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Extended hours are coming to Surrey schools

Flexible timetables approved for cramped secondary classrooms.
Students at Earl Marriott Secondary and Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary will have an alternative schedule starting this September.

Hours will be extended for at least two Surrey high schools this fall to deal with ongoing space shortfalls.

Earl Marriott Secondary (EMS) and Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary (LTS) will be adopting an alternate schedule beginning this September to address cramped conditions.

The concept is being implemented in an effort to ensure students can actually get into their neighbourhood schools and are able to access the courses and programs they need.

Like many schools in the district, EMS and LTS are significantly over capacity and have multiple portable classrooms on site to handle student overflow. With no new school space on the horizon, and more residents arriving each month, the schools have opted to extend the school day to accommodate a greater number of students.

Although schedule details at the two schools have yet to be ironed out, a newsletter says the amount of instructional time for students will remain the same. But the plan is to have the Grade 8 and 9 students start and end the school day at a different time than the Grade 10-12 students and likely have different lunch breaks.

Specific start and end times for the school day haven’t been finalized, but it’s anticipated the schedule will fall somewhere between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily. Parents are being reassured that extracurricular programs and activities won’t be impacted by the different bell schedule.

The timetable move comes on the heels of community consultation and a resulting report late last year that showed how important it was for Surrey parents to have their children able to get into their neighbourhood schools, and to keep “choice” programs such as French immersion from being continually uprooted.

The Surrey School District has not received capital funding for new schools since 2005, which has left thousands of students learning in portables, often for several years. At present, the district has more than 230 portables and it’s estimated there will be 340 in use by 2015. Add to that the fact there are about 800 people moving to Surrey monthly, and the school space crunch is compounded.

“The variables available to us are time and space,” said District Supt. Mike McKay, noting that many students were on wait lists last year or couldn’t get the courses they wanted at their schools.

“Let’s recognize that we’re not in an ideal situation right now.”

Denying student choices, moving programs and not taking in new pupils simply aren’t options, he said.

McKay said some schools are already using flexible schedules in some form and that the current move is to explore the possibility of expanding what is already happening.

Teachers, however, aren’t welcoming the alternate schedule plans.

Denise Moffatt, president of the Surrey Teachers’ Association, said she’s been meeting with educators at EMS and LTS who have numerous concerns about the impact changing the timetable will have on programs, lunchtime clubs, library access, extracurricular activities, families with kids in multiple grades and those with special needs.

“The feedback has been negative. Teachers have said to me ‘we want you to get the message out that this is not okay’,” said Moffatt.

She said the union’s biggest concern is that this is not a temporary plan because there has been no commitment from government that Surrey needs more school space.

“This can’t be a long-term solution,” Moffatt said. “Where is the pressure on government to provide these funds?”

The district has asked every other local high schools to consider its needs and options as well. Other possibilities include increasing the number of online courses available to students, upping the number of courses offered outside the regular timetable, or perhaps look at a “hybrid” system where some school work is done online and some is done in the classroom.

Surrey Board of Education chair Laurae McNally understands that the situation isn’t optimal, but says with no provincial dollars and insufficient school space, there aren’t any alternatives.

“There really is no choice,” she said. “Santa didn’t drop any new schools down the chimney.”

McNally said the district “desperately” needs an infusion of money. Even if it arrived today, however, it takes between two and five years to build a school.

“This is the product of nobody paying attention to a rapidly growing district,” she said. “We, as a school district, do not make the final decisions.”

McNally said people who are upset by the lack of school space need to contact their local MLAs.