District approves plan for teacher leaders

Nine new “master” teachers will be hired in Nanaimo to provide extra support for classroom teachers next fall.

Nine new “master” teachers will be hired in Nanaimo to provide extra support for classroom teachers next fall.

The school district received a $1.5 million Learning Improvement Fund grant from the province to help deal with complex needs in classrooms. Trustees approved a plan to spend that money last week.

About $191,000 will be put toward more education assistant hours in classrooms, more than $400,000 will be kept in reserve to deal with issues as they come up next school year and $862,000 will hire nine instructional coordinators, who will be part of school-based, inter-disciplinary teams that will move from classroom to classroom, school to school, as needed.

Assistant superintendent Chris Southwick said there will be 10 teams, as one teacher is already working as an instructional coordinator in the district.

“These people will be master teachers,” she said. “They would be seen by their peers as people they would go to for advice and ideas. The bottom line is to be able to support teachers in classrooms. They would be working with the teacher and helping them. If they need to be there for two weeks, they’ll be there for two weeks.”

Southwick said the teams, which will be under the supervisor of the district’s four assistant superintendents, will include other specialists such as psychologists and speech language pathologists.

The district is still working out  the details of how and when the teams will be deployed, but this resource will be available to teachers who have tried various strategies, but are finding that students continue to struggle.

District officials felt this was the best use of the money because the teams have the flexibility to go where they are most needed and it provides a more systemic model of support, said Southwick.

“If you just put one person in one school for the whole year … the needs might change,” she said.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the strategy will impact a greater number of students than if the district simply added the funds to its operating budget and reduced some class sizes slightly.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Justin Green, first vice-president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said the union had hoped the district would use the money to relieve some of the pressure on class size averages.

“This year we had the second highest secondary class sizes in the province,” he said. “I’m not sure that the 10 coordinators are going to make the functioning of these classrooms better. We’re spending a lot of money, but what are the roles and functions? What are they really going to be tasked with?”

Ron Farino, president of CUPE Local 606, said the extra money for education assistants should add roughly 30 minutes per week per EA, which will hopefully allow them to do a bit more preparation work, consultation with teachers and spend some extra time with students.