Question re: School calendar - May 7, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Minister of Education. In February 2013, the government proposed that Yukon schools, including rural ones, move to a common school calendar. The idea was immediately rejected by rural schools. I told the minister at that time, if you’re going to go with a common calendar, adapt the Dawson model Yukon-wide. It was developed based upon local need and local input. This model was not an option when the department gave the school councils a choice for the calendars.

A year later, after many meetings and a survey from the minister’s department, the government has abandoned their idea of a common calendar for both Whitehorse and rural schools. Can the minister tell Yukoners how much money was spent on this process, which essentially has left the status quo in place?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    I don’t have the numbers that were spent on consulting with school councils as well as the Yukon Teachers Association with respect to the calendars. I do know that Whitehorse, through the Minister of Education’s leadership, has adopted a common start date for this coming year.

Something else that was important that emerged from those discussions was the fact that most Whitehorse schools wanted to maintain that two-week spring break, as well as having that start date the same, so that elementary school students weren’t starting on a different date from high school students. I know that is extremely important to the school communities in Whitehorse. Obviously for school communities outside of Whitehorse, such as the Robert Service School, it was very important to them that they not be in school past the first of June. So those accommodations were made for that school with the introduction of the calendar that will be coming forward this year.

I know that many of my colleagues and I, as former Minister of Education, heard from a number of constituents with respect to introducing a three-year calendar, and I know that is something else that the Minister of Education has done. She listened to Yukoners through the school councils, she listed to teachers through the Yukon Teachers Association, and I believe that the solutions that she has come up with will meet the needs of the various school communities throughout the territory.

Mr. Silver:   As it turns out, rural schools have never been keen to adopt the common calendar with Whitehorse. This idea did originate with the government and, after a costly consultation process, it was wisely abandoned.

Now, Yukoners deserve to know how much it cost for this process, which ended up leaving things as they were in the first place. The government does talk a lot about spending more money than ever in education, but spending like this certainly does not improve educational outcomes. When the government announced a common calendar was in the works, a former minister said — and I quote: “The move to common start dates aims to close the disparity that exists between rural and Whitehorse secondary schools related to the number of electives available to the students.”

So, now that the common calendar has been abandoned, how does the government intend to meet this objective?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    As former Minister of Education, I think it is important to remind the Member for Klondike that he stood on his feet in this House and asked for a common calendar — this was not that long ago — based on the Dawson model, but the Dawson model doesn’t work for all Yukon schools.

We have heard from schools in Watson Lake that they would prefer to start later. We have heard from schools in Whitehorse that they would prefer to start elementary schools and high schools on the same date and they would prefer to maintain the two-week spring break.

It’s interesting — the selective memory that the Member for Klondike has with respect to this issue and many other issues with respect to changing positions and flip-flops that he has become famous for here on the floor of this House.

With respect to what we’re trying to do with rural equity — there are many examples. I know there was a comprehensive trades training that was conducted in Dawson City last September. I believe it is scheduled this spring to take place in Carmacks as well. Another model is that of the Watson Lake high school — the blended learning model that is extremely successful and has been or will be presented by Education officials at a number of national conferences. I was in Watson Lake when representatives of Robert Service School were down looking at that exact model and perhaps looking to adopt that into their community.

Mr. Silver:   The member can twist my words around but I have been constant in my abilities and my advocating for a common calendar of Dawson.

The government thought that increasing the number of electives available to students was something that needed to be done. That’s the question in the House. It tried to do it by imposing a common calendar but it has abandoned the idea after a costly attempt to implement this idea. The fact remains that there are fewer electives available in rural Yukon and the minister can’t answer how his government plans to change that.

In February 2013, the government promised — and I quote: “Better coordination of the Yukon school calendar will improve distance learning options and will ultimately lead to better experiences and results for students”. The common calendar has been abandoned. How does this government plan to improve distance education options?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Of course, we have a record in this House where all of our words are recorded in Hansard, and I invite the member to go back and look at what he stated with respect to a common calendar.

He stated on this floor that, based on the Dawson model — absolutely I agree with what he’s saying there. But that Dawson model doesn’t work across the Yukon.

As I’ve mentioned, the parents, the teachers and the students in Whitehorse wanted to look for a two-week spring break and a common start date that wasn’t as early as when the students in Dawson City wanted to go in. For people in Whitehorse, it wasn’t that important that they be out by May 31. For people in the community of Dawson, it is important.

When we’re looking at adjusting the electives for students who aren’t in Whitehorse, there’s the blended learning model that has proven to be very successful in Watson Lake. There are the trades events, such as the one that took place in Dawson City last fall and an upcoming one, I believe, that is scheduled for Carmacks.

I do take issue with the member opposite saying one thing in previous sittings and previous sessions and then conveniently ignoring it. We only have to look at the F.H. Collins project — a press release by the Leader of the Liberal Party suggesting that he would consider delaying the project, redesigning it or considering a new location. Now he criticizes the government for $5 million in design expenditures.