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Calendar issues catch heat

Myrtle Phliip Parent Advisory Council weighs in on school board's decision to extend spring break



Some parents of Myrtle Philip Community School students are unhappy about a school board decision to extend spring break and add minutes onto the school day to make up the time.

At a Parent Advisory Council meeting on Tuesday night, 14 parents showed up to discuss the pros and cons of the issue with school principal Sharon Broatch.

"Anybody who has worked with kids knows that that last couple of minutes of the day can't make up for a full day's work," said Brandi Higgins. "We're trying to get them to learn, they're going to benefit from coming in another day versus staying for nine minutes. Especially for the little guys whose attention span by the end of the day is fried, I have one - it's not better for him."

A perceived lack of parent consultation in the board's calendar decision-making process frustrated many of the parents at the meeting. They feel the school board makes major changes - seemingly at the last minute - without any option for parents to weigh in before they're set in stone. School District 48 (SD48) made the decision to extend the spring break, effective for two years starting September 2011, after questioning parents about their preferences in a district-wide survey last year. The survey is considered limited because it didn't provide a full scope of options in terms of how the students could make up the missed time. Due to conflicts with the high school, half days aren't an option. Contractual labour agreements prevent teachers from going back to school before Labour Day so parents would like the board to consider making up the time in blocks of days elsewhere -either at the end of the year or in place of collaboration days.

"I'm not going to give up on collaboration time for my staff. They need it, it's really important, it makes a difference," said Broatch. "We moved from 156 th in the province to 98th in FSA (Foundation Skills Assessment) this year. Ninety-eighth out of 800 schools in the province? That's not bad. The top 25 are private schools so I think you have to realize that we are making a difference."

As all three Whistler schools already have minutes added to their days to make up for five collaboration days taken for teachers, the extra week at spring break means the students are essentially losing 10 full school days, critical education time that some parents want to see reinstated immediately.

"We're just trying to claw some days of education back for our kids," said Nancy MacConnachie. "We can live with five (days), we can't live with 10."

Her sentiments were echoed by the rest of the group.

"I don't want our kids to be mediocre," said Myrtle Philip PAC co-chair Lydia Harnish Kranjc.

"We have the opportunity here for our kids to be so much better.

"The number of kids to teachers is relatively low, we don't have a lot of problem children, our kids should be excelling and exceeding the standards and they're not."

Parents want the school district to consider reducing the number of collaboration days to make up some of the lost education time cut from spring break. For that to happen all three schools would have to agree, something Broatch said would take time. She also cautioned against overlooking the benefit of collaboration days.

"Collaboration time is extremely valuable, collaboration time is where you get the best out of your teachers," she said. "It's when teachers have an opportunity to work together, to plan together, to have conversations about students. That's what we do in those times. It's not free time for those teachers. They come in of their own free will, they have already worked that time, they are not required to be here."

While the issue is passionately discussed among some circles, Broatch said she only received eight responses from parents following an email request for opinion she sent out regarding the extended spring break.

The Myrtle Philip PAC agreed to send a letter addressing their concerns about how the calendar changes are made to the SD48 board and the principals of the other schools. They plan on formulating and circulating a Whistler-wide survey regarding calendar options, which they hope will pressure the school board into reconsidering how collaboration days and educational time is distributed.