Moving to alternate school calendar is hardly new in Prairie South Division

February 27, 2018

The whole thing has caused Tony Baldwin to chuckle.

While considerable media attention has focused lately on schools in the Prairie South School Division, opting for the alternate calendar with largely four-day weeks, Baldwin said it has been going on for 15-plus years in the division.

As Director of Education for Prairie South, Baldwin said, “it seems like we’ve just invented peanut butter and while I might like to take credit for it, this has been happening since long before I became Director. It is a whole generation that has gone through this. My daughter, for example, has never known anything else.”

Admittedly, the numbers have increased in recent times with Central Butte, Eyebrow and Bengough having made the switch in September, and Mossbank, Craik and Chaplin slated to follow suit next fall.
This means all but four of the rural schools in the division now follow the alternate calendar.

The crux of adopting the alternate calendar means 14 additional long weekends for students and teachers, while there is an extra 25 minutes of instructional time tacked on per day. The end net difference.

According to Baldwin, there are significant differences in the respective calendars of the province’s 28 school divisions. It has been his experience that it has not proven particularly difficult to adopt the alternate calendar. He said consistency within the schedule is one of the prime factors to bear in mind.

He stressed that ultimately, the decision to adopt the alternate calendar year has to be a community decision. Baldwin has addressed several of the meetings where these steps have been made. He also sees numerous advantages to this system, not the least of which is the decreased time young students in particular spend on the bus. 

He said that while Prairie South is a unique division, where the schools are pretty much split between rural and urban (39 schools in 19 communities), the model is easier to accommodate in the smaller, rural settings. There are currently 19 schools, including five Hutterian colony schools, on the alternate system.

“Our experience is that the schools on the alternate calendar love it, and the board has been quite clear that they are in support of it as long as the community is on board with it,” he said. Baldwin added that those making the switch have a two-year trial after which time they can opt out if they want.

“When I was a teacher and administrator I only ever knew the more traditional calendar and that was fine, so really I’m neutral. But what I hear from a lot of folks who have made the switch in their community is don’t mess with perfection. 

“Clearly our chief concern is if there’s any discernable difference in student achievement and we haven’t seen any indication of that. There have been lots of models in the United States and Europe where this has worked well and particularly in rural, agricultural communities which we have a lot of in Prairie South.”

According to Baldwin, “we have some criteria obviously, but whatever the community chooses I’m good with that. Talking to the folks in these communities is the nice part of my job because it’s all about engagement.”