With the provincial government mandating students receive a minimum of 950 instructional hours per year, local school boards are trying to fit it all in.
At the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division, students currently receive anywhere between about 910 and 925 hours of instructional time per year, director of education Robert Bratvold said.
“We’re in the process of revising our school calendar so we can make sure that we structure the school year and school day to reach that 950-hour minimum.”
Various options are being looked at, including extending school days by about 15 minutes, or devoting division-wide planning days toward instruction.
A key piece to consider is that the government is mandating “instructional time” – a classification that leaves out things like pep rallies and assemblies.
“It’s likely that we’re going to aim for above that 950 hours so that then schools can have some time to do those non-instructional things,” Bratvold said.
“We’ve done lots of consultation with parents, our teachers and staff, but in the end, it’s the board that decides.”
Trustee Grant Gustafson said that he’s not too concerned about the additional hours, and that it’s nice to see the government set a number.
But, he noted that with the government’s increasing outcomes-based approach and focus on the defined instruction time, he fears for the future of extra non-instruction efforts schools take part in.
Accompanying these mandated hours, Gustafson would like to see something more done about student truancy.
“We want the students to be there,” he said, noting that once students reach 18 missed days they’re at a significantly greater chance of not completing the grade.
Extrapolating this number, he notes that after 12 years of school, 18 school days per year accounts to the equivalent of missing a full school year, leaving no wonder as to why it may impact one’s learning, Gustafson said.
Keeping students coming back to school is a complex issue that requires a holistic approach, he said.
“I believe it’s got to be an effort of society as a whole … We all have a role to help where we can.”
He credits a mentorship program the division’s high schools have taken up with helping chip away at the truancy issue.
At the Prince Albert Catholic School Division, trustee George Bolduc said that the board is working at fitting in the extra hours they need to make 950 instruction hours per year.
“We think it’s important for the students to be in a classroom with a teacher for that period of time,” he said, adding that the board’s yet to set any of their ideas in stone.
“We’re very confident that we’ll be able to find these 950 hours,” he said.
All school boards across the province must submit their school board-produced 2013-14 school year calendars to the ministry by May 1.
Although a set number of instruction time is important, Bratvold said that it’s only one part of the big picture.
“What matters is what’s going on in that classroom, with that teacher and those kids, and if we can support that, then that’s going to get us to a place of higher student achievement.”