Provincial legislation will bring changes to school calendars

Alex Di Pietro
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School divisions in Prince Albert will have to reorganize their school calendars, with the recent proclamation of amendments to the Education Act, 1995 on Jan. 1.

Daily Herald

Amendments to the Education Act, 1995, were proposed in 2011, resulting in the earliest for a school year to start being the day after Labour Day and the latest day to finish being June 30.

To comply with the Ministry of Education’s required minimum of 950 hours of instruction, the Sask. Rivers and Prince Albert Catholic school divisions will have to devise new calendars.

“We have had a calendar committee that’s been meeting before Christmas,” director of education at the Sask. Rivers School Division Robert Bratvold said. “We’ve got representation from our teaching staff, our support staff and senior admin., as well as a parent rep. from our school committee council chair.

“That committee has been working on all of the potential parameters,” Bratvold continued. “We knew what the regulations were likely going to have in them. We’ve narrowed it down to a couple of likely scenarios for our school year calendar.”

The Sask. Rivers School Division had originally mandated 915 hours of instructional time, and as a result of the increase, is currently considering adding an extra 10-15 minutes to each school day and converting professional learning days to instructional days.

Bratvold noted that while the increase in hours might seem major, the new number of 950 hours is still nowhere near the amount mandated in some other provinces.

“We are moving to 950 hours of instruction. Alberta did over a 1,000 hours for probably a decade,” he said. “So even though we’re increasing the hours of instruction, we still don’t approach what our neighbouring province provides.”

However, Bratvold conceded that less professional learning days, which are used for teachers to collaborate on instructional practices and planning, is a downside to the increased hours.

“That will be an impact, and that’s a negative impact on our system and on our teachers, but we’ll try to counter that through finding some efficiencies and maybe some different ways of doing that professional development,” he said.

Although not a perfect solution according to Bratvold, one of the proposals to compensate for less professional days is to release teachers for an afternoon and hire substitutes for that time.

“They still have to plan for a sub, and it’s not the same when you don’t have your whole school staff together, but there are some things like that that we can help to address what looks like a shrinking of the professional development days,” he said.

A possible shortening of vacation time during the February or Easter breaks is not a result of the increased hours, but simply a way to make up for days that will be lost due to the school year starting after Labour Day, according to Bratvold.

“The number of days that kids are in school is essentially the same,” he said. “I should say for the last 20 years, we’ve had a February break and an Easter break, but Alberta hasn’t, Manitoba hasn’t and I’m pretty sure Ontario and Quebec haven’t. But for us, it’s a big change.”

Saskatchewan Education Minister Russ Marchuk said the amendments are a response to the provincial auditor report of October 2011, noting that there has been a lack of consistency throughout the province with respect to instructional hours.

“In that report, the provincial auditor noted that school divisions offered differing amounts of instructional time and that the ministry wasn’t ensuring compliance with school divisions to deliver adequate instruction time,” he said.

“Her recommendations were to No. 1, define instructional time and to make sure that we provide adequate instructional time for children,” Marchuk added.

Like Bratvold, Marchuk pointed out that jurisdictions surrounding Saskatchewan mandate significantly more instructional hours.

“In Manitoba, for example, Grades 1 to 6 have 925 hours and Grades 7 to 12 have 1,017 hours,” he said. “That would, in my mind, lead to best practice. And whenever you’re engaged in best practice, I believe that that has benefits for our students.”

While Bratvold noted he appreciates the clarification of certain definitions pertaining to time and days outlined in the education regulations, he said there was a missed opportunity to restructure certain aspects that would enhance the focus on classroom instruction.

Changes to the Sask. Rivers School Division’s school 2013-14 calendar have not been finalized, with Bratvold noting that the calendar committee and board must assess and approve of the calendar before it is released to the public.

As for the Prince Albert Catholic School Division, which is largely supportive of the legislation, director of education Lorel Trumier said the division is in the early stages of hashing out its calendar.

While not specific about the measures the school division is considering, she said the results of surveys sent out to parents will factor into its decisions.

“We do have a team of personnel looking at the regulations and legislation that have come into effect, and we currently have the opportunity for parents and stakeholders to give some information and feedback,” she said. “The spirit in which the legislation and regulations were written was to improve student learning and achievement.”

Trumier said, however, that staff will have to prepare in a different way, a challenge that is not insurmountable. 

“If we need to accommodate a number of hours of instruction, well, there are only so many hours in a day that that can occur, and it certainly means we need to address professional development and time to prepare staff in a different way,” she said.

Andrée Myette, director of communications for the Conseils des Écoles Fransaskoises, said the school division is still assessing each scenario, making it too early to provide a comment.

School divisions are required to submit their calendar-year plans to the Ministry by May 1.

Organizations: Rivers School Division, Ministry of Education, Prince Albert Prince Albert Catholic School Division

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba Ontario Quebec

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