Trustees favour two-week spring break in Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows

District wants to hear from parents on calendar, timetable changes

School board trustees voted unanimously in favour of proceeding with a staff recommendation to stretch spring break to two weeks, and add 10 minutes to each school day.

The proposal will now go to a month-long public consultation before returning to the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Board of Education on April 13, when trustees will hold their final vote on the recommendation.

Superintendent Jan Unwin said the new calendar and coordinated bell schedule will save the district an estimated $200,000 annually due to a reduction in teachers-on-call, as well as utility and bussing costs. The coordinated timetable would also make it easier for the district to split staff time between different schools.

The proposal comes after a report by education consultant Sharon Jeroski of Horizon Research and Evaluation showing support for the change.

The report looked at a number of different school calendar options, including a four-day week. However, the two-week spring break option was deemed to be the least disruptive to students, and was strongly supported by the majority of teachers, students and parents surveyed.

“What’s presented is very rational and very practical,” said trustee Dave Rempel. “If a teacher comes back energized, learning will improve.”

While the majority of trustees shared Rempel’s sentiments, trustee Stepan Vdovine was cool to the idea, citing the need for more information about how such a move would impact students.

“I’m still not sold,” he said. “I need more information.”

Unwin noted that the extra week of holidays could create hardships for vulnerable families who may have trouble finding or affording childcare. However, the district plans to meet with parks and recreation services to see what can be offered for kids during that week.

“If it’s not going well, we’ll hear about it real quick,” said Unwin. “And if it’s working, I think we’ll feel it pretty quick.”

Trustee Mike Huber said while it was important to consider vulnerable children, trustees also had an obligation to do what was right for kids who aren’t in that position.

“We always ask about the kids who can’t afford childcare, but what about the kids that can? They’ll have to give up a family vacation,” he said. “I don’t want to diminish the fact we need to put supports in place for the kids that need them… [but the needs of the other students] shouldn’t be looked at as less by any means.”

Senior staff at the meeting said the extra week off would likely have a positive effect on student and teacher performance.

“The increased well-being on the part of students and staff [when they return from spring break] sells it for me,” said Stewart Sonne, the district’s director of instruction for secondary education.

Huber also said he was concerned the move to a standardized bell schedule could reduce the education choices available to local parents.

“We’re a district of choice, and the half day wouldn’t be an option,” he said.

Currently, elementary schools across the district have varying school day lengths, many with an early dismissal on Fridays, while secondary schools are in session from 8:28 a.m. to 2:37 p.m.

Under the proposed changes, elementary schools would be in session from 8:30 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., while secondary schools would be in session from 2:30 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.

Unwin pointed out the consultant’s report shows that adding time to the instructional day has little effect on student performance.

“It’s not going to harm kids, but we are under no illusions that it will improve student performance,” said Unwin. “What matters is what you do with that time.”

Unwin noted that cost savings and efficiencies will allow the district to offer a wider array of programs, thus increasing choice.

As part of the month-long consultation process, School District No. 42 is asking local parents for their input. The district has set up an online survey at <a href=”http://www.sd42.ca/calendar” target=”_blank”>www.sd42.ca/calendar</a> where parents can share their opinions about the proposal, and a letter is being sent home with students this week. The district is also hosting a public meeting March 29 at Thomas Haney secondary.