Area students will have to make more adjustments than normal when they return to school next week.
Both the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division (SRPSD) and Prince Albert Catholic School Division (PACSD) have made calendar changes following new regulations by the provincial government that mandate at least 950 instruction hours.
Each division consulted stakeholders to determine how to best modify school calendars and timetables to meet the new requirements.
“Last late fall and in through the winter and into the mid-winter, we did lots of discussion, consultation around what’s the best way to restructure our school day and school year,” SRPSD education director Robert Bratvold said.
“We got the school year figured out kind of around March and then schools started to look at their timetables. Each school sets their own bell times and they mostly completed that by kind of April-May … We expect that this will be essentially the plan going forward for future years.”
The public school division has now added approximately 15 minutes of instruction per day, though the precise length may vary if staff members find extra time during lunch or recess.
Each school in the SRPSD sets its own timetable and many are dependent on busing, but classes generally begin around at 9 a.m. and end by 3:25 p.m.
While legislation requires at least 950 hours of instruction, the SRPSD has gone beyond the necessary minimum.
“In our division we decided to increase that to 960 hours … so that it allowed for some time during the year for those events that are important in schools like assemblies or guest presentations or things like that … and still meet the 950 hours of instruction,” Bratvold said.
He noted that “non-instructional” time spent at assemblies often supplements course material, offering the example of anti-bullying work at assemblies that can connect to subjects such as health and social sciences.
Bratvold emphasized that merely increasing the amount of instruction hours is not a panacea for improving education.
“It’s important to get that consistency, that minimum amount of instructional time,” he said. “But that’s only the first step.
What really matters is not so much the amount of time, but what we’re doing with it. Robert Bratvold
“The next piece is to make sure that we’re doing the best we can with that time. What really matters is not so much the amount of time, but what we’re doing with it, and I know that our teachers are really working hard to make sure that the time that they’re with the kids in the classroom is very productive.”
He encouraged parents to contact their neighbourhood schools to confirm the new timetables.
While public schools have altered their daily schedules somewhat, the Catholic school division concentrated on altering its overall calendar.
“Sask Rivers increased their time daily with less days of instruction,” PACSD education director Lorel Trumier said.
“After our consultation with stakeholders … the decision was made that we would not increase by a few minutes every day, that we would just look at less disruption over the school year for students, and so that’s the process in which we used to establish our new calendar.”
One of the steps the PACSD took was reshuffling some of its staff efforts, including its scheduling of professional development days.
For example, given the legislative requirement that school start up again after Labour Day, teachers at area Catholic schools have been attending professional development sessions since Aug. 27.
The end result is that the PACSD will be able to offer 955 hours of instruction to its students, at a rate of 300 instruction-minutes per day.
Trumier anticipated a positive reaction from teachers and parents to the changes -- given that their feedback played a key role in the final decisions -- as well as students.
“I think they’re happy to start after Labour Day,” she said of the latter.
“There was some time where they would have had to be back in August, and I think that families extended perhaps their vacations … The long weekend is coming up and they might have taken advantage of it in a different way than they would have if they had to be back in school in August.”