Victoria district portables won’t be ready for start of school

Victoria district portables won’t be ready for start of school

SD61 creates interim solutions for teachers waiting on unfinished classrooms

The Greater Victoria School District continues the unenviable task of expanding infrastructure to meet increased student enrollment at a time when regional construction growth is so strong, finding ticketed tradespeople is daunting.

The “skeleton crew” of tradespeople in SD61 is working hard to get classrooms in place for students returning in September. Though the District has plans to accommodate all of the approximately 19,000 students in its 27 elementary, 10 middle, and seven secondary schools, some will be in a temporary place until later in the fall, says Mark Walsh, SD61 secretary-treasurer.

Nine additional classroom spaces had to be invested in for the 2018-19 school year at George Jay Elementary, James Bay Elementary, Tillicum Elementary, Oaklands Elementary, Quadra Elementary, and Central Middle schools in order to address increased enrollment since last September.

“There may be a few more but these are the ones we had to spend time and money getting ready,” said Walsh.

The school district isn’t using the term “delayed” to describe the temporary arrangement as they were aware of the timing of the delivery from the start and have come up with interim solutions. It is a different situation than last year when it had to scramble to accommodate the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2016 that restored contract clauses on class size and composition. SD61 had to add 84 new classes and twelve portables last year at the elementary and middle school levels.

RELATED: More students, more pressure in B.C. school system

Even with interim measures planned in advance, the reality of teaching without a proper classroom remains the same for those waiting on spaces – extremely difficult and stressful.

“It is super stressful for the teachers. They are trying to make it right for their students, they are trying to make it right with the parents,” said Winona Waldron, Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association contract chair. “Kids can’t learn appropriately when they are being moved classroom to classroom or when they don’t have a classroom. It was really hard watching that Grade 8 class at Central last year not have a home.”

There were three classes at Central last year that didn’t have a proper classroom.

One class spent the year in the staff-room.

“That wasn’t too bad for the students, but it was really hard on the staff. It is really important for staff to have a place to meet. But the students at least had a place to go,” said Waldron.

A second class moved into the music room. The class would have to come in, set up their tables, do their class, and then leave whenever there was a strings or choir class that needed the room, only to have to do it all over again.

The third Grade 8 class had the most challenging year. They moved every day from the cafeteria to the gymnasium, sometimes to a standing-room-only art space. They would also use other teachers’ classrooms when they weren’t in use.

“Those kids had no sense of place,” said Waldron.

It is Waldron’s hope that SD61 will open schools that were previously closed due to low enrollment.

“Portables are a stop-gap measure. We should look very closely at re-opening the schools that are closed and rented out, in order to give teachers real places to teach. I feel like we are in an emergency situation,” said Waldron. “I want the district to recognize what the teachers are going through.”

RELATED: At least 84 new classes coming to Victoria school district (2017)

Fred Schmidt, president of CUPE 382, said there have been ongoing conversations about opening facilities over the last few years.

“So far the answer has been that it seems the catchments for the schools getting overpopulated are not necessarily the same as those with closed schools,” said Schmidt.

The district is looking at this issue.

“Our big task now is the boundary review. We are going to look at how many kids will be living in each neighbourhood over the next 10, 15, 20 years, look at the capacity of the schools and try to better match them,” said Walsh.

For now, this year’s additions are simply about keeping up with growing enrollment.

“We are ready for the school year,” said Walsh. “We talked to the schools waiting on Learning Studios and offered them the opportunity to have an older-style portable but they said they would prefer to come up with an alternative and wait for the finished product. The only one that is a little further behind than we hoped is Quadra.”

“We are really hoping to have everything done by fall, with the awareness that we are running a skeleton crew and could get delayed by needing to pull guys for maintenance needs,” said Schmidt.

SD61 continues to seek Red Seal tradespeople:

Status of new classrooms

Four additional classrooms have been added to George Jay Elementary School by re-configuring space within the school. This is expected to be complete in time for opening.

James Bay Elementary School had interior renovations done to create a more inclusive learning environment which should also be complete for opening.

Final touches are being put on a Learning Studio at Central Middle School. As this is not expected to be complete until mid-September, the class bound for the space will be in the staff room. Central also has a refurbished wooden portable from the 60s that is ready for September.

An older portable will be delivered to Tillicum Elementary School. The school district couldn’t get a delivery until the beginning of September due to a lack of availability of the mover. An alternative space is available in the school until it is delivered and set up.

A Learning Studio is destined for Oaklands Elementary School, but won’t be finished until later in the fall.

“At Oaklands they have a small space that they wouldn’t normally use as a classroom. They’ll make due with that while we continue to build the Learning Studio,” said Walsh. “We knew early on that the facility would not be ready for September and provided the option of an older-style portable. We determined that for the long-term benefit of the school, that a slight delay was preferable.”

A second Learning Studio will be heading to Quadra Elementary, similarly expected to be completed later in the fall.

“We will be putting a partition in the gym of Quadra, so that will be a long-term benefit for the school. Planning to be a little bit later was a benefit in the long-term,” said Walsh.

Torquay Elementary and Cloverdale Traditional School will both receive factory-built portables sometime in September to accommodate childcare. The childcare will share space within the school until the portables are delivered.

The daycare at Margaret Jenkins will be sharing space within the school until completion of that project, expected in early October.

RELATED: SD61 prepares for new school year with major upgrades

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