The Sea to Sky School District (District 48) board last week voted unanimously in favour of a two-week spring break in March despite the fact that most Pemberton parents surveyed voiced a desire to limit the break to one week.
The recommendation for a two-week break during the 2013-14 school year, reached at Wednesday’s (Jan. 16) Board of Trustees meeting in Squamish, will now go out to schools, parents and staff for comment by Feb. 28. A final proposed calendar must be submitted to the Ministry of Education by March 21.
The decision came after public school officials from Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and vicinity had surveyed parents, teachers and staff on their preferred length of spring break and its placement in the school year. In addition to the one- and two-week options, respondents were asked to state whether they preferred to see spring break in the “traditional” March window or in April, tied to Easter.
On the one- or two-week question, 54.6 per cent of the 1,178 respondents stated a preference for a two-week break, while 36.8 per cent opted for one week and 8.6 per cent had no preference. An even higher number — 62 per cent — stated a preference for keeping spring break during the latter half of March.
Pemberton parents, though, had the highest percentage of contrary views on both counts. The majority, or 51.9 per cent, chose the one-week option (compared to 40.4 per cent for two weeks and 7.7 per cent no preference). Pemberton parents also voiced the highest level of support for taking a break in April — 53.5 per cent if the break were limited to one week, 49 per cent if it were two. A small majority, 51 per cent, said they would prefer keeping spring break in March if it were two weeks long.
The two-week spring break in March is less popular in Whistler and Pemberton than in Squamish, partly because it’s a busy period in the Whistler hospitality industry and parents working in the industry have difficulty getting away from work in March.
Board members who commented before the vote said that while they recognized that different communities in District 48 have different needs and desires, it’s important from a programming and staffing point of view that the calendar be more or less the same district-wide.
“It’s interesting that there were different responses from different communities within our district, but our continuing objective is to have one calendar for the entire district,” Area C trustee Rebecca Barley said. “Whatever the [survey] margin may have been, I think we have a decision.”
Pemberton trustee Pat Mackenzie said a number of parents told her they would have liked the chance to comment on the survey itself, adding that a “small but vocal” group of Pemberton parents seem to feel the board doesn’t listen to their calendar-related concerns.
Beginning next year, B.C. school boards will have the authority adopt school calendars for up to three consecutive years at once. Mackenzie has told parents who have concerns that the next time, the process will begin much earlier — the board only received its directive on this year’s calendars from the Ministry of Education on Nov. 13 — and will be more extensive, she said.
French program’s future probed
District officials are responding to recent requests that they consider expanding French immersion programming by first examining whether the district’s facilities have the capacity to handle the suggested changes.
At the moment, District 48 offers “late” elementary-school French immersion to students in Grades 5, 6 and 7 in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton. Lisa McCullough, district superintendent, told the board some parents of those in the French immersion program at Pemberton’s Signal Hill Elementary have voiced interest in seeing the program extended to Grade 8.
As well, some Squamish-area parents have expressed a desire to see “early” immersion — beginning in Grade 1 — offered in local public schools, Area D trustee Laura Godfrey said.
“Their children are not in the schools yet and they’re looking for something a little bit edgier,” Godfrey said. “They may be looking at Montessori and at our programs and are weighing their options, so I think it’s time we had that discussion.”
McCullough said that before seeking the board’s blessing to begin discussing the future of the popular program with parents and others, she wanted to have a clearer picture of where any expanded programs might be housed, and how such expansions might affect other programs.
She said Squamish Elementary School, where Squamish’s Grade 5, 6 and 7 French immersion students are now, is right at its capacity. If the program continues to expand, one option might be to move Grade 7 French immersion to Don Ross Secondary School in the future.
Registration for 2013-14 French immersion takes place Feb. 7, so wholesale changes to the program in the near term are unlikely, McCullough said.
Centre a ‘win-win’
The leaders of the recently completed One Mile Lake Nature Centre in Pemberton brought the board up to speed on the programs currently offered at the facility and its ability to host environmental and cultural education programs offered through local schools.
The centre, located in One Mile Lake Park, offers environmental education programs related to salmon rearing, First Nations cultures and even the invertebrates such as salamanders that can be found in the park, executive director Dawn Johnson said.
Veronica Woodruff, one of the founding directors of the society that runs the centre, said that already the centre has formed a partnership with the Lil’wat Nation and has run environmental education programs for schools in Devine, Pemberton and Whistler.
Board chair Rick Price thanked the two for their presentation and suggested that the society continue working directly through local school principals. As well, the board agreed to offer a link between the district’s website and the centre’s Facebook page.
“It certainly seems like it would be a win-win for those schools,” Price said.