Kootenay Lake school district staff skipped an emergency meeting they were invited to at L.V. Rogers on Monday night, angering the parents, teachers and staff who are concerned about scheduling “gridlock” that has left many high school students without the classes they need going into the new school year.
“It’s been chaos,” principal Tim Huttemann told the approximately 80 people gathered in the school cafeteria. “We’ve combined and chopped, and we’ve stretched our resources as far as we can. I’m not sure what else we can do.”
And though community members have been voicing concerns about the staffing situation at L.V. Rogers since May—district staff met with the advisory council at the beginning of the summer—there hasn’t yet been a solution offered, and in the meantime students’ timetables are a mess.
Currently there are 179 pending requests for scheduling changes, only a fraction of which have been addressed. A number of Grade 9 students have been left without electives, while Grade 12s have been turned away from mandatory classes such as English 12 due to space.
“Virtually every class is full with at least 30 students. Many kids can’t get into the courses they selected in April, some of which they need for graduation,” parent advisory council chair Sheri Walsh told the Star. “There are waiting lists for most if not all of the full classes. On Tuesday morning there was a lineup of kids all the way down the hall to get in to see one of the two counselors; some students, including my daughter in Grade 11, spent the entire morning in the office waiting.”
Part of the problem can be explained by the school’s new scheduling system, which didn’t work as planned and proved to be “inefficient”. Staff have been scrambling to come up with useful data so they can tweak the timetable accordingly, but progress has been slow.
Unfortunately, this creates a frustrating scenario: while the scheduling issues need to be addressed in the next “crucial” few days, school officials won’t have the number of students and the funding amount for the year finalized until Sept. 30.
When the Star spoke with superintendent Jeff Jones recently he urged parents to be patient and wait until the end of the month for more news, but at the meeting on Monday parents, teachers and students said by then it will be too late.
“We’re very full, and the fuller we are the less options we’ll have,” vice-principal Tim Mushumanski said. “We’re in a situation now where we can’t give students what they want and need.”
Mushumanski distributed statistics they’ve compiled for the current school year, and told those gathered that L.V. Rogers has dropped from 38.7 full-time-equivalent staff to 34.4, while the student numbers have dropped from approximately 720 to 680.
“We could’ve over-predicted back in May and I would’ve been biting my nails until September,” he said.
But teacher Robyn Sheppard believes the issue goes beyond problematic scheduling.
“I’ve never seen it this bad, in my entire career. I’ve got Grade 9s coming up to me and saying they can’t get into the electives they want. It’s worse than it’s ever been. Something’s going on here, and I don’t know what it is yet. We’re changing the whole face of our school. This is Nelson! We need these classes.”
Because less popular classes get the axe in favour of ones that can attract a full roster, Sheppard said arts education is suffering. Mushumanski told the crowd a number of courses—including Creative Writing 12—have been cancelled, while others have been combined or rearranged.
“We have been creative with our staffing and our timetable. We have cut admin time, library time, special ed time, learning support time, ABED time, and some counselling time. We have multi-aged our French Immersion…in order to keep those numbers above 27. We have overloaded Planning 10 classes because there is no legislated limit on those class sizes,” he said.
Currently there are 11 classes without a teacher assigned. They are:
– Foods 11/12
-Sciences Humaines 9
-Sciences Humaines 11
“We are not sure how we will run all of these classes at this point but we are looking for creative solutions,” said Mushumanski. But those present expressed their belief that the real onus is on the higher-ups, and no solution will come without additional dollars.
“Funding seems to be the only solution to get us out of this,” said parent Bob Hall.
Trustees Curtis Bendig, Bill Maslechko and board chair Lenora Trenaman were in attendance, and assured the parents and those gathered that they’d heard the concerns and would work hard to address them.
“We’ve heard you,” said Trenaman. “And all of the stories are hitting us in the heart.”
Bendig reminded those present of the current status of education funding.
“We’re dealing with a smaller pot, and we’re working with less money and less decision-making power. The same frustrations you’ve been having here, we’ve been having on a much grander scale at the board table.”
Facilitator Cathy Scott-May expressed her dismay that district staff weren’t there to contribute to finding a solution.
“I respect them as individuals, but I do not respect that decision. I think it was disrespectful to all of us.”