In many ways, it was a normal first day of school in the North Okanagan-Shuswap – excited children, packed parking lots, reunited friends, new classrooms, new school supplies, busy teachers.
In other ways, it was not. Along with starting three weeks later than usual, teachers had less time for preparation. And for all involved, there was the aftertaste of a long and generally dissatisfying labour dispute that affected so many in different ways.
“Teachers are no doubt pleased to be back doing the jobs they like. It was a quick start, probably some bumps in the road out there setting up classrooms, which causes some stress,” said Brenda O’Dell, president of the North Okanagan-Shuswap Teachers Association.
Morale of teachers has undoubtedly been affected, she says. Voting to ratify the deal was a difficult decision for many.
“It’s not the deal they were hoping for. Or why they gave up their pay for five weeks. We were hoping for more supports for students and we really won’t be seeing much change,” said O’Dell.
“We will continue to advocate for a strong public education system that’s properly funded, and encourage parents to get involved, to talk to their children’s teachers about their classroom circumstances – and continue to support us in trying to get the funding we need to do the jobs that we do.”
Glenn Borthistle, North Okanagan-Shuswap School District superintendent, said the first day of school was predictably hectic, because it’s always uncertain how many students will show up.
There was good news in preliminary numbers, with 23 more elementary students – kindergarten to Grade 7 – showing up district-wide than did in September last year.
At the secondary level, student numbers were expected to be down about 100, which they are – although they’re not yet final.
“We appear to be on projection for secondary,” said Borthistle.
School district enrolment has been in decline for a number of years and is still about three years from levelling off.
With regard to staffing and class size, Borthistle said the district always holds back some staffing to see where the needs are once school starts.
“We were able to add in three divisions to meet immediate needs. Our class sizes are within our guidelines,” he said, adding there are still a couple of positions to be filled. Those generally come from people who may have been laid off, haven’t been placed or teachers on call.
Regarding morale, Borthistle said it’s difficult to say.
“I think teachers have been focused on just getting back in their classes, I think all teachers are excited to be back, whether they supported the deal or not. I think there’s a pretty universal feeling, teachers are glad to be back in the classroom and doing what they love to do – teaching.”
He said it’s generally been a very challenging time leading up to the school opening.
“It’s a time of rebuilding relationships and building trust,” he said.
“We have an excellent relationship with our teachers in this district but it’s been a very challenging time for everybody.”