June 20, 2005

A little help and individualized attention

From the local rag, today's issue, we learn that the local public school division has reduced the work hours of its schools' support staff, and, according to Jane Smith, president of the local union chapter as well as librarian at our nearby elementary school, "it is affecting the quality of education students are receiving":
Smith said, "One of the things that is insidious about hours cut is that you have less time to be there, less time to do what you're supposed to be doing and give your services, without actually disappearing all together. Parents might believe that there's as many services as there always were, but there's a difference." She said the hours are being cut because the school board says they don't have the money, but offered evidence to suggest otherwise. "This is a choice. We know this board has money for what it wants to spend money on. For instance, they spent $900,000 this year to bring wireless service within the division, when SuperNet is coming and will be up and running in the fall. So they have $900,000 to spend on what they want to spend it on. The technology is being serviced, the children are not," said Smith.

The reduction comes on top of cutbacks implemented in September and December. For teaching assistants, hours went from 1,400 last year to an expected workload of 1,075 for next year. The reduced hours are impacting teaching assistants, librarians, receptionists and in some cases, caretakers, but Smith says children are the ones who are impacted the most. In the case of her own hours, Smith said she will be in the library only one third of the number of hours she worked last year. "That affects the children in a lot of ways. It stops us from doing effective reading programs. It stops the children from having access to somebody who can help them find what they're looking for."

"'If you're a TA and you're not there, you're not there. If you have a special needs child that you're working with, that child still needs the amount of hours they always needed. They're still in school the same amount of hours, they just don't get the help that they need for as many hours," said Smith. Smith said another change is that the school board has directed that TA's are to only be assisting special needs children, and not children who just need a little bit of extra attention. "A little help will put them into the area where they succeed. Without that little help, they're not succeeding. A little help with reading, a little help with math. A little individualized attention in any area, and those children aren't going to get that anymore," said Smith.

Without support staff working full time, teachers will be forced to take on extra responsibilities and Smith said that will further decrease the amount of teaching time available to students. "All of us do the jobs we're good at. The less hours we're there to help, the more you have teachers who are having to fill in those spaces. You have teachers in the library doing library work. That's not what teachers should be doing. Teachers should teach," said Smith.

The school board superintendent did not return this reporter's phone call before press time.

Smith said concerned parents should contact their Member of the Legislative Assembly, the superintendent and their school trustee. "Parents have a terrific amount of power. They should exercise it."
We did, a year and a half ago, when we pulled our eldest out of first grade. She was a year ahead of her classmates and no-one, from her teacher to the principal, seemed to think the situation required any help, little or otherwise, or individualized attention. No matter -- we found a very nice way to guarantee our own kids lots of help and individualized attention. No SuperNet, though.

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