Elementary School changes spark controversy

Photo: Evan Matthews
Valemount Elementary School’s 2016-17 numbers are not far off the projections, according to SD57.

by EVAN MATTHEWS

Though the Valemount Elementary School is proposing fairly small changes to the length of its school days, parents are suggesting the school is not adequately consulting with parents, and the problem has only worsened over the week.

Last week, the school sent home a “Professional Development Model Survey,” which explains the proposed new schedule.

The model would see four minutes added to each school day, making dismissal time 2:36 PM, according to the survey. In turn, one Wednesday per month from Oct-May (minus December), the students would have early dismissal at 1:35 PM, with bus students being supervised until 3 PM, according to the survey.

The four minutes added to each school day equates to an additional 20 minutes of class per week, which equates to the one-hour being subtracted from the one Wednesday per month.

Elementary School Principal, Priscilla Davis says there are many positive reasons for making time for staff collaboration.

“Teacher collaboration time is essential for school improvement, as it provides structure in which school staff work together to analyze and improve their professional practice,” she says.

With the proposed model, teachers get the opportunity to meet for uninterrupted time to come up with more effective ways to teach, Davis says, while allowing teachers to work toward common goals.

Davis says the proposed model supports the vision to provide the best educational experience for every child.

However, parents are saying the “survey” sent home by the school isn’t much of one, as it reads, “If you do not agree with the proposal as explained above for the Wednesday Professional Development Model please sign the form below and return it to the school.” The form then says that if parents do not return the form by May 10th, they will consider that the parent supports the proposal.

The “negative” response letter is often used when gathering information back from parents, says Principal Davis.

“Parents are also busy and don’t always have time to return forms, so this gives them the opportunity to only reply if they do not approve of the model,” she says.

Cindy Maynard is a new parent to the community having just moved to Valemount in October from the Okanagan. She says her child’s former school used the Professional Development Model and it had very little impact on her family, and she has no issues with it. But the lack of communication is concerning, she says.

“Having to sign if you don’t agree?” Asks Maynard.

“So many times my kids forget their notices or lose them in the bottom of their backpack, and if you don’t sign you’re agreeing,” she says.

Leah Bustin, another parent at the school, thinks if the lines of communication were better, the school would hear a vocal opposition.

“You can’t spread out one full lesson into an additional four minutes of class a day over a period of a month,” adding that even if the teachers are budgeting for 20 additional minutes per week rather than four minutes per class, the time isn’t of equal value.

“It just doesn’t cut it. I believe it’s taking away education, and it just blows my mind they somehow think this is an equal trade,” she says.

A few weeks back, the school shut off the commenting option on its Facebook page, according to multiple parents, making it more difficult to ask questions.

“As professionals we do not feel commenting on social media is a positive solution for any misunderstandings there may be. We have an open door policy at our school and parents are welcome to come in to meet staff or call the school at any time,” — Elementary School Principal, Priscilla Davis.

Valemount Elementary Parental Advisory Council Chairperson, Sam Travers, posted the survey (notifying of the changes) in the Valemount Discussion Board to inform parents, but the post has since been removed.

On the same day Travers posted the survey, many parents noted not only could you no longer comment, but the school’s Facebook page has been stripped of all information.

“As professionals we do not feel commenting on social media is a positive solution for any misunderstandings there may be,” says Principal Davis.

“We have an open door policy at our school and parents are welcome to come in to meet staff or call the school at any time,” she says.

In the end, both parents and school staff agree on one thing: they want what’s best for the students.

“I’m all for the teachers becoming better at their jobs… But I feel for the parents who are already finding it difficult to find childcare,” says Maynard.

“I do believe the kids seem to have more and more non-instructional days than ever before… In the last two weeks they’ve had both Fridays off,” she says.

Though the survey only went home last week, the school encouraged parents who disagree with the changes to submit their surveys — signed in opposition — to the school by May. 10.

Davis stressed the fact the changes only affect six Wednesdays out of the school year.