Angela Blosky prepares her classroom for her Grade 1 and 2 students at Ladysmith Primary School.

Students return to the classroom

Teachers in Ladysmith express relief that school is finally back in session

The long summer is finally drawing to a close for Ladysmith students.

Students in Ladysmith will head back to class on Tuesday, joining their counterparts across the province.

Teachers and support staff were back in school Monday, preparing the facilities and curriculum for the coming year.

Kim Needham, a Grade 6 teacher at Ladysmith Intermediate, has missed being away from her class for the first three weeks of the school year.

“September’s just an exciting time, all the new kids coming in and getting to see the kids you had last year,” she said.

“Absolutely, I enjoy my summer but I love getting back to it. That’s why we’re here, right, we like to be with the kids and we want to know how they did in the summer and what they’ve been up to.”

Up the road at Ladysmith Secondary, there’s a similar feeling of relief among the teachers.

“I get a lot of inspiration from my students and try and give them opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Durwin Pye, who teaches math, science and computer science.

“Students that are in my Grade 12 classes this year are ones that I’ve taught [Grades] 8 through 12 so it’s getting very interesting that way. I just love seeing kids learn things and explore ideas.”

Elementary students will have a full day of classes on Tuesday, except for kindergarten students who will start the year with the normal gradual entry. At Ladysmith Secondary, students in Grade 9-12 will start class at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and finish up at 11:30 a.m. Grade 7 and 8 students will have a first day stretching from 12:15 to 3 p.m.

“They usually bring the secondary students in in a couple of groups so that 7s and 8s have a separate time to come into the school and get acclimatized,” said School District 68 spokesperson Donna Reimer. “It will be a few hours for secondary students on Tuesday, and then Wednesday would be full classes for everybody but kindergarten.”

The school calendar will likely see a few more changes, with the Pro-D day set for Sept. 29 in the district being postponed for later in the year.

“There will be some small adjustments to the calendar, primarily to balance the two semesters because we’ve lost three weeks out of the first semester so we want to balance the two semesters,” said Reimer.

Ladysmith Secondary will see a major influx of students, with enrolment jumping to 840 from about 580 last year. Grade 7 English students from the now-closed Davis Road Elementary along with Grade 7s from Ladysmith Intermediate will be going to Ladysmith Secondary this year, along with about 200 students from Cedar Secondary, which was closed at the end of June. A group of Cedar parents are renting a bus to transport their children to Ladysmith.

“A group of parents in Cedar have taken it upon themselves to get a bus together,” said parent Steve Rae. “It will be making stops through Cinnabar and Cedar at a cost to parents, and to me, that’s sickening.”

He said it will cost parents between $30 and $40 a week to transport their children on the bus which seats about 50.

“The bus is full; there’s a waiting list,” he said.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation members voted 86 per cent in favour of a six-year agreement reached with the help of mediator Vince Ready. It gives the province’s 40,000 teachers a raise of 7.25 per cent over six years, improvements to benefits and a fund to hire new teachers each year.

“Teachers are going to be happy to be back in the classroom. I think that we’re all pleased that the dispute is over,” said Nanaimo and District Teachers Association president Mike Ball. “I think the concern is that class size and class composition still hasn’t been dealt with.”

He said the issue that made the deal palatable for teachers was the removal of the contentious Article E80, which stripped away victories won by teachers on class size and composition in recent court decisions.

“It protected the court case,” is what Ball saw as the major positive to come out of the new deal. The matter will be back before the courts next month with the government appealing the previous court decisions.

He said while teachers are not overjoyed with the deal, they realized it was probably the best they were going to get.

“I think they wore us down in the end,” said Ball, adding it was unlikely teachers would have been any further ahead if they had remained out on the picket lines for weeks and months. “No teacher wanted to be out on the picket line.”

Both Pye and Needham believe the teachers’ strike action was worth it in the end.

“I think it really brought the issues to the forefront. I think that our parents and community have a much better understanding of what our reality is. I think that way we have a little better communication now,” said Needham.

Pye said he’s encouraged that the changes to the system will be coming from new money, and not just shuffling funds around as was done in the past.

“It’s encouraging that there’s actually new money coming into the system because I’ve seen over my career how much it’s declined — how budgets have been cut and positions slashed and support killed,” said Pye, who sees the money set aside for hiring new teachers as a major achievement.

“There’s no way we can address the needs of students without that.”

But Ball cautioned that a few extra teachers aren’t going to cure the problems affecting B.C.’s education system.

“Parents need to understand that the learning conditions for their children did not get better as a result of this deal. We got some extra teachers into the system, but in the Nanaimo Ladysmith district that probably doesn’t mean any more than two or three extra teachers spread across the district. So the conditions haven’t magically gotten better.”

The end of the strike means work can now get started on getting the new portable classroom ready for students at Ladysmith Primary.

“We’re expecting that will be a top priority as soon as our support staff can get to the school and start working there,” said Reimer. “I think it will definitely be a few weeks before it can be completed.”

In the meantime, students are expected to use the school’s multi-purpose room until the portable is ready to accommodate the class.

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