Parents vote for computer upgrades district-wide 

Trickle down option supported by Whistler Secondary PAC

Whistler Secondary parents voted this week to give almost $24,000 to the school district to help buy computers for the corridor schools that need it the most.

"It seems to make sense," said outgoing Parent Advisory Council chair Kris Shoup at a lengthy meeting Tuesday.

The PAC money will be used to get matching funds from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, which recently donated $250,000 over three years for technology in the Howe Sound School district.

At the meeting this week parents were told of two plans under discussion to distribute the foundation funds, which can only be used to purchase computers and permanently attached peripherals.

The first proposal, termed the trickle down plan, would see the money go to the schools which need it most – the high schools.

The best computers from the high schools would then be refurbished and given to elementary schools.

This was the option chosen by Whistler Secondary parents and recommended by the school district.

The second option allows each individual school to spend their PAC money and the matching foundation funds as they wish, as long as it fits in with the district’s technology plan.

However, this plan could mean that a school unable to raise much money would be unable to improve their technology significantly.

In both cases the most a school can claim in matching funds is determined by the number of students at the facility.

Parents throughout the district are currently voting on the two proposals. Spring Creek and Myrtle Philip elementary schools also voted in favour of the trickle down option.

This results of the votes will now be presented at the next district PAC meeting on May 31. The DPAC is one of the stakeholders in the process, which will ultimately determine how the foundation money will be spent and distributed.

Under the trickle down plan Whistler Secondary will get one of its labs replaced with new machines right away. The second lab will be replaced a year later.

School trustee Don Brett said the hope is to access the money soon and get the new technology into schools quickly.

He also told parents that the school board is working hard to find other ways to get matching funds, with the aim of cutting back the amount PACs would have to contribute.

Calendar changes and collaboration days

Whistler Secondary parents endorsed a school district proposal to take a two-week break for spring and Easter vacations next year.

If the proposal is adopted it will mean students are off school from March 21 to April 3 inclusive.

Both Myrtle Philip and Spring Creek Elementary schools were not in favour of the proposal as it causes child-care difficulties and most parents are unable to take any vacation at that time since it is so busy in the resort.

Parent Dave Halliwell wondered if taking such a long break would affect the retention of the work the students are learning at school.

But acting Principal Bev Oakley said: "We don’t see a huge loss of retention.

"The thought is that it is a good chance for the children and the teachers to re-charge their batteries."

Parents have one month to give their feed back to the school district on the proposal.

The discussion of days off led to a heated debate on collaboration days.

Next school year there will be seven half-day collaboration days and two full day sessions.

Some parents questioned why teachers needed to take so much time for professional development.

But trustee Don Brett pointed to research, which showed that one of the most effective ways to improve student outcomes was to give teachers time to learn from each other and discuss best teaching practices.

There is no requirement for teachers to attend collaboration days and the time it takes for the sessions is outside the classroom time teachers must – by law – spend teaching.

"But they all come," said Principal Bev Oakley.

Added Brett: "In this district if you want teaching practices to improve then it’s collaboration days."

Some parents said they had "heard" that students didn’t bother to attend school when collaboration days were on because it was a waste of time. The suggestion was that the sessions all be made to last a full day.

However Oakley said "you get more bang for your buck," in half-day sessions since the teachers always stay longer than scheduled.

She also questioned the idea that a number of students were skipping out and told the PAC that she would check attendance records to get some solid data on the issue.

School Planning Council Report

Whistler Secondary Principal Bev Oakley outlined the draft report of the School Planning Council this week.

The council decided to focus on three goals for the school, all of which are in line with the district's goals: social responsibility, numeracy, and literacy.

Oakley said the school had been quite diligent about social responsibility over the last year. They introduced the concept of a daily performance target based on the feedback of visitors to the school. People can fill in a form, which offers a snapshot of the school at the time they were there. Visitors can record if the school was clean, kids were well behaved or any problems they might have seen.

A clean-up program was also started for the Grade 7, 8, 9 areas, which were commonly littered after lunch.

And next year students will be teamed up a home-room teacher for certain activities after school surveys showed that students felt they were less connected to teachers than they used to be.

The school is also working to improve the numeracy scores on the Foundation Skills Assessment tests.

Oakley said they want more students in the "exceeding expectation" category. As part of achieving this Grade 8 students will be given a test at the beginning of the year to asses weak and strong points and teaching will reflect the results. There will also be a final exam to ensure that kids have mastered concepts. And use of calculators will be minimized in the senior grades as research has shown that it is interfering with learning higher math skills said Oakley.

On the literacy front, work is underway to increase the number of students in the "exceeding expectations" category as well.

One area where students were having trouble for example, said Oakley, was in distinguishing opinion from fact.

Safety first

Whistler Secondary principal Bev Oakley is investigating what can be done to keep students, who insist on crossing Highway 99 north of the legal cross walk, safe.

"If somebody gets run down then a lot of things would happen, so let’s be proactive on this," she said.

The move was prompted by a letter to the high school Parent Advisory Council from the property manager of the 19-Mile Creek development requesting a fence be erected along the school side of the highway to stop kids crossing the road towards the housing development.

He was concerned about safety and the litter kids were leaving behind as they left the Alpine Meadows Market store and Gone Bakery.

Most parents felt a fence was not the answer but all agreed it was issue that needed more attention.

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