School councils oppose calendar change

Some school councils are unhappy with a Department of Education proposal to lengthen the school year and standardize the school calendar across the Yukon.

Some school councils are unhappy with a Department of Education proposal to lengthen the school year and standardize the school calendar across the Yukon.

Sue Lancaster, chair of the school council for Robert Service School in Dawson City, says the changes could hurt student success in the community.

“We’re not being asked, we’re being told, with no consultation,” said Lancaster. “And yeah, it will change the way of life for the people up here.

“We are not Whitehorse, we are not the other communities. We’re Dawson. And Dawson wants to be able to make its own choices with regards to this stuff.”

More than 20 years ago, Dawson developed its own calendar, ending the school year before June so that kids would not have to choose between school and work or other summer activities.

The new calendar “showed nothing but amazing things,” said Lancaster. “The students were getting better marks, the students were attending classes and not skipping at the end of the year.”

But now Dawson has been told that it has to sync up with the rest of the schools in the territory, which will likely mean keeping kids in school well into June.

At meetings in December, Education officials informed the councils of their decision to standardize the calendar. In addition, the school year would increase to 191 days, up from between 173 and 181 this year, depending on the school.

Councils were provided with seven options on the school calendar, and have until the end of the month to provide comments to the department.

The minister of education must set the calendar for the upcoming school year by the end of March.

But with half of the territory’s schools in Whitehorse, some community councils feel their voices will not be heard.

The standardization of the school calendar is the first step in a number of initiatives to close the gap between student success in the communities and Whitehorse, said Valerie Royle, deputy minister of education.

“The benefits, we believe, far outweigh the work that it’s going to take to be able to adapt, for everybody,” she said.

“Thirty per cent of our students don’t graduate from secondary school, and that is completely unacceptable, and we need to do better.

“We’re trying to look at all the ways that we can make changes, from technology, to the school calendar, to course, to how teaching happens, all the way through to try and improve the outcomes of our students.”

The department hopes to increase the opportunities for distance learning in the communities so that students can take advantage of courses offered only in Whitehorse.

Currently there are four courses being offered in the communities by teleconference with Whitehorse, with a total of 16 rural students enrolled, said department spokesperson Paige Parsons.

Students virtually sit in on regular classes being taught in Whitehorse, and can interact with other students and the teacher.

There are an additional 47 students taking correspondence courses through the Northern B.C. Distance Education School.

The department would like to see more opportunities for teleconferencing, rather than individual learning, and the first step towards that is a standard calendar, said Parsons.

But Lancaster doesn’t agree than the benefits of a common calendar outweigh the pitfalls.

Between four and 10 Dawson students are involved with courses by teleconference from Whitehorse at any time, she said.

The students who choose to take those courses are willing to stay a little longer in order to get the credits they want, she said.

“They’ve all passed, they’ve all gotten the courses that they wanted, they just had to commit to staying two weeks into June.”

And a common calendar won’t make scheduling classes by teleconference much easier, she said. Unless all of the schools have the exact same timetable there will continue to be conflicts, and having the same vacation periods won’t make a huge difference.

Royle will attend a community meeting in Dawson this evening to answer questions and address community concerns.

The school council in Mayo also has issues with the proposed changes, said councillor Mark O’Donoghue.

“We really value the ability to meet community needs in setting our school calendar, and we don’t really see any strong reason that’s been presented as to why there needs to be a common calendar in the communities,” he said.

Setting our own calendar “allows us to respond to the desire for parents to do on-the-land activities with their kids, it allows us to talk with our community and find out what works best here,” said O’Donoghue.

While the department says the change has been in the works for years, the proposal came as a complete surprise to the Mayo council, he said.

“This whole thing has been very, very rushed with very little – with no, actually – talk in advance.”

Royle will also visit Mayo this week to address concerns about the changes.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at