© Nathan Liewicki
Barbarara Compton, Prairie South School Division superintendent of school opoerations, discusses the 2014-15 school year calendar options with fellow board members Tuesday.
Communication issues between staff and board members: Radwanski
Prairie South School Division (PSSD) students will have a weeklong break from classes in April during the 2014-15 school year.
The PSSD board approved next year’s school calendar by voting in favour of the second of two options at their monthly board meeting Tuesday.
The approved calendar – option No. 2 – will see Prairie South students have six school days off from April 3-10, 2015. They will not be in the classroom from Feb. 16-18, 2015 either.
Turned down by the board was option No. 1, which would have seen PSSD students enjoy a weeklong classroom break from Feb. 16-20, 2015, plus four school days off from April 3-8, 2015.
The two calendar options were developed and drafted by an 18-person calendar committee on Feb. 11, but both featured 197 teaching days, 185 of which will be instructional days.
“There are so many options when it comes to the calendar,” said Barbara Compton, PSSD superintendent of school operations. “Some would appreciate the February break and some would appreciate the Easter break, and then there's the other side that really doesn't want a break.”
Described by trustee Lew Young as a “no-win situation,” the board sided with the preferred option of 1,195 participants – 816 parents, 231 PSSD staff members and 147 were both – in a calendar survey conducted by the calendar committee.
Fifty-four per cent of survey participants voted in favour of option No. 2, 71 per cent of which were parents, 16 per cent of which were PSSD staff and 13 per cent of which were both a parent and PSSD employee.
Compare those numbers with the 46 per cent of survey participants who voted for option No. 1, 65 per cent of which were parents, 23 per cent staff and 12 per cent were both.
Trustee Jan Radwanski not only voted against option No. 2, but told the Times-Herald he would prefer a completely different option: two five-day breaks.
“I think it's a win-win situation for everyone involved,” Radwanski said. “I believe in excellence in education – no doubt about it – and I think this helps.
“There are a lot of people that take February breaks, so now that we don't offer a weeklong break (at that time), a lot of our classrooms – from my research and interactions – are not empty, but they are more sparse than unusual.”
PSSD Superintendent of Human Resources Ryan Boughen admitted that teacher absences were also higher than normal in mid-February.
Radwanski also said he was disappointed in the board’s decision not to hold off the decision on the 2014-15 calendar until next month’s board meeting. He referenced May 1 – the deadline Prairie South has to submit next year’s calendar to the ministry of education – as a chance for the calendar committee and board members to go back and see if there would be a way to provide more respite to students.
Furthermore, he noted that for a second consecutive year communication between PSSD staff and its board members is lacking.
When examining the breakdown of staff numbers in the survey, it’s clear PSSD employees – not just teachers – would themselves have preferred a longer February break over a longer April break, let alone weeklong breaks in both months.
“What I'm hearing from a lot of staff is that we're not listening close enough on this one. We don't have our ear close enough to the ground,” said Radwanski. “In fact, a lot of staff was very, very surprised that we don't know the level of their dissatisfaction with that absence of two, five-days breaks.
“They're quite shocked and surprised that we're not getting that feedback.”
Fellow trustee Brian Swanson believes the giant headache surrounding the issue of establishing times of respite for PSSD students can be easily fixed with the Government of Saskatchewan’s help.
“I think a province-wide school year would take a lot of grief out of everybody,” he told board members.
Young agreed with Swanson, but also noted that parents will continue to take their kids out of school whenever they want to.
“We're one of the few (school boards) that looks at a different type of calendar than some of the others,” said Young. “So maybe the time has come that we all need to be on the same calendar. It shows the work we need to do to negotiate and continue to lobby the government about.”
Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks