District seeks input on calendar changes

NANAIMO – school officials consider three changes to the traditional school calendar and want to hear from the public.

Nanaimo school officials are considering three changes to the traditional school calendar and want to hear from the public.

A public consultation process was launched Wednesday to gather feedback on the proposed changes, which are: organizing two in-service days for all employees, during which students would not attend class; starting school one hour later on Wednesdays to allow school staff to meet to discuss teaching strategies; and extending spring break next March by five days as a budget strategy to save about $400,000.

People can provide input on these strategies by completing an online survey at www.sd68.bc.ca, by e-mail at CalendarConsult@sd68.bc.ca or by making a presentation at a special board meeting on March 13. Deadline for input is March 22 and trustees will make a decision on March 27.

Donna Reimer, district spokeswoman, said legislation changes mean that districts are responsible for setting school calendars for the first time this year – in previous years the Education Ministry issued a standard school calendar – and districts must now provide a minimum number of instruction hours instead of a minimum number of instruction days, which provides more flexibility.

The first two proposals are intended to boost student achievement levels.

The two in-service days on Sept. 3 and Jan. 31 – the first day of school, when students typically only attend for about an hour, and the last day of semester one for secondary students – would allow the district to bring all employees together to learn about and discuss district-wide strategies to improve student learning.

“It’s a good way to start the year with everybody getting the same information, having the same discussions,” said Reimer.

The second proposal allows for educators to meet at the school level every week to discuss how to improve student learning.

Reimer said some schools are already doing this, but it has been difficult to get educators together – in one school, administrative and support staff supervise students in the gym while teachers get together, but this means key stakeholders are unable to participate.

“We really are taking a hard look in our district at what we can do to improve student learning, student success rates,” she said.

District officials have taken the option of having education assistants start an hour later on Wednesdays to save money off the table.

The final proposal is strictly a money-saving measure, said Reimer.

“We’re facing a $5-million shortfall potentially next year and that would save $400,000,” she said.

In 2011, a two-week spring break saved the district about $500,000, mostly in support staff wages, utilities and employee replacement costs, but trustees voted to keep the break at one week in 2012 and 2013 due to concerns the extra time off would create economic hardships for the district’s lowest-paid workers and for low-income families.

Reimer said interest in the proposed calendar changes is high so far.

“We have already had 427 people respond, and that’s in less than 24 hours,” she said. “We’re looking forward to getting input from anybody who wants to give it to us.”

Kelly Dunaway, general vice-president of CUPE Local 606, said the extended spring break hits support workers – the lowest-paid district employees – hardest as they are paid on an hourly basis and the union calls on trustees to find a better way to achieve savings.

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