Future of grades eight and nine debated

Parents packed the Hearthstone Lodge to meet with SD73. Photo SPIN

More than 70 parents and community members came out for a consultation with School District 73 (SD73) on Jan. 20.

The meeting was called as a result of SD73 potentially adding grades eight and nine to their responsibilities, a change which would result in a chain reaction of other adjustments for the school.

Should SD73 pick up the two grades they have suggested a name change from Sun Peaks Elementary School to Sun Peaks School to better reflect the students. A new portable would also be required to house the students; the Sun Peaks Elementary PAC suggested a location near the current high school students to help create a smooth transition.

They have also suggested moving from a four day school week, which has been the standard in Sun Peaks since the creation of the education program, to a five day school week. Should the week become longer, SD73 suggested grades kindergarten to seven also shift to a five day week to create a more cohesive schedule for parents with children in different grades and to better share school resources.

The proposed change is something that has proven to be a hot button issue for parents, many of whom became emotional while presenting to the SD73 board. The four day week was originally selected to match the responsibilities of parents and lifestyle which is unique to the mountain community, including using the Friday for extra physical education as the children don’t have a gymnasium.

In a survey completed by the PAC, 95.2 per cent of parents wanted to retain a four day week.

Parents who spoke to the SD73 board in the January meeting presented a variety of reasons for not wanting a five day week.

Harriet Burge presented comments from some parents including that many parents work in the resort and must work weekends but can have Fridays off for family time. Burge added parents also use the additional day off for appointments, reducing absences from school, and extracurricular activities that cannot be offered on the mountain like swimming, trampolining or music lessons.

Liz McLean described having to work weekends with her husband to operate their small business and being able to use the additional day to spend time with their kids they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Parent Daniel Liddy described the academic success of his daughter since moving to Sun Peaks Elementary and Gabrielle McBratney explained the benefits the four day week has provided for her son who has a developmental disorder.

Barb Kupferschmidt Linder, who has played a key role in developing education in Sun Peaks for more than a decade, told the board how the Friday off allowed one of her children to get ahead with additional courses or part time jobs and gave another child much needed time to catch up on school work.

Other parents mentioned that despite SD73’s stated concerns on having young children in school for longer days, as would be required in a four day week, their children have thrived in the school and still have hours of energy left at the end of the day.

In a report prepared by the PAC parents suggested a number of ways to retain a four day week including modelling the schedule after the Big White Community School which follows a four day week every week model (even on weeks with stat holidays and professional development days) for 156 instructional days per year.

The scheduling proposed by the PAC changed slightly depending on if a one or two week spring break was selected but generally added only three to 13 minutes per day for grades eight and nine to keep a four day schedule. Elementary school start and finish times would be slightly altered.

Before changes were made by SD73 in 2017 when instructional hours were changed, students attended longer per day than they would on the new proposed schedule without issue. In fact, the PAC reported, Sun Peaks Elementary’s performance is ranked at the top of public schools in the district.

Trustee Kathleen Karpuk addressed parents as the meeting closed, saying they will take all of the feedback into consideration and encouraging parents to continue to submit their opinions before a decision is made.

Feedback can be sent to facilityinput@sd73.bc.ca until Feb. 14, a decision will be made by SD73 on March 9.