Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for January 25, 2013

Minister defends school calendar changes

The Yukon Teachers’ Association (YTA) has come out strongly against the Department of Education’s proposed plan to standardize and extend school calendars in the territory.

By Ainslie Cruickshank on January 25, 2013 at 4:55 pm

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

FAILING GRADE – Yukon Teachers’ Association president Katherine Mackwood addresses media Thursday regarding the Yukon government’s proposed changes to school calendars in the territory. Mackwood argues the research does not support longer school years over longer school days.

The Yukon Teachers’ Association (YTA) has come out strongly against the Department of Education’s proposed plan to standardize and extend school calendars in the territory.

At a media event Thursday afternoon, YTA president Katherine Mackwood called the proposed changes a “knee-jerk reaction” to the “scathing” 2009 auditor general’s report.

Among other things, that report called attention to everything from problems with students’ marks to dropout rates.

“It appears that the research favours the idea of more instructional time,” she told reporters.

“But does the research support a longer school year as being more effective than a longer school day? Absolutely not.”

Rather than shortening school days to 308 minutes and extending the school year, the YTA suggests lengthening the school day to accommodate the 15 additional hours of instructional time agreed to during the most recent round of contract negotiations.

Currently, the Education Act provides flexibility for between 300 and 330 minutes of instruction a day, for a total of 935 instruction hours a year.

The proposed changes would increase the instructional hours to 950 a year.

“Our achievement levels in our communities are low, and many of our students aren’t reaching their full potential,” Education Minister Scott Kent said in an interview this morning.

“The graduation rate in communities, I think, is about 61 per cent and 80 per cent in Whitehorse.”

The teachers’ association would also like to see communities retain their ability to adjust school calendars to meet their specific needs.

Dawson City has been particularly vocal against the proposed changes in recent weeks.

Mackwood noted that other Nordic countries have a similar schedule to Dawson’s, which runs from August to May.

“Here in Yukon and in Finland and in Norway, we have to make hay when the sun doesn’t shine because of where we live,” Mackwood said.

“So we have longer days to accommodate that, because the kids are there, they want to be in school. It reflects our reality here, not South of 60.”

Kent noted a standardized calendar would enable rural students to take advantage of distance classes run out of Whitehorse schools.

During the first semester of the 2012/2013 school year, both Math 8 and Physics 11 were offered as synchronized video courses out of F.H. Collins Secondary School to six students in Carcross and two in Watson Lake.

In the second semester, four courses are being offered to approximately 16 rural students.

Forty-seven students, 28 from the communities and 19 from Whitehorse, are enrolled in correspondence courses through the Northern British Columbia Distance Education School.

Chris Madden, the communications co-ordinator for the Department of Education, said today there’s no question a standardized calendar would simplify distance education programs.

He noted, for instance, that students starting school later wouldn’t have to play catch-up.

While Mackwood disagrees that standardized calendars are absolutely necessary for distance courses, her bigger concern is the lack of consultation.

“We’re coming at this without an informed community,” she said.

Kent said these changes have been in the works for a year now, raised initially last spring at a meeting with school councils.

Madden added that councils were instructed to consult with their communities at that meeting.

The YTA was not informed of the proposed changes at that time, Mackwood said.

Neither were schools in areas where there are no school councils, nor First Nations governments.

Ross River Chief Brian Ladue said this morning he was only informed Tuesday of the proposed changes to the school calendar.

Since then, he has spoken with Kent and they are trying to work together to find the right solution.

Ladue said Kent has received messages from other First Nations expressing concern as well.

Thomas Jirousek, the principal of the Ross River School, refused comment on the issue this morning.

In a media release today, Sandy Silver, the interim leader of the Liberal party and the Klondike MLA, urged the minister to withdraw the proposed changes.

“There was almost no time to consider the proposals, and it was done in the middle of the Christmas holiday,” the former teachers said in the release.

“Much time and effort has been taken to develop current calendars in all communities; what is the rush to change all that? 

“Many parents were also upset that the status quo was not even an option. This is really a right-wing agenda cloaked in a calendar initiative,” he continued.

“A common calendar concept is being used to push a Yukon Party conservative ideology about teachers in the Yukon. 

“For years now, based on the conservative think tank the Fraser Institute, the Yukon Party has been trying to push schools to work more days.

“Schools and school councils, with the needs of students in mind, not the opinion of a political organization who ultimately seeks the privatization of schools, have found that more instructional hours during the day, during the cold season, works better for northern students.”

The comment period on the proposed changes will close Jan. 31.

The Education Act mandates that Kent must set the 2013/2014 calendar by March 31.

See Uffish Thoughts.

CommentsAdd a comment

Melba Disco Dancing Queen

Jan 25, 2013 at 5:39 pm

15 hours at 300 to 330 minutes teaching per day = a grand total of 3 days more before teaching shuts down for the summer.  Not exactly earth shattering.

However, I am not at all confident that this will do anything to keep kids in school or increase the performance of those students who are flailing and failing.  The focus should be 100% on the kids who are not doing well.  Find out why, and be open to the fact that the reasons may have nothing to do with the school or the teachers.

Anonymous

Jan 25, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Attendance and graduation rates are so poor already - how does the Department of Education think that by extending the number of instructional hours each year that it is going to improve that? This is such backwards thinking.  If there is “no” choice I commend YTA for suggesting an increase to each day rather than the year; at least then it would accommodate the vast majority of those in the workforce and allow Yukoners opportunity to take advantage of what little daylight we do have in the summer months.  But at the end of the day, we really need to start being FAR more innovative with our education in the North. Just because our southern neighbors are doing “x” does not decree that we have to as well….think outside that box people!

Sue lancaster

Jan 26, 2013 at 12:27 am

Minister Kent “raised the issue” at last years school council seminar. A statement, that although could be deemed true in basic wording, but not in the way it has left the reader to believe. I was there. A brief statement, one sentence long, during the first 30 minutes of a three day seminar is not consultation. Nor is it guidance for councils that have no comprehension of what has been suggested. Say it as many times as you want, in as many formats as you want, the reality is ” a year of consultation” was certainly not done.

hmmm

Jan 26, 2013 at 3:35 pm

A few suggestions:
-  cut out the ridiculous number of field trips
-  don’t assign homework if it is not going to be marked and if it does not count towards your grade
-  stop social promotion - there is no consequence for not making the grade - everyone gets a pass and a gold star
-  I have had to deal with more than my share of lazy teachers who, in any other profession would be fired for refusing to be accountable for their own actions (or lack of them). Maybe I’m just unlucky, but I don’t think so.
-  reward students who do well - we have for far too long neglected our academic elite in favour of catering to the lowest common denominator. Not everyone can or should be a professional.
-  start hiring based on the teacher’s own academic performance in university - that alone will help improve things because you’ll have better teachers.
-  everyone take a step back and ask yourselves what your issue is… your own need for holidays? Certainly that is the case with the teachers. What do the rest of us want?

Brice Carruthers

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:10 am

Good marks start at home.  If the parents don’t care about their kids marks, then what can one expect from their kids?  It’s pretty sad, but a lot of kids come from troubled homes.  Some come from single parent situations.  When the single parent is struggling to make ends meet, he/she might not have time to tutor their kid.  We are talking about a minor change here, so what’s the big deal?  Let’s get to the heart of the matter.

It's funny

Jan 30, 2013 at 4:52 am

Its funny watching this circus. Arguing over days and minutes. I’m glad I have no kids. School is a waste of a good part of our lives. They teach no critical thinking, financial knowledge, etc, etc. You know, actually using your brain? Parents who know this and willingly send their kid to school to be dumbed down is literally supporting child abuse on their own kids. You can’t wait till they are 5 years old so the government can raise them for you. Don’t worry, they are trying to change that so 2, 3, and 4 year olds are put in school. And no, I’m not making up that last part. The question is as a parent, do you care? No, you don’t. Because you are a product of that same system.

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