Bluewater board anticipates losing dozens of teaching positions

Bluewater board anticipates losing dozens of teaching positions
Posted on 03/23/2019

As many as 50 full-time teaching positions could be lost at the Bluewater District school board following the provincial government's plans to increase average high school class sizes.
"That is a substantial shift," director of education Alana Murray said.
On March 15, Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that average high school class sizes will increase to 28.1, up from the current 22.1. That is expected to result in fewer teachers. The reduction in the number of teachers is to be done through attrition. Retiring teachers will not be replaced. Teachers with specialized qualifications such as music, technology, physics and French who are not replaced could potentially reduce access to those programs for some students.
"There could be 40 to 50 positions not replaced due to retirements. So they are using an attrition process over a four-year period to increase the class sizes and reduce the number of secondary teachers," said Murray. "We will not be hiring new teachers; we will be adding students to classes."
Increasing the average class size will likely affect those students who need the extra attention in class, who have individual education plans that require greater degrees of intervention, and that is worrisome, said Murray.
She expects there will be budget implications if the board isn't hiring as many teachers. She also said there could be some mitigation funding provided over the next four years to soften the blow.
The changes could also lead to teacher unrest, such as a reduction of extracurricular activities.
Murray said the impact of the provincial government's changes in class sizes may be mitigated by a top-up of funding over four years to offset increased class sizes if there is a substantial increase in secondary school enrolment.
A change from the average of 23.84 to 24.5 full-time students in grades 4 to 8 would not affect the school board, which had been moving in that direction already.
Part of the new policy announced by Thompson calls for high school students to get four of their high school credits through a centralized e-learning program.
Bluewater school board teachers would not be delivering those courses. It's not clear where and when the courses would be completed, who would supervise them and the implications on collective agreements with teachers' unions. "Some people are equating this to what used to be the independent learning centre. This is to provide students with that experience of taking online courses. The logistics of moving to a centralized learning program doesn't mean you have your local teachers teaching those programs," said Murray, who noted the history of online learning or an independent learning module hasn't been good.
"The completion rates are very, very low," she said.
There will be additional funding to school boards to offset increased costs of heating and lighting, as well as to support the costs of transporting students.The plan by the government to support the expansion of broadband services by 2020-2021 doesn't affect Bluewater District, which has already completed that.
The implication of a ban on cellphones in the class as indicated by the education minister doesn't involve a change for the local board, which has had a policy in place since 2008 that reflects the proposed changes.
Cellphones are not supposed be used in the classrooms unless at the discretion of the teacher for learning purposes or by students who require assistive technology as part of an individual learning plan. The revised four-year provincial math strategy, which involves new math curricula in all grades, will be phased in over four years, with an emphasis on basic concepts and skills. The first changes are to be implemented in September 2019. By the spring of 2020, all new teachers will be required to pass a math knowledge test before being certified by the Ontario College of Teachers. A new education strategy to promote science, technology engineering and math will include revised mandatory career studies. A Grade 10 half-credit course is to be released in late May for implementation in September. Revised business studies and computer studies curricula will focus on developing job skills, such as entrepreneurial skills, computational thinking and coding.
Murray said the decision by the province to focus on skilled trades will mean more exposure to experiential learning, skilled trades, technology and apprenticeship training - all things that Bluewater board already does with its Ontario Youth Apprenticeship program. The directive to increase the focus on financial literacy means some revisions to career studies and math curricula.
Murray said it's too early to tell what the revised First Nations, Métis and Inuit studies curricula for grades 9-12, which is planned for this September, will look like.
Revised elementary level health and physical education is to be implemented for grades 1-8 for the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. There is an opt-out policy to access and introduce online modules for parents who want to introduce topics at home whenever their child is ready for the 2019-20 school year.
Murray said school boards have anticipated changes to the education system, but there isn't much detail on how to bring in the changes. "The
government has told us that they are committed to reducing the provincial debt, so we were anticipating some changes. The secondary school change was much larger than we had anticipated."
Murray said the timing of the provincial budget and the release of grants for student needs is a concern in that it will be later this year than the board has been accustomed to.

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