Sunday, November 18, 2012

Input on year-round schooling at LDB

Context: my children's single-track French Immersion elementary school (LDB) is considering the pros and cons of year-round schooling. They have invited input at a public meeting on Nov 21st. I'm not sure if I want to lay all of this out at a public meeting, so I've put some thoughts together to consider in advance.

I appreciate the invitation to dialogue on this issue and trust the LDB community is ready for healthy debate on the many angles to the question of year-round schooling. I’m also confident that whatever direction the district takes on year-round schooling at LDB that it will continue to be a stellar place for many families to send their children. There are many valid reasons to consider calendar changes, many of which I can agree with, and would even support if this was a district-wide initiative. At this time, however, I would like to offer 18 concerns about pursuing year-round schooling at LDB.
1. School growth and program development is going very well at LDB -- at the heart of this is the fantastic staff who are committed and caring educators. It’s not clear why the current approach needs a redesign so soon into what has already been a success in our district. If year-round schooling was a preferred district-wide choice, these issues might subside, but introducing this model one-school-at-a-time creates unnecessary fragmentation.

2. An argument for year-round schooling based on academic study is a slippery slope. It’s easy to find articles and literature for and against year-round schooling as a method of improving student achievement. The literature is not definitive. Most common are the studies that report mixed results, and indicate that there are many other ways to affect student achievement that have greater, more immediate impact than adjusting a schedule.

3. If LDB is approved for this, it needs to be in conjunction with other elementary schools, if not the whole district. LDB would be splitting up family time for any child with a sibling at a different school, and would impact daycare schedules, work schedules, and vacation planning. LDB will find that parents will still need to pull kids from school to join family activities that follow traditions such as the provincial spring break or summer camping.

4. The district-wide policy context should be considered. The School Board needs to decide how calendar decisions will be made, what calendar options will be considered, and what consultation will look like, particularly parent and partner group input. For example, will they consider one-off schedules for each school, “family of schools” solutions, or district-wide changes? This process needs to be public and thoughtful, have a review process, and be district-based, not LDB-based.

5. The impact on district costs should be considered. For example schools in session during traditional breaks affect operational budgets like air conditioning for hot summer days, a significant concern in the LDB building. When “summer school” used to be at Lakewood it would run mornings only due to the heat in south facing classrooms.

6. Potential for unintended employee group contract commitments should be considered, For example, there may be issues around 12-month pay vs 10-month pay, pension & EI questions, new work schedules for CUPE, PGDTA, TOCs, etc.

7. A change in duties for Board Office and district staff would need to be considered. With full-year schooling, school services will have to fire on 12-month cylinders -- TOC call-out, psychologists, behaviour teams, District Resource Centre, technology support, etc.
8. Transportation costs will be impacted if other catchment-based schools consider full-year schedules. Additional complexity and costs would be added with overlap between 10- and 12-month bus routes. While this is not a issue at LDB (no buses), the long-term implications of district calendar changes need to be mindful of associated costs.

9. If LDB is approved for this, the school admin needs to successfully lobby the school district to re-open transfers to ECHE in Grades 2-7. Currently transfers are blocked, and some parents will want to switch to another French Immersion school if LDB goes with year-round schooling. This proposed change may appeal to some parents, but for those that choose otherwise their only alternatives are to drive to the already crowded Heather Park or to quit French Immersion altogether. That would be counterproductive to French language education in Prince George.

10. Losing French fluency in some students over summer months is, on its own, not sufficient reason to alter a schedule for all students at LDB. Parents who wish to “keep up the French” have many options with day camps, books and online tools, games and cultural events.

11. The particular example that LDB has circulated as a proposed 12-month calendar is a dramatic change. The school board’s calendar committee will be responsible for the end result, but perhaps less drastic changes would also be considered (e.g. steal one week from summer to add a break somewhere else, or consider making the two-week Spring Break the norm).

12. Summer is special, and a chance for kids to develop their identity outside of the school environment. Homework and schooling penetrate almost every hour of kids’ lives for 9.5 months per year... they need a big break every year to reset their focus and maybe come back to school with a fresh perspective. Having more breaks spread across the year may seem refreshing, but the magic of a big summer in a region with six months of winter and cold weather is not to underestimated.

13. Summer is prime time for passion-based commitments that are vital for children and families. Swim clubs and soccer programs come to mind, as do arts camps, summer camps, and extended travel. A full-year program kills many of these summer-based opportunities for children to find their spark and develop skills that cannot be taught in school,

14. Big breaks are needed for LDB teachers, too, a break from email, marking, planning, etc. Any break provides an opportunity to recharge, but summer gives teachers a change to unplug, renew, work, and study. Teachers with summer jobs or enrolled in post-graduate educational programs will certainly be affected by full-year schooling, as will anyone who gardens, camps, hikes, or travels.

15. Some ordinary social conventions in the community would be affected by having school in the summer months. Anyone who uses Ospika Blvd. or Rainbow Drive would need to know that school zones are in effect for parts of July and August. Students baking in a hot school would need a relaxed dress code to mitigate the conditions. Children in neighbourhoods would need to adjust to having friends absent when they are ready to play and vice versa. Parents would have to get used to fund-raising and school activities 12 months a year, they would have to be “always on” as involved parents.

16. LDB has active parents, well-supported students, very few of which are vulnerable or impoverished. Combined with the single-track French Immersion program, this often gives the impression of LDB being an elite school, something a step removed from “regular public education.” This perception would only grow if the school moves to year-round schooling. Countering this perception would require placing yet another “cause” on an already active group or parents that has worked hard to ensure French Immersion is part of the continuum or accessible public education choices in Prince George.

17. Do a few things well and be mindful of constant programs changes. A recent BC educational leadership conference speaker encouraged schools not to reinvent systems that are working or force change for change sake. Suggestions for improvement are easy to conjure up but can end up requiring a significant commitment of time, energy, or money. Like the proposed French Immersion program consolidation in 2010, or the sibling priority debate in 2011, any time a school comes up with a new idea, parents and educators are pulled into another cycle of debate and activism. The question of year-round schooling, while it is a conversation we need to have, should be taking place at the district level first in order to establish some norms, expectations, and criteria.

18. Lastly, the NIMBY argument (a personal one) -- as a teacher I entered a profession knowing that I would not be working when my children are on holidays and they would not be in school while I am working. I work hard and when I’m not working I get to be with my family -- this is one of the reasons I love my job. It would be a different matter if my own school followed a year-round schedule, but that is not realistic at this time.

Respectfully submitted,
Glen Thielmann

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