Proposed calendar changes prompt concerns

NANAIMO – Parents, teachers and support workers all concerned with district's proposed calendar changes.

Financial hardship for families and hourly workers, and the need for more time for educators to collaborate, were some of the comments trustees heard about proposed school calendar changes.

The school board is considering three possible changes to next year’s school calendar – starting school one hour later on Wednesdays to allow time for educators to meet to discuss learning strategies; extending spring break to two weeks to save about $400,000 in staffing and utilities costs; and adding two in-service days for all employees, during which students would not attend class, to discuss district-wide learning initiatives.

At Wednesday’s special board meeting to receive feedback on proposed changes, trustees heard from four presenters. People can also share their thoughts in an online survey at until Friday (March 22).

Parent Nicole Hewitt told trustees many families at Park Avenue Elementary School are concerned about the financial implications of the changes.

The Wednesday late start would mean taking an unpaid hour or hour and a half off work every week and the extra week off at spring break means an additional $575 in daycare costs, she said.

“That’s a huge chunk of change that I don’t have,” she said. “It’s going to negatively impact my life.”

Justin Green, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association president, said the optimal teaching time for many educators is the morning and research shows students do better when teachers are at their best, so a Wednesday late start may not be the best option.

He said the “one-week school closure” would negatively impact teachers-on-call because it reduces the number of days they could be called in to work.

Green also shared the results of a survey the union conducted after the first employee in-service day held in February, which the district proposes to continue next year.

About 240 teachers responded and the majority felt that improvements were needed, although they appreciated the time to network with colleagues.

“It was felt that it was far too rushed,” said Green. “What became clear from this though is that teachers found value in those days if it’s improved.”

Kelly Dunaway, vice-president of CUPE Local 606, said the savings from an extended spring break come at the expense of the district’s support workers – the lowest yearly wage earners in the district – because they are paid hourly, not salaried like teachers, administrators and senior management.

“It feels like we are expected to take the brunt of the hit, while everyone else gets an extended paid vacation,” he said. “Adding the extra week off to spring break only compounds the already crippling financial strain to workers and family alike.”

An extended spring break could also constitute as a layoff under the union’s collective agreement with the district, which would result in a major disruption, Dunaway added.

As for the Wednesday morning late start, he suggested meetings take place on Friday afternoons instead, as students are dismissed early that day.

Instructional coordinator Darlene Crane said time to collaborate with colleagues is critical to improving student achievement and that a late start time on Wednesdays would allow teachers to talk about all students, not just the most at-risk students.

“We have to build in the foundation for teachers to get together,” she said.