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School year could last 12 months in flex plan

Apr 27 2012

B.C.'s grade school students could end up in classrooms 12 months a year under changes proposed by the provincial government Thursday that will eliminate the standard school calendar.

Education Minister George Abbott said his government wants to give school districts, and even individual schools, the flexibility to plan whatever type of academic year works best for their students.

Abbott called the ministry's standard school calendar, with an eight-or nine-week summer break, a century-old relic from a time when children left to harvest crops in the summer. It will be eliminated in the school year starting in September 2013.

"As we've moved forward through time, what we now have is a pretty strong case that children learn better when they don't have a long summer break," Abbott said.

He said some students lose their momentum during the summer and some parents have a hard time covering the break months.

School districts won't be forced to alter their calendars or move to year-round teaching. Any changes have to include consultation with teachers, students, administrators and the provincial government, Abbott said.

Districts are already able to switch to what's called a "balanced school year" - with multiple-week breaks every three months or so - but most have instead followed the ministry's standard calendar, which will be discontinued.

Only three schools in B.C. have balanced school years, said Abbott.

South Island school districts said they weren't surprised by the move, but will have to hold talks before deciding on changes.

"We haven't made any decisions yet, or even had a full board discussion on it," said Greater Victoria board chairwoman Peg Orcherton.

"Personally, I think there might be some merit in it, but how it would be implemented and what the details would be, I can't speak to that at this point."

Saanich board chairman Wayne Hunter said there have been discussions at the secondary school level, but more talks will be necessary with parents, teachers and unions.

"I would say we're looking at a three-year time frame to make some decisions and see where we would come down on that.

We would want to see some trials in place, and want to try a few alternatives ourselves before we committed the whole district."

Sooke School District superintendent Jim Cambridge said the board will likely strike a committee to explore the idea.

The changes were part of an education amendment bill introduced at the legislature Thursday. It also proposes to allow kindergarten through Grade 9 students to mix online and traditional classes - an option that currently exists for only grades 10 to 12.

The bill would also allow school boards to charge fees for international baccalaureate programs.

Greater Victoria Teachers' Association president Tara Ehrcke expressed concern that the legislation is really about saving money.

"The way they're going to save money is through reduced instructional time for students, and this is the enabling legislation to do that," she said.

She contends that the "blended learning" model, which includes online coursework, envisions less teacher time, larger classes and more self-directed times on computers. "This is about fewer teachers providing less instruction to students."

rshaw@timescolonist.com

lkines@timescolonist.com

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