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After six years, Earl Marriott Secondary to return to four-block schedule

Parents question the rush for EMS decision

UPDATE: Friday afternoon the Surrey School District announced Earl Marriott Secondary is returning to its regular four-block school day, following six years on a dual-bell system.

“Once again, we wish to thank parents, staff, students and community members for their feedback and questions,” the letter addressed to the Earl Marriott Secondary community states.

“We have worked with the District and staff to develop a four-block bell schedule that will take into account the feedback received regarding the start time and will take into account (bus) schedules and after-school extra curricular activities.”

More to come…

Original story posted earlier Friday:

Discussion around a possible return to a four-block day – the standard for Surrey School District – at South Surrey’s Earl Marriott Secondary is getting mixed reaction from parents.

School and district officials announced last week that the move was being given serious consideration, in response to a three-year decline in enrolment and “strong support” from staff.

A decision on whether or not to proceed, however, had to be made within two weeks, a May 17 letter to parents states.

The timeline has at least some parents feeling the exercise is lacking.

“Ultimately, really, what it came down to for me was, they haven’t given enough time for this process,” Manuela Aldus said Wednesday. “I don’t know if I am (opposed). It’s just all of a sudden this email’s come out last week… and I’m being told this decision’s being made today.”

Aldus – whose son attends Grade 9 at the school – said district superintendent Jordan Tinney told parents Tuesday, at a community forum, that a decision would be made May 24. Officials now say a decision is expected by the end of next week.

Aldus said the apparent rush to make a decision doesn’t make sense, and isn’t fair to the students.

“At least give them some time to understand it,” she said.

District officials, however, say that there was some student involvement. As well, that it would be wrong to withhold the fact that a switch in the schedule could be done for the coming school year if support is there.

“We would be irresponsible if we didn’t tell the school community, hey, you’ve got this option,” district spokesman Doug Strachan said Thursday.

He noted that student data which brought the possibility to light – such as enrolment projections for September – was only recently available.

“The rush, to me, isn’t the issue. It’s, do you want to do it?” Strachan said. “We went out the door with it as soon as we knew we could do it.”

EMS has been operating on a ‘dual-bell’ schedule – with junior grades starting and finishing earlier than their senior peers – since 2011, in an effort to address cramped conditions.

Parent advisory council chair Stacey MacDonald remembers feeling “blindsided” by that decision, and described the years since as ones of “continual compromise to make an overcrowded situation work.”

Overcrowding at the school has not changed, she noted.

She said Thursday that the PAC was told just two months ago that the five-block schedule was to continue, then a month later that the four-block schedule is now an option.

“Truthfully, our heads are spinning. What we don’t understand is why they had to go to a five-block schedule. I feel like I’m missing something here.”

While she feels there is “not enough information to make a good decision either way,” MacDonald – who noted her son, in Grade 9, loves the five-block schedule – said she is trusting the teachers’ judgment.

If they “feel (returning to four blocks) is possible and productive and safe and educationally superior for learning and outcomes, then I totally respect their enthusiasm for this change and support it,” she said.

She added that more parents and guardians should be weighing in on the decision.

According to Strachan, a school district mailbox for feedback received just 11 emails; on Tuesday evening, around 35 people attended the community meeting, which was hosted at the high school to address questions and concerns.

“Everybody’s aware of it. It’s clearly not a huge issue for people,” he said.

Strachan said concerns raised at the meeting ranged from busing and course selection to potential impact on the jazz band and congestion in the parking lot and hallways.

According to a summary that was sent to parents the following day, bus routes and capacity are under review, jazz band would continue to be offered and there would be no difference in the number or types of courses offered.

tholmes@peacearchnews.com