Rural schools given calendar options

Amid intense criticism, the Department of Education has compromised on its plan to enforce a common school calendar across the Yukon.

Amid intense criticism, the Department of Education has compromised on its plan to enforce a common school calendar across the Yukon.

For the 2013-2014 school year, rural schools have the choice of starting either on August 21 or September 4. That would align them either with Whitehorse elementary schools, which start earlier, or Whitehorse secondary schools.

They can also decide the length of their March break and the timing of professional development days.

Schools must offer at least 180 instructional days, but could choose to have more.

Rural school councils have until March 22 to determine their calendar based on the options presented.

Aligning calendars with Whitehorse secondary schools will increase the opportunities for older rural students to take courses offered by teleconference from Whitehorse, said Education Minister Scott Kent.

“I’m hoping that when the school councils, particularly the school councils outside of Whitehorse, choose which calendar they want to go on, they really take into account, on top of the cultural considerations and lifestyle considerations that we’ve heard, the student achievement concerns and really closing that equity gap that exists, especially for optional courses and trades courses.”

But the Dawson school council has no intention of adopting the Whitehorse secondary school calendar.

The Robert Service School decided over 20 years ago to lengthen school days slightly and start school in August to ensure that the school year could end before June.

Long summer days and work opportunities make it difficult to keep kids in school past May, and absenteeism had been a problem.

The new calendar “showed nothing but amazing things,” said Sue Lancaster, chair of Dawson’s school council, in an earlier interview. “The students were getting better marks, the students were attending classes and not skipping at the end of the year.”

By choosing August 21 as their start date and keeping a one-week March break, Dawson can maintain their current school calendar, at least for one year.

In a conference call yesterday, Kent would not guarantee anything beyond the coming school year, said Sue Lancaster, chair of the Dawson school council.

The department’s intention is to implement a three-year, common calendar beginning in 2014, she said. Instructional days would be increased to at least 185.

So Dawson may lose their calendar in a year’s time, and the community is not prepared to give it up easily.

With yesterday’s announcement by the minister, Dawson plans to hold an emergency community meeting Tuesday to discuss the next steps.

The purpose of the meeting will be to inform the community of the minister’s message, and discuss the possibility of Dawson forming its own school board, said Lancaster.

As a school board, Dawson could control not only the school’s calendar but also hiring, firing and financial management, among other things.

“I think it might be something that they want to do,” said Lancaster. “It has been talked about in the past, over the years.”

If the community decides to go that route, the decision would ultimately come down to a vote by residents.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at