School calendar controversy continues

When Education Minister Scott Kent returns from vacation today, he will have a lot of new information to digest. Controversy over proposed changes to the school calendar erupted across the territory in recent weeks.

When Education Minister Scott Kent returns from vacation today, he will have a lot of new information to digest.

Controversy over proposed changes to the school calendar erupted across the territory in recent weeks.

“We really didn’t think it was going to be as big an issue as it is,” said Valerie Royle, deputy minister of education.

School councils were informed almost a year ago of the department’s intention to adopt a common school calendar across the territory, she said.

But when it provided options on the calendar to councils in early December and gave them until Jan.11 to give feedback, some felt blindsided.

“We immediately heard from councils, ‘No, that wasn’t enough time. This is a big issue,’” said Royle.

So the consultation period was extended to the end of the January.

“We’re still getting feedback – another six emails today,” said Royle Tuesday. “We’ll gather it all and the minister has to have a look and see what he wants to do.”

Royle attended meetings in Dawson and Mayo last week to address community concerns.

In Mayo, the major concern was that the council felt left out of the process, said Royle.

Mayo councillors were unable to attend school council workshops last year, and so were unaware of some of the earlier discussions on the change, she said.

“They really felt they were caught off guard, because they weren’t able to attend.”

In previous years, the minister has asked for a proposed calendar from councils, and has approved the suggestions. But this year, he plans to set the same calendar across the board.

He must make a decision on the calendars by March 31.

Dawson adopted a unique calendar over 20 years ago, and the community doesn’t want to lose it.

It ends the school year earlier to take advantage of long days, summer weather and work opportunities.

About 60 people showed up to the community meeting last week.

“It’s always exciting when people are concerned about education and actually come out to meetings and give their opinion,” said Royle.

The Dawson council boasted about a 90 per cent graduation rate, but that number is not exactly comparable to the figures used by the department, said Royle.

The 90 per cent figure was calculated using the number of students who graduated among those who entered Grade 12, she said.

The department calculates its completion rate by tracking all the students who enter Grade 8, and determining how many among them finish school within six years.

The most recent six-year completion rates are 80 per cent for Whitehorse schools and 61 per cent for community schools, according to the 2011-2012 Education annual report.

Numbers are not broken down by school because of the small number of students in community schools.

But Royle does not deny that the Dawson school has achieved good results.

“It’s a great school, and the community cares,” she said. “And that’s a big deal.”

Although the department is keen on seeing a common calendar, that does not mean the minister will ignore the feedback from the councils, said Royle.

“He doesn’t do it because it’s lip service, right? The act doesn’t require the minister to consult.”

The department hopes that a common school calendar will improve opportunities for distance education in the communities.

Although distance learning is designed to be flexible, it works best when it allows students to be a part of a school community, said Royle. That could mean allowing rural students more chances to take courses by teleconference live with Whitehorse.

“For many, being part of a school community is what’s the draw to school – being on sports teams, being in drama, accessing programs,” said Royle.

Royle will bring the feedback to Kent when he returns to the office so that he can start working towards a decision, she said.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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