Ability to change school calendar 'not new'

Laurae McNally, chairperson of the Surrey Board of Education. - File Photo / The Leader
Laurae McNally, chairperson of the Surrey Board of Education.
— image credit: File Photo / The Leader

While much fanfare has been made about school districts now being able to alter their school calendar, the head of Surrey's school board says that's always been the case.

"It's not new," said Laurae McNally, chair of the Surrey Board of Education.

The discussion about school calendars came about Thursday after Bill 36, the School Amendment Act 2012, was passed in the B.C. legislature. According to a Ministry of Education press release, the legislation eliminates the Standard School Calendar "to enable boards of education and education authorities to offer more creative scheduling options that better meet the needs of their students."

McNally said Friday that B.C. school districts have always been allowed to propose the concept, as long as they consulted parents and staff. The only difference now, she said, is districts don't have to get ministry approval to do so.

In fact, Surrey floated the idea two years ago, inviting public input on shortening summer vacation and instead spreading school breaks throughout the year.

But the conversation was short-lived. The idea received such an overwhelmingly negative response that the school district abandoned the idea almost immediately.

Parents opposed to the so-called balanced calendar were concerned about high school kids being unable to get summer jobs, the impact on family vacations and uncomfortable classroom temperatures in summer.

"The line-up was pretty long for people who weren't interested," said McNally in 2010.

Proponents of balanced school calendars argue students forget too much over the long summer break and teachers spend excess time reviewing material in September.

B.C. Education Minister George Abbott said the standard school calendar is a relic of an agrarian society where children did farm work in summer. A two-month summer break can result in setbacks for student learning, especially those who are struggling to keep up, he said.

Abbott cited Kanaka Creek Elementary school in Maple Ridge, which uses a modified calendar with shorter breaks through the year instead of the standard September-to-June model. That has been popular with students, parents and teachers, and academic results have been encouraging, Abbott said.

McNally said while she's pleased school boards will now have more autonomy to make such decisions, Surrey is not currently considering changing the flow of the school year.

"We have bigger fish to fry and that's getting more capital money so we can build more schools," she said.

"Some districts are interested (in changing the calendar) – every darn school district in this province is different and their needs are different and when you have the authority, you respond to your own local need."

Bill 36 also extends online learning to kindergarten to Grade 9 students. Currently, only students in Grades 10 to 12 have the option to take courses online.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

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