Local school boards will have complete control over the school calendar in their district under provincial legislation unveiled Thursday, opening up new opportunities for year-round schooling in elementary and secondary grades.
Education Minister George Abbott said the legislative change, which has been requested by several school districts, particularly superintendents, was minor but significant.
The standard province-wide school calendar from September to June will be eliminated. School districts will have the authority to set the calendar for their own schools after consultation with staff, students, parents and the community.
The Education Ministry will continue to set a minimum number of instructional hours. The changes come too late in the school year to have any impact for this September but the calendar could be shifted in some districts by September, 2013, Mr. Abbott said in an interview shortly after unveiling amendments to the School Act.
The standard school calendar with a 10-week summer break does not reflect good educational practice, he said.
“Recent research on student learning indicates the long gap in the summer is a disadvantage, particularly for vulnerable learners who struggle with building foundation skills in reading, writing and numeracy,” he said.
“The long summer vacation can be an impediment to the progress of their learning,” he added. “A year-round calendar ... far better reflects good teaching and learning outcomes.”
Currently, school districts require ministry approval to shift the calendar. Some have tried pilot projects that replaced the two-month summer holiday with breaks in the spring and fall. Several have stretched the spring break to two weeks while others remained at one.
B.C. School Trustee Association president Michael McEvoy, who is a trustee from Greater Victoria, said he was pleased with the change while other trustees at a BCSTA convention Thursday reacted cautiously. Several school trustees said the legislative change will lead to discussion about shifting the calendar but not necessarily a new calendar.
Mission school district had a pilot project in year-round schooling a few years ago that has been discontinued. The experiment was started in an elementary school with open boundaries to allow anyone to attend.
The so-called balanced calendar, which provided for vacation in April, July and December, was expected to help students by reducing the length of the breaks. After the traditional two-month vacation, teachers say much of September is spent on reviewing what students forget over the summer.
“Parents were enthusiastic about it [at the start]but their numbers were very small and not sufficient to maintain the school,” school trustee Jim Taylor said in an interview.
Some of the problems arising from shifting the school calendar included co-ordinating holidays with older siblings who were not in elementary school and arranging sports competitions and other activities.
The shift could work for some programs, such as environmental studies, which could be more effective in July and August, Mr. Taylor added.
However the pilot project did not even fill the elementary school. “It will be a while before Mission tries that again,” he said.
Nancy Rempel, a trustee in the Gold Trail school district, said she anticipated the board will look at possible changes. The district has schools in Ashcroft, Lilllooet, Lytton, Clinton and Cache Creek.
Shortening summer holidays and having a longer spring break will mean more family time in the mining and logging communities, she said. In many families, the father is working when school is out and off when children are in school, she said. “We will look at it,” she said.