning,” and maximizing learning outcome for students, Coder said.
“We also explored a hunch that our decision 14 years ago to expand out-of-session days may have created challenges and hardships for members of our communities,” Coder said.
Coder noted they discovered common themes through the public survey, such as district staff “really clearly preferred the additional days out-of-session.” Staff also wanted more opportunities for collaborative structure, he said.
The opinions of parents who took the survey were mixed.
“Parents are more split on changing the calendar and maybe the parents who responded have clearly enjoyed some additional family time and we get that,” Coder said, noting he also believes the parents who responded are ones that have the means to access the technology, not necessarily the vulnerable families most impacted by the extra out-of-session days.
“Our greatest challenge are those (out-of-session) disruptions throughout the year and those challenges it creates for families who don’t have the capacity and the means to maximize that time off.”
Student learning, survey respondents said, has got to be the foundation of the district’s decision-making, Coder said.
Survey respondents also listed three benefits to having the extra time off: More family time together 43 per cent, vacation time, 30 per cent and mental health 28 per cent.
Meanwhile, when asked if they believed additional minutes per day for learning were a meaningful learning replacement for nine days in session, 58 per cent said no, while 42 per cent is yes.
Survey results when asked calendar preference, 57 per cent of parents wanted things to stay the same, while 43 per cent wanted change.
The challenges in finding and affording childcare for not-in-session days also was a common theme throughout the feedback from parents, Coder noted.
Longtime assistant superintendent Harj Manhas spoke briefly but clearly on the history of not-in-session days, noting it was solely based on saving money, not educating students. He said there are too many interruptions with days’ off in the first semester.
“As Superintendent van der Mark has said, when we came into this profession it was to look at what is the best for our kids, not always what is best for the adults, that’s me included. That’s important to state that here.”
Superintendent Chris van der Mark said they have heard from several agencies in the community as well as their own research which indicates that the not-in-session days create a hardship for many students and challenged families.
Van der Mark pointed out that at a recent poverty meeting they learned more than 450 students living within the ‘bowl’ of the city are living below the poverty level and that keeping schools open helps those most vulnerable students. Knowing that information and moving forward without removing some of the not-in-session days would be “very uncomfortable” for him.
At the end of his presentation, Coder said it is clear to them that calendar not-n-session days should be reduced.
“Any changes we are proposing really just simply brings the district in line with a normal service level across the province, we become the same and there’s no disadvantage to employees. We can reduce challenges for some families.”
Trustee Linda Martens, the only trustee to disagree with the motion, said she felt more time was needed to talk to teachers about the draft calendar options, and that they should not proceed with change this year.
Just before the vote Trustee Delainey said it was important to move this issue forward and she would like to see more ideas from the community on the draft calendar. By approving it for public feedback this week, she said it will allow for more input, particularly while the topic is on everyone’s mind.
Feedback on the calendar will be accepted for the next month by emailing email@example.com.
Trustees will consider the feedback before making a final decision at the March 31 School Board meeting.