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School boards want similar class time reductions
Superintendents say co-ordination will help parents with childcare

Kirsten Fenn
Northern News Services
Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Yellowknife superintendents hope to ease parents' childcare burden by co-ordinating school dismissal times as they implement a three-year pilot program to reduce up to 100 instructional hours annually.

NNSL photo/graphic

Yellowknife Catholic Schools board chair Miles Welsh, left, and superintendent Claudia Parker are seen at a Feb. 15 board meeting where members passed a motion to reduce class hours at St. Patrick High School to 1,000 a year. Parker said the board expects to have its school calendar ready by early March. - Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photo

"We're trying to work out something where our high school and our elementary schools are off at the same time," said Yellowknife Catholic Schools superintendent Claudia Parker. "The only definite thing that we have figured out is that the high school (St. Patrick) will be no less than 1,000 hours."

Parker said many high school students provide care for younger children in the family. The YMCA also runs an after-school and daycare program, and many of their staff are high school students.

Making dismissal times the same would help people co-ordinate childcare needs, she said.

Schools across the NWT are in the process of reducing the number of hours in their school calendars as part of a three-year pilot program to improve teacher instructional practices. The Northwest Territories Teachers' Association and territorial government agreed to the project when they ratified a new collective agreement in September. The Catholic school board made the decision to reduce its high school hours on Feb. 15, when board members passed a motion to keep the reduction in line with legislation for Alberta high school students.

Currently, Education Act legislation stipulates students in Grades 1 through 6 must have at least 997 classroom hours while students in Grades 7 through 12 must have 1,045 hours. The act will need to be amended to accommodate the collective agreement, something that is working its way through the legislative assembly right now.

St. Pat's students in Grades 8 to 12 currently spend 1,050.3 hours a year in class, Parker said.

Students at Sir John Franklin High School currently spend 1,076 hours in class annually, according to numbers Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1) superintendent Metro Huculak provided to Yellowknifer last week. He said that could drop to about 1,050 once the change in instructional hours comes into place.

Huculak said the reductions will be exactly the same at all Yk1 schools other than the high school. Both English school boards are still determining reductions at elementary and middle schools, but Parker said the Catholic board, Yk1 and the francophone board are working together to make their reductions as similar as possible.

"Staff need to be consulted and decide on what this is all going to look like" Huculak said. "So we're in the process right now."

Some Yk1 schools have also sent surveys to parents to gauge their thoughts on different options for rolling out the reduction, such as early dismissals versus reducing full days of class, according to Huculak. A survey sent to parents at William McDonald Middle School, for example, asks parents their thoughts on "an early, 2 p.m. dismissal one day a week on a regularly weekly basis."

This would allow teachers to work from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on early dismissal days "to improve their instructional practices and prepare lessons for students," the survey says.

Both boards expect to have their calendars completed between early to mid-March.

Free childcare for Friday

Yk1 is offering free childcare on March 3 for students at Range Lake North School, N.J. Macpherson and Mildred Hall, who will be affected by on aspect of the pilot program.

It's one of three days the school board is shutting down classes this academic year to give teachers time to complete report cards. The three days were agreed to in Yk1's collective agreement with the teachers' association and are a test run for the larger pilot project.

Huculak said going forward, parents will be able to get childcare services on a user-pay basis through to the Montessori and the YWCA. The YWCA also offers after-school programs at Catholic schools, something Parker said the Catholic school board plans to continue as the class time reductions are introduced.

While the school boards normally have calendars completed by now, Huculak said there are more people to consult now.

"We're trying to work with three boards versus just ourselves," he said. "And I do want to get parent input."

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