In the wake of the province’s decision to surrender control of the school calendar, the North and West Vancouver school districts are rushing to draw up a list of options that could have significant implications for teachers and families across the community.
The B.C. Ministry of Education announced the regulatory change Nov. 9, saying it was handing control of the calendar to school districts and giving them until the spring to come up with a plan for the 2013-2014 school year.
The ministry will still set the minimum number of instructional hours, but how those hours are distributed throughout the year — and how vacations will fit into that schedule — will be determined at the district level. The move followed the passage of Bill 36 earlier in 2012, which eliminated the standard school year.
The change leaves North and West Vancouver with just a few months to decide what to do with their new-found freedom.
“In a sense, the strength of the standard school calendar was that it provided guidance and clear expectation from the community’s perspective,” said North Vancouver assistant superintendent Mark Jefferson. “Now, with no calendar, you’re starting at square 1, and you’ll have to do a heavy amount of consultation with your partners to find out what their perspectives are.”
Parents, who will be among those consulted, shouldn’t be expecting any seismic shift, however.
“We don’t think there’ll be dramatic changes such as year-round schooling or anything like that,” said Jefferson. “I think you’ll have a two-week Christmas break, a two-week Spring Break for most districts, standard summer breaks.”
The West Vancouver school district, which has been in communication with its neighbour on the issue, declined to comment, but the West Vancouver’s Teachers Association, which is involved in the discussions, suggested its district will take a similarly cautious approach.
“We don’t have anything radical on the agenda,” said WVTA president Robert Millard. “We’re just looking at the possibilities.”
One term that arose in both conversations with the North Shore News was “balanced calendar,” a model that favours a shorter summer vacation and longer winter and spring breaks in an effort to minimize the “learning loss” students experience in the long hazy days of July and August.
“Something that 10 years ago would have been pooh-poohed, people are thinking seriously about,” said West Vancouver’s Millard. “I’ve worked under a balanced calendar when I taught in Japan for three years. . . . There are definitely advantages to it.”
“When you look at the educational research, a shorter summer definitely benefits students,” said Jefferson. “So if you use that as a starting point, having a more balanced calendar is definitely more advantageous for (them).”
Asked if North Vancouver was considering that model, Jefferson said the school district was looking at “all the options,” but repeated that it wasn’t anticipating any drastic changes. Both men emphasized that discussions were in a very early stage.
Millard noted that numerous factors have to be considered: the co-ordination of sports events with other districts, for instance, the timing of rec-centre-based summer programs, and issues relating to daycare for both parents and teachers.
“There are so many things that people don’t think about when you’re setting a calendar, and that the people who are affected by it are acutely aware of,” he said. “That’s why we have surveys; you test the waters.”
Both North and West Vancouver plan to conduct extensive consultation in the coming months, and aim to have proposals in front of their boards by March, according to Jefferson and Millard.