Local school boards have learned of a last-minute, major change to the secondary school calendar.
According to a communication from the Ministry of Education sent Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, the province has revoked approval for quadmestering in high schools in non-designated boards.
The Ministry is now asking boards to implement octomestering, where students study one subject all day, every day for five weeks, then write an exam. The year will be broken into eight segments.
In the previously planned quadmestering model, students would have studied two subjects per day over ten weeks, with four segments in the year. Conventionally, high school students take four subjects per day, with two semesters in the year.
According to Krishna Burra, Director of Limestone District School Board, (LDSB) the model was revised to ensure student contacts are kept to a minimum.
The change affects all students grade 9 to 12, whether they have opted for remote or in-class learning.
Burra said each block will include 300 instructional minutes per day for 23 days, with the final day designated for culminating activities or exams.
“Students will still attempt four credits between September and January as they would under a normal semester system,” he said. “Breaks and lunches will be staggered throughout the day, based on school timetables.”
David DeSantis, Director of Education for Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, also released a statement.
“I want to emphasize that all updates, changes and information shared is done in support of our top priority, which is the health and safety of all students, staff and community members,” DeSantis said. “ALCDSB feels that limiting movement even more to one classroom and one subject per day is a safer, better alternative.”
Change presents new challenges
The change raises a number of new questions and concerns for school staff and students.
“Boards went through all the planning and had everything ready to go when the Ministry released this,” said one teacher who contacted the Kingstonist, and wishes to remain anonymous.
“It won’t be teaching. It will just be credit mills. There will be no retention of information, no natural progression of skills,” the teacher said. “Students are expected to learn the entire curriculum in five weeks and then apply that?”
The change also raises questions about when teachers will schedule the prep time, including supply teachers.
“If teachers have third period prep then they won’t be teaching all of November and part of December. What are they going to do?” the teacher said. “What about supply teachers? You expect supply teachers, many of them older and retired teachers, to accept calls when they’ll be working all day with no prep or break?”
Burra noted the change was a required adjustment, by Ministry of Education mandate.
“I know this is an unexpected and late change,” he said. “I assure you that board and school staff are working diligently to respond and adapt to evolving guidance to maximize safety for our students and staff. Secondary schools will be reaching out directly to families to communicate school-specific changes to timetables and school routines.”
School reopening begins in the Kingston area on Thursday, Sep. 3, 2020. Students have been out of the classroom since mid-March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.