On Thursday, Global News received a letter that was sent to teachers in the Calgary Catholic School District from Supt. Dr. Bryan Szumlas, saying the district will have students start classes midday on either Mondays or Wednesdays for the 2024-2025 school year.
That letter said one-third of high school teachers and around one-fifth of other teachers were wanting a change when it comes to their own professional education.
Szumlas also pointed to a student survey showing more than half of students were reporting difficulties with sleep.
The superintendent said he understands that having classes start at 11 a.m. or noon one day a week could cause complications for parents and caretakers.
“We get it. And I sympathize for families. I understand that, especially families with younger children, they’re going to need to figure out child care,” Szumlas told Global News.
He said the year-long pilot is designed to help teachers better meet the needs of students.
“Teachers need to keep up with the times, and understand the best teaching processes and methods to help these students and all students succeed,” Szumlas said. “I want I think what all parents want, what all teachers want and what students want, and that is the very best educational experience.
“There has to be some sacrifices so that we can work with our staff the best professionally grow them to succeed in today’s world.”
The president of the Catholic teachers’ association said it’s been many years since CSSD has had professional development days embedded into the calendar as the school district is piloting. And they come at a time when there’s curricula to be implemented.
“There’s not a teacher in a K-to-6 classroom that doesn’t have a new curriculum to learn and to embed within their classes,” Allison McCaffrey, ATA Local 55 president, said. “Some teachers have up to four new curriculums in the last two years. That’s exhausting.
“That is not the model that was ever implemented by the Ministry of (Education) historically.”
Szummlas said there are freshly-graduated teachers who have told the school district they feel burned out and overwhelmed.
“If we continue just to do things as we’ve always done, how are we helping our students?” he said.
McCaffrey said she’s heard from teachers who are also parents that they’re not sure how they will work the late start days into their own personal family lives.
“What I’m hearing from teachers is that they would have liked to be included in the process ahead of time. I’m hearing that the late-entry model that’s being proposed is for some completely untenable, especially if they’re both teachers and parents,” she said.
“A lot of them have reached out to me that they would have preferred an early dismissal over a late entry.”
Other parents are saying similar things.
Shannon Kornylo said she was “angry” after hearing about the late entry pilot, saying having to be or need child care one morning a week “isn’t ideal for anyone who works.”
“How are parents going to manage at home if they are working from home or they have to find somewhere for their kids to go before school? Who’s going to drive them to school? What’s going to happen to the bus system?” the mother said.
Matthew Kachur said he’s not sure how he and his wife will fit these changes into their work schedule.
“When we have meetings and other commitments, we can’t get out of them without a lot of issue and problem,” he said. “And we do have a nanny as well who has a child in the Catholic school system. So we also have to look at it not only from an employee perspective, but also an employer perspective of how that impacts us on the other side, because she’s going to have to have a level of accommodation and help to be able to to meet this obstacle as well.”
Kornylo also urged the importance of a proper routine of going to bed earlier to improve students’ sleep.
“My kid has a hard time falling asleep, so, you know, starting that bedtime a little bit earlier so he falls asleep a little bit earlier is key to him getting more rest,” she said.
Kachur said he would have liked to see parents be consulted before the pilot was announced.
“You can’t impact everyone’s life, everyone’s livelihood, everyone’s finances and time without consultation. And making a unilateral decision is not not the best way to proceed on something like this,” said Kachur, the father of a Grade 1 CSSD student.
The school district is currently gathering feedback from teachers and has planned a window to collect input from parents and guardians, as well, using the district’s “thought exchange” program.
“My hope is that the division is open and willing to listen to the responses and the thought exchange they get back,” McCaffrey said.
Szumlas said other school divisions in the province are already doing something similar, but said Calgary Catholic would consider the feedback before the pilot project launches in their schools in Calgary, Airdrie, Chestermere and Cochrane.
“Nothing is ever set in stone,” the superintendent said. “There could be some other reason that things may have to change, and we’ll reconsider if we have to going forward.”