Parents speak out against school calendars 

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CALENDAR CUSSING Parents in Pemberton and Whistler aren't happy with a School Board of Trustees decision to break for two weeks again next year.

The school calendars for next year in the Sea to Sky school district are set and the plan isn't sitting well with some parents. The main point of contention is the length of spring break.

Cathy Jewett, the former DPAC chair and a former parent representative on the school district's Calendar Committee, said more creativity is needed around how the calendars are set for the schools in the district. "There's room for a much more flexible calendar," she said.

According to Jewett, the two-week spring break is a real hardship for working parents, single parents and kids at risk. She said finding childcare for two weeks at the busiest time of the year in Whistler is problematic and expensive for parents. Jewett also noted that the long break is too much time without structure for kids at risk because they lose momentum, especially after Grade 9.

"Being a tourism-based economy, a single parent has to take two weeks off at spring break — how does that work? Or they have to pay probably as much as they earn (for childcare)," said Jewett.

Sheena Fraser, a parent with a student at Pemberton's Signal Hill Elementary, is not only unhappy with the planned two-week spring break next year, she's unhappy with the way the school district consulted with parents in planning the 2012/13 calendar.

"For me, I've never supported it for a whole lot of reasons," said Fraser. "I feel that momentum gets lost."

Fraser believes the impact of taking two weeks off for spring break has the same impact felt by students over the course of the two-month summer break.

"I also feel that for a lot of families in this area, particularly in our town, you've got people who work in Whistler, a majority of them are in the tourism business and March is their busiest time of year," Fraser said.

Fraser wrote a letter to the board of trustees as a parent. The Signal Hill Parent Advisory Council (SHPAC) also penned a letter of concern with the way feedback on the calendar for next year was collected. According to the SHPAC, the way the survey was conducted didn't allow for a statistically accurate result.

SHPAC was also critical of the way questions were phrased, and said some parents weren't clear on how they were supposed to submit their completed surveys. Some were offended that teachers were asked if they supported a two-week break.

"It can be argued that the majority of employees asked if they would like one additional week of paid holiday in their year will typically say yes," SHPAC wrote.

Anne West and Trish Sturdy, parents of students at Pemberton Secondary, are concerned how time is being made up for collaboration days — days off for kids that teachers use to do lesson planning and collaborate on student achievement.

"We have serious concerns over the apparent push by the school district for all schools to adopt the practice of adding minutes to school days and reducing the total number of school days to accommodate... collaboration days for teachers and staff," West and Sturdy wrote. 

"In our opinion, provisions for collaboration should be done without impacting the majority of the school population. While there may be some benefit for the teachers, the negative impact of breaking a routine and presuming you can make up whole days in minutes does not support the benefits, particularly when you consider that not all teachers participate in collaboration events."

PAC representatives from Squamish and Mamquam Elementary Schools reached by Pique said they haven't paid close attention to the calendar issue. "I like the two-week spring break," said Squamish Elementary PAC chair Jennifer Cameron.

Ian Kent, the assistant superintendent of schools, said the meeting of the Board of Trustees on May 30 was of particular interest for many parents so a teleconference was set up at high schools in Whistler and Pemberton to allow concerned parents to hear the result of the trustee vote on the calendars. Some parents in Whistler and Pemberton indicated they wanted to be at the meeting but couldn't attend because of the 3 p.m. start time.

Kent said parent feedback on calendar issues prompted the trustees to instruct the school board staff to start community-wide calendar discussions earlier next year so the next proposed calendar is ready for presentation no later than Feb. 1, 2013.

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