Shaking up the school calendar?

— image credit: DAVE EAGLES/KTW

Terry Sullivan wants to make one  thing perfectly clear.

If Kamloops students are offered year-round schooling — and that’s a big if — it’s going to change a lot more than summer-vacation plans for families.

“When you start looking at different [scheduling] structures, it starts to have a trickle-down effect in a lot of ways,” the Kamloops-Thompson school district’s superintendent, told KTW.

“I don’t think parents really understand how radical this could be if changes were to be made.”

In April, the provincial government enacted legislation  giving more flexibility to individual school districts when it comes time to scheduling the school year.

Last week, a regulation was issued, putting the calendar in the hands of the districts themselves.

Basically, Sullivan said, it’s now up to district officials to decide when the school year begins, when it ends and when breaks take place in-between — a task that had, until now, been undertaken by the province.

“The only thing that’s going to be in place is the number of teaching hours,” Sullivan said.

“How you configure those hours will be up to the boards.”

Next year, if all goes according to Sullivan’s plan, the Kamloops-Thompson school district will follow a standard school schedule.

He said the 2013-2014 calendar has to be completed by the end of February, which doesn’t leave enough time for district officials to do their homework concerning any drastic changes.

“I think it’s almost impossible to have a broad public discussion and make all kinds of changes to the school calendar and have it done by then,” Sullivan said.

“We want to have a very broad discussion with the public.”

That process will likely begin in late December with a public meeting.

After that, Sullivan said, he would like to see the district put together “four or five different models” of what a year-round school calendar — or any other altered school year — might look like.

Then would come the input from parents, teachers, maintenance staff, contractors, day-care providers, youth sports groups and any other interested parties.

Sullivan expects plenty of feedback from a variety of groups.

“It’s so complex,” he said.

“I think it’s a lot more complex than people understand.

“It’s not only the issue of vacations — it’s simple things people haven’t even thought of.”

For instance, Sullivan said, schools don’t sit empty all summer.

The district’s maintenance department, including various local contractors, take advantage of the two-month break to make sure the buildings are ready for the next influx of kids in September.

Roofing repairs, for example, would be much more challenging to complete during a snowy one-month break in December than during two months of sunny summer heat, Sullivan said.

“And, that’s just one aspect of it,” he said. “There’s a lot to consider.”

Child-care providers might have to change their staffing levels. Minor baseball or soccer teams might have to re-schedule tournaments.

And, of course, summer-vacation plans for families might become more limited.

One form year-round schooling might take, if it were to be implemented in the Kamloops-Thompson school district, is on display in the Lower Mainland — and has been for nearly a decade.

Spul’u’kwuks elementary in Richmond operates on a year-round calendar.

The school year starts in September and runs through November, when students are given a one-month break.

They re-convene in January and classes continue though March.

Students then get April off.

Classes start again in May — just as most students are counting down the days and getting amped up about summer break — and run through July, when the school year ends.

Spul’u’kwuks students get August off, and return for a new year in September.

“We go the same number of days that all elementary schools go and we balance the terms,” Spul’u’kwuks’ principal Darlene Shandola told KTW.

“Some people find that it doesn’t fit their personal situation, but some people find that it has a lot of benefits.”

One benefit, Shandola said, is evident in the classroom.

Students who take three short breaks per school year, as opposed to one long break, retain more of what they learned the previous year.

“We find that it’s good for students,” Shandola said.

“For some kids, the summer break is too long of a break from school.

“For them, the three shorter breaks work better.”

Sullivan agreed, noting knowledge retention is one of the issues B.C. superintendents discussed during a meeting about year-round schooling five years ago.

“We looked at it quite closely, but we didn’t have any authority, so we looked at it and kind of put it away,” he said.

“But, with shorter breaks, we found we had better retention of what was learned.”

There’s no shortage of data on non-traditional school years, Sullivan said, with many European countries having departed from the long-summer-break model years ago.

He’s even had some experience himself while working in Yellowknife.

“We had good weather from June to August, so we started our year in early August and went until early June,” Sullivan said.

He also mentioned a visit to a year-round school in Calgary, where administrators said extra-curricular activities had suffered as a result of the new calendar.

“There’s so much to consider,” he said.

“I think what we have to do is go out and show four or five models of how this could look and get a broad public discussion going.”


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