Students will be returning to classes soon. Behind the scenes though, the school district has been a hive of activity these last couple of months.
There’s a lot of work that goes on throughout the school district during the off months. This summer, Comox Valley Schools gave the Record a tour to provide a glimpse into how the school system function.
Comox Valley Schools, or School District 71, employs more than 1,600 people whose work supports the education of about 8,600 students. The workforce includes teachers, educational assistants and administrators, as well as a team of support staff. This group stays plenty busy between the last bell in June and the first day of classes in September.
“It really is the busiest time of year,” says Dan Dalgleish, manager of operations for the school district.
With growing enrolment, this can include “resurrecting” some of the classrooms that had not been used for students for some time, paving, cutting lawns or checking for safety issues, especially in gymnasiums or shop classrooms. There are also large capital projects, he adds, pointing to three or four roofs that need fixing through the district or boiler upgrades.
“It just goes on and on and on,” he says.
In the digital age, one of the tasks is IT upgrade work, such as setting up new laptops for the coming school year. Director of information technology Josh Porter stresses this type of work happens year-round, and there’s a lot to do. Staff work on everything from changing phone systems to managing cloud-based data.
“We do a lot throughout the year,” he says. “We go into every school.”
The summer provides a good opportunity to get work done without having to shut down a classroom, Porter adds.
Much happens on site at other school properties. At a maintenance building, electrical charge-hand Jim Estlin is resetting a fire alarm, while some summer students get ready to go out as grounds crew. The school district hires young people to work during the summer, so Marina Barker and Sophia Doran are getting ready to do maintenance work.
Nearby, in the carpentry shop, Chris Huebchen is busy putting together cabinets for school properties, which tends to be one of the bigger woodworking jobs needed in the summer, while in the mechanic shop, Ken Anderson has a truck on the hoist to have a look. Managing the fleet is a big job. The mechanic shop looks after the school district’s fleet of trucks, smaller buses (it contracts out to First Student Canada for the larger school buses) and even equipment such as the floor machines – or “everything that moves,” as Anderson puts it. In all, they keep a fleet of 60 mowers, vans and trucks tuned up and ready to go.
Then there are the smaller details. Upstairs in the maintenance building, Bryan Pederson has been learning the ins and outs of the locksmith trade, giving a demonstration of how the locks work.
While maintenance continues all year, summer is still different. Everything must be ready for fall. In the shop at Vanier, Josh Cornwell, a heavy-duty mechanic, is busy working at a planer.
“The ‘com-planer’ as I call them,” he says.
He points out the importance of having safe, well-tuned equipment in this classroom setting, especially when it comes to classes involving heavy equipment with sharp points and edges, or moving parts.
“Safety is paramount,” he adds.
Then there are the challenges presented by COVID-19, which has affected buses and buildings alike. The environment and airflow become extra important, and the school district has been upgrading HVAC systems. Employees Sandy Watt and Rod Morgan are able to keep track of these systems through computer software that allows them to monitor equipment remotely and troubleshoot a problem at a school district site.
“In a lot of cases, I can figure what’s wrong before I even get there,” says Watt.
This new direct digital control (DDC) system also helps with energy efficiency and monitoring of carbon dioxide emissions so the school district can adjust to the challenges posed by climate change.
Finally, it’s important not to forget those old familiar tasks. In any year, cleaning up the classes is important, but during the pandemic, the custodial job takes on extra importance. In a leadership classroom at Vanier, Vanessa Schreurs, Ashley Cutler and Glen Parrish are busy giving everything the once-over and then some following another school year that was anything but another school year.
In a way though, all this behind-the-scenes work is business as usual, as staff work to make things hum along for school come September and students once again begin their own work. Dalgleish says summer is often the busiest time of year because they can easily get into school buildings.
“At that time, we have full access to schools,” he says.