After a tumultuous school year, Comox Valley teachers and administrative staff hope for smoother sailing this year.
With teacher contract negotiations at the forefront of many minds during the past school year, the tension was palpable, especially in the second half of the year.
But with an agreement between teachers and their employer signed in June, School District 71 superintendent Sherry Elwood hopes this year will be more calm.
“I would hope that all of our employees that are coming back, including senior staff, that this year — looking forward to a positive, maybe more stable climate than we had experienced last year that we’re all looking to regain the pathway towards the implementation of 21st century learning,” she said. “I think that most of us are relieved that there was an agreement at the very end of the year so that we can get on and refocus around student learning and teaching.”
The school year started with teacher job action, which included withdrawal from some administrative tasks, and the situation escalated from there.
Teachers walked off the job for three days in March, and shortly after that, government passed Bill 22, which imposed a six-month cooling off period — making striking illegal — and brought in a mediator for talks between the BC Teachers’ Federation and their employer, the BC Public School Employer’s Association.
Many teachers withdrew from extracurricular activities during the spring as a legal way to oppose Bill 22, which caused the cancellation of many Comox Valley Grade 7 field trips.
The agreement signed in June runs through until the end of this coming June.
Many teachers are not happy with the terms of the contract, said Steve Stanley, Comox District Teachers’ Association president.
“Although teachers signed an ’11th hour’ contract settlement at the end of June which did see some improvements, this settlement did not address many key issues for teachers such as salary, preparation time, class size, and the right to strike,” he said. “We will continue to work on these issues as we move ahead into another round of bargaining when this contract expires in June of 2013.”
However, Stanley added teachers are settled until then and the community should not expect to see any job action from them this year.
Instead, the BCTF will continue to fight Bill 22 in the courts, as well as fighting to have class size and composition language reinstated. He noted teachers are especially concerned about class size issues, and will keep a close eye on the situation in schools this year.
He also said teachers will be busy trying to make the public education system — and funding for it — an election issue in the lead up to the provincial election in May.
As for relationships between teachers, administrators and parents after last year, Elwood pointed out everyone in the Comox Valley did their best to understand the situation and keep tensions separate from their personal relationships with each other.
“We all worked hard, all of us, teachers, principals, vice-principals, parents and senior staff, to understand that the labour landscape was something that was playing out at both the provincial level, and in some ways at the district level, but we were able to keep that civilized and respectful all the time,” she said.
“I think we go into this year in a very good position.”
Stanley said the cancelled Grade 7 field trips may be a “sticking point” for some parents, but that teacher involvement in extracurricular activities is voluntary and some teachers will choose to refrain from these activities again this year.
He urges parents and community members to volunteer for extracurricular activities to help ensure they all go ahead and take some strain off teachers.
His overall message is to move into the new school year with as fresh a start as possible.
“I think we have to put the past in the past and move forward, and hope that we keep our focus on the right places, which is in the classroom with kids.”