With classes scheduled to start two weeks from today, teachers would normally be back in school preparing for the arrival of students.
But even aside from the provincial strike, this wouldn’t have been a normal year in School District 69 as teachers, staff and students shifted school locations in many cases, adjusting to the closure of four elementary schools over the summer.
“Most teachers say they need an absolute minimum of five days going in,” said Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association president Debbie Morran.
She said a return-to-work plan is part of the negotiations on how to end the strike, explaining that it was already expected to be “a lot of work to start up a new school,” referring to the former middle schools which will become larger Kindergarten to Grade 7 elementary schools this fall.
Physically, the schools will be ready to go, assures superintendent Rollie Koop.
“We are feeling good about having made up ground, we did get back on track,” he said adding that the strike slowed work in the spring, but teachers stopped picketing in July to allow the reconfiguration work.
He said the plan was always to phase in the changes and some aesthetic changes may take longer than originally planned, but no health or safety issues will be delayed.
He gave the example of wanting washrooms in Kindergarten classes, but in some cases they may be across the hall for the first year.
“I’m really proud of our operations and maintenance staff and the work they did over the summer,” he said. “They went at it really hard.”
He said there will be financial implications for all the evening and weekend work that had to be done to complete their scheduled three and a half months’ work in a month and a half, but didn’t have numbers available.
As for the students, the year will start with the reconnect system as usual, in which students start their first day with their teacher from the previous year to do activities to introduce them to their new teachers, and in many cases new schools.
Morran said the original plan also allowed two days “to give teachers and staff time to meet and work together to establish school rules and culture.”
“It was going to be a difficult start up regardless and now that we’re into the eleventh hour (on negotiations), it will be very difficult,” she said.
“On the flip side it will be wonderful to have bigger schools, with more teachers and educational opportunities,” she said optimistically, but then added teachers are worried about class size and composition.
While negotiations between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the government’s B.C. Public School Employer’s Association have been back and forth on wages, coming within one percent, as Morran summed up, “the main sticking point is of course class size and composition.”
There was a lot of fanfare around star mediator Vince Ready’s entry into negotiations last week, but as part of his involvement, both sides agreed not to discuss progress publicly, leaving the entire province on edge as the school year nears.
“It’s been made very clear to us that the ministry (of education) expects that whenever there’s a resolution, we need to be ready to go right away, we’re not being given extra time,” Koop said.
He said that they are making provisions for things like keeping international students busy, explaining if they don’t have regular classes to attend the district will work with them and their home stay families to provide structure.
Meanwhile, Morran said pickets will go back up next week. The government has launched a new website (bcparentinfo.ca) to update the public on their side of the negotiations and explain how parents of students age 12 and under can access $40 a day towards daycare.
In the event that the strike continues, the Regional District of Nanaimo parks and recreation department will again offer their Big Adventure day camp at Oceanside Place. For $31.50 a day, students 12 and under can attend from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for games, arts and crafts, skating, trips to parks and more.
The pool and rink will have scheduled public swim and skate times. For more information, or to register visit www.rdn.bc.ca and click on Oceanside Place near the top, call 250-248-3252 or stop by the arena or Ravensong Aquatic Centre. Refunds will be given if the strike ends.
Students should report to their new school as determined by the reconfigured catchment areas — likely the nearest school to their home. Note that the names of the former middle schools have already been changed, the former names are used here:
• Former French Creek Community School students go to Errington or Qualicum Beach Middle School.
• Parksville Elementary English students go to Springwood Middle School, French immersion go to Oceanside Middle School.
• Qualicum Beach Elementary student go to Qualicum Beach Middle or Arrowview Elementary.
• Winchelsea Elementary students go to Springwood or Oceanside Middle School.