Cautious approach to balanced calendar — SD43 board chair
School District 43 board chair Melissa Hyndes is cautious about the idea of year-round schooling and fears changes to the current school calendar could create scheduling problems and other concerns.
The issue came up this weekend at the BC School Trustees' Association annual general meeting after the province introduced a bill last week to end the standard calendar to provide districts with more flexibility.
Some districts have already piloted a balanced calendar at one or two schools, but Hyndes said trustees aren't rushing to make changes because the issue is complex. There could be families with students at different districts or schools or districts on different calendars and that could pose problems for scheduling holidays, among other things, Hyndes said.
However, Hyndes said a balanced calendar with a shorter summer break and longer winter break could appeal to some parents and also help students retain knowledge in important academic subjects such as math. She also said trustees she's talked to in Metro Vancouver would prefer any changes to be region-wide, but such a change could take years.
In Richmond, for example, it took four years before a balanced calendar was piloted at a few schools.
"We always want to offer choice in our district. Maybe it might be something we might explore in one or two schools," Hyndes said, however she said it hasn't been discussed at the board table and the subject would have to be broached carefully and would require a lot of consultation.
If the province's bill is passed, boards would be able to decide how long and how frequent breaks should be as long the traditional number of instructional days is maintained. But it wouldn't come into effect until 2013-2014.
CUPE, whose workers provide support services and Special Education Assistants to schools, have already gone on record as opposing the move and the BC Teachers Federation wants more information on the educational benefits.
According to SD43 superintendent Tom Grant, research so far on the educational benefits is inconclusive, with 50% of the research saying it benefits learning and 50% saying it doesn't make a difference.
"In the end you come down to good teachers influence good learning," Grant said.
The province is also planning to allow students in kindergarten to Grade 9 to take some of their courses online. Grant said the idea would take some studying to figure out how to implement it.
Currently, younger homeschooled students can take some of their courses online, but the district's new Inquiry Hub is for Grade 8 through 12.
Hyndes said she welcomes the change because it offers more choice for families. However, she acknowledged that online learning might not be appropriate for some children and she said trustees are concerned about the funding formula for distributed learning.
Hyndes was also supportive of a move by the BCSTA to call for Foundation Skills Assessment exams to be replaced with random testing so schools can't be rated by the results. She said the SD43 board of education supports assessment and recognizes the need for district accountability but she said FSAs, which teachers also oppose, aren't the way to go about it.
"I think you have to have some type of test or tool to assess student achievement, how do you know where your kids are? But it needs to be the right kind of assessment."
Hyndes was also reelected to a second term as a director with the BCSTA on the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Fraser Institute has released its annual rankings of B.C. and Yukon secondary schools. In the rankings, Dr. Charles Best, a Coquitlam public school, and Archbishop Carney, a private school in Port Coquitlam, were listed as among schools that showed the most improvement. More information is available at www.compareschoolrankings.org.