Students of the new Sun Peaks school may or may not thrive under a four-day week, but the unique calendar gained tentative approval by both the Kamloops-Thompson School District and Teachers’ Association this week.
The school board approved the new school on Aug. 27 but withheld judgment on a requested four-day week until all parties weighed in.
The district’s trustees and staff have concerns over the impact on children in school for shorter weeks but longer days, so it will be used for the 2012-13 school year only, said district Supt. Terry Sullivan.
Past studies have shown problems with such a calendar, he said, so Sun Peaks will be evaluated at the end of the year to determine its merits and drawbacks.
“There isn’t anything in it academically for children,” said Sullivan. “We’ve told the people at Sun Peaks that we have a lot of difficulty with the four-day week.”
The Ministry of Education hands school calendar authority over to district boards in 2013-2014, so local administration will hold wide-sweeping public discussions on calendar options in the fall, including the notion of year-round schooling.
This week, the district announced the Sun Peaks school day will begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m., adding one hour and 45 minutes to the day. The students will be in class 149 days over the year versus the typical 156 days.
Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine has said that the calendar works in the resort since it provides students the opportunity to roll snow sports into their curriculum and it will accommodate parents whose workdays stretch beyond normal school hours.
Sullivan said although he appreciates that it’s better for parents, the school has to meet the children’s academic interests first and foremost.
Most school boards in B.C. have explored the four-day week and many found it wanting, said Sullivan.
“I think the fact that only one board (in B.C.) has a four-day week speaks volumes,” he said. “We found that the students who have the most to lose, lose the most.”
A central reason is that research indicates longer days are a struggle for younger children. The Sun Peaks enrolment includes students from kindergarten to Grade 5.
Also, having three days off in a row can lead to student regression and adding those to normal breaks can lead to even longer spans without instruction.
“I think parents will be a good barometer for that as well as teachers,” said assistant Supt. Karl deBruijn. “But everybody’s willing to have a look at it.”
Staffing issues also arise when one day a week is lost. But the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association had no problem with the plan once details were hashed out, said KTTA president Jason Karpuk.
“The way they’re calculating the pay for teachers . . . in terms of ensuring there’s the correct number of instructional minutes overall isn’t any different than a regular school,” said Karpuk.
And beyond the question of school calendars, the proposition of another school in the district is an exciting one for the KTTA, said Karpuk.
“Any time we see a school develop in a community it’s great,” he said. “That was something we fought hard for in 2010 when they were talking about (school) closures and reconfiguration. We believe that community schools are the heart of the community.”