EMS staff urge end to dual-bell system at South Surrey high school

Student enrolment back to 2011 levels, expected stable through 2020

A three-year decline in enrolment at South Surrey’s Earl Marriott Secondary has prompted officials to consider a return to “the norm” for students and staff: a four-block schedule.

According to a letter to parents from Surrey Schools superintendent Jordan Tinney Wednesday, a forum to discuss “benefits and challenges” of implementing the change for the coming school year is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday (May 23) at the 15751 16 Ave. school.

EMS has been operating on a ‘dual-bell’ schedule – with junior grades attending from 8 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. and seniors from 9:23 a.m. to 3:33 p.m. – since 2011, in an effort to address cramped conditions.

Teachers did not welcome the alternate schedule, claiming a year later that it had failed to fix the overcrowding problems at the school, and that the situation could put students at risk.

Parents protested in April 2013, when they staged a day of action to draw attention to what led to the extended schedule: stalled efforts to build a new school in the South Surrey/Grandview area.

Plans for a new school in Grandview Heights were announced the same year that the extended schedule was implemented, and land was purchased the following summer.

Funding to build it, however, wasn’t announced until last May. The new high school is now scheduled to open in 2020.

The move was greeted with a student walkout and criticism from parents.

Tinney’s letter notes “strong support” from staff for returning to a four-block schedule, along with an “incredibly short” timeline for consultation – the decision needs to be made within two weeks.

A letter from principal Ken Hignell and staff committee chair Chris Trevelyan echoed staff support, noting enrolment is back to 2011 levels. Advantages cited include impact on learning, improved attendance due to fewer end-of-day time conflicts and better opportunity for students to meet with teachers outside of classroom time.

Challenges include increased traffic for pick-up and drop-off, not enough room in the cafeteria and getting used to the time adjustment. Most Surrey schools operating on a four-block schedule hold classes from around 8:30 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.