Classes ready for students

Major upgrades done to facilities over the summer holidays

It’s back to the books Tuesday and students throughout the Vernon School District will be returning to schools that have been cleaned up, polished and upgraded.

“Our guys have been very busy all summer,” said district superintendent Bev Rundell.

“It’s like a triage unit — once students are out of the classroom, our maintenance staff gets in and begins the work, with our custodial staff doing the clean-up.”

Interior upgrades have taken place throughout the district, including new coats of paint at BX, Okanagan Landing, Kidston and Ellison; roofing at J.W. Inglis, Charles Bloom, Lavington and BX; mechanical upgrades to the fire alarm system at Ellison; flooring at BX, Ellison, Fulton, Harwood, Hillview, Mission Hill, Okanagan Landing, Silver Star and Kidston; exterior painting at Bloom, Inglis and Ellison, and lighting upgrades at Silver Star.

“And they’ve done a great job on the parking lot at Okanagan Landing, layered it, paved it and put curbs in,” said Rundell.

And while the new Vernon secondary isn’t quite ready to open its doors, Rundell said it will be worth the wait.

“We’ve done a tour and it is gorgeous,” she said. “We’re anticipating a move-in over the Christmas holidays.

“Originally we thought we would be ready in September, but there were some issues that pushed it back. But even though it’s behind schedule, we are so thrilled with how it’s turning out.”

Once it opens, the old building will be torn down to make way for playing fields and a parking lot.

And while it’s difficult to confirm enrolment before the start of the school year, Rundell said the district is projecting numbers at 7,891 students from kindergarten to Grade 12, with another 200 full-time students enrolled in alternate and continuing education programs. About 170 international students are enrolled in the district, travelling from around the world to attend school in the area.

“We’re hoping to meet our projections but we’re unsure until the first week of school how many students we’ll have registered,” said Rundell.

“But early indications in some of our schools are that we are pretty full, especially at Coldstream and BX.

“And secondary schools seem to have a lot of new registration, so I’m hoping we’ll have an increase there. Schools have been busy registering new students, and of course there are always families who move out of the area, so we’ll have a better idea once school starts.”

With the teachers’ job action that began last September across the province, it was a difficult start to the school year. But with the signing of a new collective agreement, Rundell said there is room for optimism.

“I am feeling optimistic, but I always feel that way at the beginning of the school year,” said Rundell. “Last year was such a difficult year for all of us, so having the collective agreement settled means everyone is feeling good.”

The new president of the Vernon Teachers’ Association said teachers are looking forward to getting back into the classroom and doing what they love.

“It’s always an exciting time, with kids coming back to school, teachers are excited to be back with the kids, setting up their rooms,” said Kevin Bader.

“They’ve been in all summer in some cases, planning activities and getting ready because helping kids and heading back into the classroom is what it’s all about.”

And it’s with a sense of optimism that teachers are heading back into the classroom after the year-long job action that saw teachers asking for the provincial government to address the issue of class size and composition.

“Last year was a rough year,” said Bader. “On one hand we signed a new agreement; on the other hand, it did not address our No. 1 issue, how big classes can be and how we can combine all of the different kids with all of the different needs into the same classroom.”

Still undecided, said Bader, is whether or not teachers will be volunteering for extra-curricular activities.

Teachers made the decision to suspend their volunteer roles in running school clubs and coaching sports teams during the labour dispute.

“Individual teachers will make that decision,” he said.

“Extracurricular activity is about a child’s development, and teachers are the kind of people who love to volunteer and love to work with kids.”

Meanwhile, Bader is heading into the 2012/13 school year with mixed feelings, as it’s the first time in 14 years that he won’t be in the classroom.

“I’m having a hard time,” said Bader, a Grade 6/7 teacher at Hillview elementary who has taken over the VTA president’s post from Bruce Cummings.

“I want to visit with some of my kids — I don’t want to lose contact with that, having worked directly with kids for the last 14 years.”