Still more questions than answers with Chilliwack grade configuration

Middle and high school could start one year earlier if a change in school configuration goes ahead in Chilliwack

Evelyn Novak

Evelyn Novak

Some people want it, some people don’t, and many more just don’t seem to care at all.

That was the general consensus of the room on Tuesday night, as Evelyn Novak, superintendent of schools presented findings of a consultation on grade reconfiguration.

“It’s hard to measure pros and cons,” she said, “but certainly some obstacles have been identified as well as some positives.”

A company called PCG was hired by the Chilliwack School District to survey stakeholders, including students, staff, teachers, administrators, parents and the general public in changing the grade configuration. They received about 2,000 comments through various methods, including online submissions and open houses.

The option being studied is moving elementary to a K- Grade 5 model, middle school to a 6-8 model, and high school from 9 to 12. But there was no clear consensus on what everyone wants.

One of the main reasons for the change is to help align with the province’s new curriculum, which requires Grade 6 students to have exploratory learning options, such as tech, trades, and cooking. Elementary schools don’t have the facilities or the resources for such teaching, while middle schools do.

“We believe they would be better included with the sevens and eights to meet those new requirements,” Novak said. She said the Grade 6 students would still have the one main teacher, before starting to split up into a multiple teacher system in Grade 7.

It’s also thought that taking Grade 6 out of local elementary schools could help alleviate capacity issues. However, Novak underlined that capacity is not the sole reason for the district to consider this massive change.

“We need additional spaces in our school district and we will continue to advocate for additional space,” she said. “Capacity is not the singular deciding force behind why this is happening.”

Chilliwack wouldn’t be the first B.C. district to adopt this configuration. Abbotsford and Kelowna are both in different stages of rolling out similar models. And while they can look to those districts for examples of what could work, no two districts are alike. Novak said they will continue to study the feasibility of the change.

“We have many questions still that are not in this report,” she said.

There are some very important logistics that would need to be worked out, she said, including those around transportation, catchment areas, scheduling, staffing, timetables and funding.

“A careful, thoughtful, consultative and strategic planning process would need to engaged to work out all of the details and impact.”

Trustee Bob Patterson said the focus should be on student success.

“It’s what goes on within (classrooms),” he said. “We have to reach each individual student so that they can be the best they can be.”

He also said they need to think “long term so that in five years we’re not looking at this again.”

Lee-Anne Clarke, president of the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association, agreed.

“The CTA has no official opinion, but our members have a variety of opinions and I think that’s healthy,” she said, adding that “changing changing configuration will not improve achievement.”

It’s the student-teacher relationship that makes learning happen, she said.

She also stressed that this is a major decision and one that will once again provide challenges to teachers.

“They have change fatigue,” she said of local teachers. “Every year something is being changed. I just really urge you to do it in a reasonable way. (There will be) changes in jobs as it is put in place, and having a plan going forward would make people more safe in their jobs in the future.”

Trustee Walt Krahn made a motion to bring the reconfiguration information back as an action item for the next board meeting, on March 7. Previously, Novak had mentioned it would be possible to reconfigure by September 2017.








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