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School officials gear up for busy fall

Nanaimo educators are sharpening their pencils and readying their day planners for a busy start to the school year.

Sharon Welch, Nanaimo school board chairwoman, said the first two months are going to be hectic for trustees and schools, with several reports that will affect district operations coming to trustees, teacher job action set to begin today (Sept. 6) and an upcoming trustee election.

"It's going to be a really, really busy fall," she said.

Phase 1 of job action will mean teachers won't participate in administrative or supervision duties, but Welch said the district has a plan in place to ensure students are affected as little as possible.

For example, staff from the district office will go to schools to supervise students when they are not in classrooms.

"It's going to be a hard time, but the teachers are doing what they have to do and we're doing what we have to do," she said.

Reviews of different aspects of the district's operations are also forthcoming.

A human resources review, conducted by B.C. Public School Employers' Association staff over the summer, was received by the board last week.

The review found that the department lacks direction and guidance and training for new employees.

Trustees approved the report's recommendations to hire both an associate superintendent of human resources to develop a strategic plan for the department and a manager of labour relations.

"I think it's really going to help us be more efficient," Welch said. "If we're going to go after the government for more resources, we have to make sure we're being efficient with the resources we already have."

A review of the district's French immersion program – looking at both the program itself and the facilities used – will also be made public this month.

"I would like to see some clarity around which facilities should house French immersion programs and how we can best organize them so we deal with the overcrowding at the elementary level and the extra spaces at the secondary level," said Welch. "I'd like to see us make a plan in terms of the fall of 2012."

The board will initiate a review of its own committees this fall.

Welch said the district has a number of committees and trustees want to make sure they are operated as efficiently as possible and staff are not burning out because they attend too many meetings.

Trustees will also receive recommendations from staff on ways to improve use of information technology in schools, while a report on what is needed to turn the Rotary Bowl into a multi-use facility will also come to the board in the next two months.

Welch hopes trustees will start making decisions about each of those reports before a new board is elected in November, although some decisions may be postponed until after the election.

Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers' Association, hopes to see a mix of old and new trustees on the new school board and a board that is willing to advocate strongly for good learning conditions in classrooms.

Lower class sizes and more support for teachers are two things DeGear would like to see this year.

"We've got some work in front of us with bargaining, with our job action, and I'm hoping that pays off," he said.

The district's new superintendent, Dave Hutchinson, who started work last month, is looking forward to the startup of full-day kindergarten across the district – last year almost half of Nanaimo schools still had a half-day program.

"Everything is ready to go," he said.

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