At the December board meeting, Trustees accepted the recommendation from senior administration for a 2019-20 school year calendar. This calendar has some changes that impact parents and the community. This article by Assistant Superintendent Mark Thiesen has two parts—the first part includes a brief description of the new calendar, the second part has more details about the decisions that were made.
What Parents Need to Know
What’s the same?
- The 2019-20 school year calendar still has the same bookends. The year ends on the day when the last exams are scheduled by the province.
- It has all the Statutory holidays, a Christmas Break and a Spring Break.
- It has 184 days of instruction.
- We count back from June to find 92 days of instruction for each semester.
- We then pepper in the professional development days so each semester is even.
- Schools with alternate calendars can still set their calendars based on this foundation calendar.
- The 2019-20 calendar will no longer have early dismissal days.
- The 2019-20 calendar removes the day in lieu that teachers were given in consideration for time spent doing parent – teacher – student interviews two times per year. These days will still be non-instructional; that is, students will not have classes. While the two days off in lieu have been removed, teachers will have two self-directed professional development days.
- The 2019-20 calendar does not include a non-instructional staff day at the end of the year for clean up.
Will there still be parent – teacher – student interviews?
- Yes, when they are necessary and possible.
- Parents are the critical third pillar of the people involved in student learning: Students, Teachers and Parents.
- Communication about students progress is important throughout the school year.
Where can I see the calendar?
The calendar is available here: 2019-20 School Year Calendar
Alternate Calendars for those schools with alternate schedules will be designed with school councils over the next few months and then posted on school websites.
History and Rationale Behind the Changes
Early Dismissal Days
The Pembina Hills school year calendar has had six early dismissal days for more than 10 years. These days had a reason. Why would the board consider their removal?
About a decade ago, our division, like many others, was working out solutions to improve as local professional learning communities. The idea of a professional learning community, or PLC, was described and interpreted for school system use in the research and published works of Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker and Rebecca Burnette (see below). The PLC was a solution to breaking down the isolation of teachers. It would leverage the power of community to support teacher growth and development.
The leaders at the time were excited by the potential, but limited by certain barriers. One barrier was finding the time to get the school team together. A solution emerged in division education planning meetings. Six days were selected to be 1 hour shorter. The six hours would be shifted to lengthen the other 184 days. It works out to about 2 minutes per day. The one hour blocks of time were specified for teachers to attend PLC meetings. It was an idea that would require a change in thinking about what staff meetings would be like. It meant a shift in leadership style as well. It was not anticipated to be perfectly effective right off the bat. The leaders knew the idea would take some time to take root. Therefore, it has been a part of the calendar ever since.
Over the past decade, the effectiveness of the early dismissal PLC meeting time did grow. At some sites it was more impactful than others. But despite the efforts, the timing of early dismissals in our context was flawed. By routine, many teachers fulfill responsibilities to students & parents at the end of the day. Getting everyone to the meeting proved difficult. Also, at the end of each day, teachers’ minds are focused on the challenges of the preceding day. It’s difficult to switch gears to deeper collaborative learning when one’s mind is still whirling from the days events. Many of the PLC times became more like traditional staff meetings because of the need to address emergent issues. In reality, early dismissals were not working as hoped. Thus the question emerged: Why keep doing them?
The definition of teachers’ work day and the impact on Parent – Teacher Interviews
Many years ago, interviews were conducted on a specific day. Usually there was one in November and another in March. PHPS shifted the focus of the November one to a goal setting meeting and moved the date to early October. In an attempt to increase access and participation, schools set up schedules over several evenings rather than have the meetings during the work day. The trade-off was the time in lieu of interviews, used as a day off with no students.
Planning, instruction, assessment, marking, communication, reporting, meetings and volunteering are just the tip of the iceberg for a teacher’s work day. A teacher’s day is as varied as the grades and subjects they teach. In an attempt to consider teacher wellness, the collective agreement was adjusted to try to define some of the time in a teacher’s day.
The collective agreement defines the limit of ‘assignable time’ as 1200 hours. This includes a limit of 907 hours of ‘instructional’ time. Instructional time is included in assignable time which is inside the teacher’s work day:
- Instructional time is the time when they are with students for instruction.
- Assignable time includes among other things, staff meetings, non-instructional supervision and parent teacher interviews.
The hours that can be set as assignable time opened the possibility for shifting the purpose of early dismissal staff meetings back to issue related agendas. Defining ‘assignable’ time also changed the way we look at Parent – Teacher Interviews.
The change in the collective agreement is one thing that’s different. There are other things are different now compared to 20 years ago.
- We recognize that there is no single type of family structure. Parents work a variety of hours, have different demands during the day and in the evenings.
- We now have different ways to show students and parents the progress that is happening. We can use video and other digital technologies to share work samples, observations and conversations with students.
- We don’t need to be locked in to a pair of scheduled meetings to include parents. We should try to include parents all year long, in ways that work for their situations. We need to use different approaches because everyone’s situation is different. And when it is necessary and possible, interviews and meetings will continue to happen.
Staff Days at the end of the year
This day has no impact on students and families. The origin of these days is uncertain, although they’ve been part of our school calendars for many years.We assume that the intent was to ensure teachers finished their year end duties (entering marks and cleaning classrooms, etc). But the thing is, teachers complete their year end duties nonetheless. It seemed somewhat pointless to assign a day for duties that were likely already completed. It seems especially odd to assign this day to a Monday or Tuesday prior to a July 1 Stat holiday. So the day has been removed.
We hope you appreciate this series of articles on the Pembina Hills school year calendar. All of the articles are located at https://www.pembinahills.ca/our-division/news/type/calendar-series/. The link to these stories are on the School Calendars page.
Dufour, R. and R. Eaker. Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. Bloomington, Ind.: National Educational Service, 1998.
Dufour R., R. Eaker and R. Burnette. Getting Started: Reculturing Schools to Become Professional Learning Communities. Bloomington, Ind.: National Educational Service, 2002.