It’s been a long strange journey in District 69, but yesterday students and staff were back for the first day of the new school year.
“We’re on, what I think has been a very long journey,” said superintendent Rollie Koop at Tuesday’s board of education meeting. “It goes back to January when the proposition of potentially reducing the number of schools became a recommendation.”
On April 30, the board voted to close four schools and reconfigure the entire district and turned its focus to preparing schools for September. On May 28, the teachers’ partial job action escalated to rotating one-day walkouts and things got more complicated.
“I’m so pleased to be here and I’m so pleased with what I’ve witnessed over the last three days in particular as people came back to the buildings,” he said, referencing a flood at the new Qualicum Beach Elementary a week ago, just the latest in a long line of complications.
He praised “support staff, operations and maintenance, teaching staff, principals and vice principals, district staff, contractors — all working side by side as something larger to ensure we have readiness today.”
He said all the schools look great and the teachers have spent the last few days since the strike ended Friday preparing their classes and in many cases getting used to new schools or cleaning up water damaged teaching materials that had been in boxes on the floor in QBES.
“Our teachers have worked tirelessly… looking forward to tomorrow,” Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association president Debbie Morran said at the meeting.
“I want to acknowledge the monumental task of setting up a classroom and we need to acknowledge our support staff.” She said they still have work to do ensuring the safety of the new sites, establishing new school cultures, rebuilding relationships and “for teachers the task continues in terms of advocating for students, advocating for supports and advocating for a fully funded public education system.”
Asked if the year would be extended to make up for the three week late start, Koop said that there would be a new provincial exam schedule for high school students.
Otherwise, “There’s no provision to add additional time to the school year. We’ve shifted to a paradigm where we’re not concerned about covering curriculum but we’re more concerned with providing meaningful learning experiences for students. Teachers have a great deal of autonomy to work within the revised learning outcomes.”
Wednesday morning appeared to go as smoothly or better than expected with district staff and RCMP joining teachers to help direct and enforce traffic, particularly around the former middle schools which were receiving not only new students, but in some cases students on their first ever day of school.