School calendar up for debate

Public given opportunity to provide input on the 2014/2015 school calendar options

The proposed balanced school calendar would give students a month-long break at Christmas and in April

Parents, teachers and students have mixed feelings about changing the school calendar in September.

About 30 people filled the boardroom at the District Education Office in Hope on Tuesday, spilling into the hallway.

Concerns were raised about potential childcare costs, summer employment for students, community recreation and camp activities, conflict with transitional school schedules, union contract implications, and the effect changes would have on kids with special needs as well as maintenance and support staff.

Superintendent Dr. Karen Nelson assured those in attendance that a decision would not be made by the board without careful consideration of a number of factors.

“This is an educational conversation,” she said. “We want to look at achievement and improving results for our students. We want to have an open and transparent process to engage the community.”

There are currently three options being considered in the Fraser-Cascade as a result of a provincial mandate. A standard school calendar has been eliminated, forcing each district to establish their own calendars. The goal is to offer more creative scheduling options, better meet the needs of students, and support personalized learning.

The first option is to remain with the current status quo, which is a two-week spring break (from March 23 – April 6). The second option is to take a three-week winter break (from Dec. 22 – Jan. 9) and to return to the classroom a week early, on Aug. 25.

The district is also considering a balanced calendar which includes two month-long breaks (at Christmas and for most of April) and a five week summer break (July 27 – Aug. 31). How that would be implemented at elementary and secondary schools still needs to be determined.

However, Nelson pointed out that the balanced calendar offers educational, cultural and economic benefits. Studies have shown it to improve student attendance, staff wellness, reduce summer learning loss, and decrease time spent reviewing material and establishing routines. From a cultural perspective, recreational opportunities can be offered at different times of the year, and family vacations can be spread throughout the year and at less busy times. The district could potentially see savings in utility costs, as well as a reduction in school vandalism because buildings would be occupied more days throughout the year.

Another public consultation meeting will be at Agassiz Elementary Secondary School today (Jan. 23) at 4:30 p.m. and at Boston Bar Elementary Secondary School on Jan. 27 at 4:30 p.m.

For those who would prefer to weigh in online, a survey is available at the school district website, at www.sd78.bc.ca. Opinions can also be emailed to info@sd78.bc.ca.

Following public discussion, the board will bring the calendar to the table at their Mar. 4 regular meeting and make a decision for the 2014/2015 calendar.