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News archive for March 1, 2013

Rural schools given choice of start dates

Rural school councils have until March 22 to choose between two school start dates newly mandated by the Yukon government.

photo

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Education Minister Scott Kent

Rural school councils have until March 22 to choose between two school start dates newly mandated by the Yukon government.

While Whitehorse elementary schools will begin Aug. 21 this year and secondary schools Sept. 4, rural schools can choose either date.

Opting for the earlier date would permit schools in the communities to end the year as early as May 30, Education Minister Scott Kent told the Star this morning.

Ending school before June was a particular concern in Dawson City.

However, as Klondike MLA Sandy Silver noted this morning, with the new requirement that schools be in session for 180 days, Dawson would have to limit its March break to one week to end school at the end of May.

Silver, a teacher by profession, questioned the reasoning behind boosting the number of mandatory attendance days.

He argued Yukon schools already likely teach a similar number of days to B.C. because there are fewer snow days in the territory than, say, B.C.’s Lower Mainland.

Both Silver, and NDP Education critic Jim Tredger, want the government to engage Yukoners in an indepth public discussion about the future of the territory’s education system.

Tredger, a retired teacher and principal, called the lengthened school calendar and the common start dates a “top-down” approach that is unlikely to drastically improve graduation or attendance rates.

Creative solutions will come from the communities, said Tredger, from the “bottom-up.”

Silver agrees, preferring a locally developed solution to one imported from Outside.

Tredger argued a longer school day is preferable to a longer year, something the Yukon Teacher’s Association has also endorsed.

He also supports leaving decisions regarding start and end dates to local school councils.

The government has argued that standardized start dates better allow rural students to participate in distance courses through Whitehorse.

Tredger, however, argues technology should make the system more flexible, not less.

Silver suggested there are endless solutions to the territory’s struggling academic success rates.

One creative option could be to open local schools as community centres.

Hold morning tutoring sessions, keep libraries open later into the evening, and develop breakfast, lunch and dinner programs, he suggested.

As Silver envisioned it, participation in these programs could lead to credit in home economics courses or other applied programs.

Kent said today the department focused heavily on the potential for improved student achievement rates in deciding to lengthen the school year and transition from 15 individual calendars to two common start dates.

The minister said he still envisions lengthening the school year to 185 days, which is the minimum taught in other areas in Canada.

But, the department will continue to work with school councils and communities to ensure these initiatives are working toward his stated goal of improving achievement rates, he said.

“These two options, what they’ll do for us, is enable us to help close that equity gap that exists between students in Whitehorse and students that live in our outlying communities and eventually close that graduation rate gap as well,” Kent said.

Whitehorse’s graduation rate is 81 per cent, compared to 61 per cent in the communities.

Sandra Henderson, the co-chair of the F.H. Collins school council, said she believes the government has tried to accommodate the different opinions it heard during consultations.

Noting that these were her own opinions, not necessarily those of the council, the retired educator said she’s personally supportive of a longer school year.

Having taught for 52 years, 27 in the Yukon, she believes a longer school year allows for more meaningful contact with students, making up for interruptions from teacher or student absences.

Henderson argued a key component to improving student success rates will be teacher evaluations.

These should be conducted by both principals and superintendents, she suggested.

“I know from my experience that there are some wonderful teachers, but there are also some who have work to do in order to meet the standard that is expected of them,” she said.

“If we don’t evaluate, we never know that.”

Katherine Mackwood, the teachers’ association’s president, could not be reached for comment.

CommentsAdd a comment

Yukon guy

Mar 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Extending the Yukon school calendar will do nothing except increase absenteeism. This will do nothing for the students who come to school 99 percent of the time.  The real problem is the Yukon does nothing to enforce students to attend school.  Knee jerk solution to a bigger problem.  And a very gutsy move by someone who needs to be elected into their job.  This decision had zero consultation from the professionals and families it effects.

Sue Lancaster

Mar 4, 2013 at 10:03 am

This is also only for one year. When asked directly, the Minister was unable to ensure options for the communities past this year.

Arn Anderson

Mar 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I wanna give these clowns a “start date” for themselves to get fired. With all the crap in the Department of Education being looked over and ignored, start dates is at the top of the list in this adminstration.

john jack

Mar 5, 2013 at 9:38 am

shows the brain power at the top there isn’t any!!!!!

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