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Province’s anticipated education announcement put on hold to put COVID-19 concerns first

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Because of the turmoil associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the unprecedented effect it has had on the Manitoba education system – among others – the Minister of Education Kelvin Goertzen assured Manitobans on Twitter last month that the ongoing K-12 Education Review that was due to be released at the end of March has been delayed to an unspecified time.
“We need teachers and education staff to be focused on the needs of their students at this time,” he said. “There are many excellent recommendations in the K-12 Commission report, but even excellent recommendations are difficult to implement in uncertain times.”
Goertzen added that, even once the report is released, the education department will not be implementing significant changes recommended in the report until at least summer of 2021.
The Swan Valley School Division (SVSD) was one of the progressive school divisions that reportedly made some strides during the public consultation process with the K-12 Education Review Commission last year.
“Some of our recommendations were vastly different from what other divisions have proposed,” said SVSD trustee Kelli Riehl, who was tasked with leading the charge on this front on behalf of the SVSD board and local education interests. “The SVSD was formed just over 50 years ago because of out-of-the-box and future oriented thinking, so the Board felt that if we want this Division to be able to continue for another 50 years, out-of-the-box and future oriented thinking was needed again.”
One of the debatably radical ideas that was proposed was a four-day school week.
“It’s not a new concept by any means,” said Riehl. “The initial thought may seem scary or daunting, but the benefits are many.
“After attending several of the public consultation workshops that were held in various centres around the province, altering the structure of the school year was discussed at all that I attended. This is not actually a change that would cost the taxpayer anything, and in fact, it would save money.”
Another idea that was proposed was the creation of an ‘urban living skills program’.
“For far too many rural students, attending any type of post-secondary programming is merely a dream that never becomes a reality and there are many reasons for this,” said Riehl. “Many of our students only experience the city while on school trips, and it may be very intimidating for a young citizen to leave the comfort of their rural upbringing to move to a larger centre. The world has changed.
“A program that would last a week, perhaps slightly longer, would take groups of youth to the city to teach them how to use public transportation, find an apartment, find a doctor or dentist, how to pay bills, investigate various school and programming options, and most importantly, where to go to find help when you need it. It’s really a small step that any naturally take for granted, but would be life changing for so many others.
“With an experience like this, suddenly, the city isn’t such a scary place,” Riehl continued. “This type of program exists in many First Nations communities already, and has seen much success.”
The most costly proposal that the SVSD put forth was a request for a student residence to be constructed to house students from other communities that chose to attend the SVRSS and enrol in any of the variety of vocational programs.
“We keep saying this over and over again, what we have at our high school is truly special,” said Riehl. “Nowhere in rural Manitoba will you find the variety of programming and first class facilities that we already have.
“With the steep decline in enrolment over the past years, we need to be able to keep our programs viable and our facilities used. (Student housing) would be a win-win situation. Students would have access to programming options, and our buildings would be a little fuller.
“Coinciding with the four-day school week, it would be possible for students to study in a particular area in blocks of a few weeks, with the extra day to return home if they so choose,” Riehl continued. “This would require new timetabling methods and, of course, the sorting out of logistical issues. Initially, this could prove tricky, but hardly impossible.”
Riehl added that, despite the unorthodox suggestions, the response to the proposals have been nothing but positive.
The thorough document that the SVSD submitted to the Commission included an overview of the Division, a detailed description of all 22 recommendations, several appendices containing pictures of the SVSD’s facilities and various programs, the 29 letters of support that community groups and individuals had written, and the petition that was placed around the Swan Valley containing just over 100 signatures.
“The petition was created to show opposition to the potential of large-scale amalgamation and the loss of locally elected school boards,” said Riehl.
A comprehensive summary supplied by the K-12 Education Review Commission is available at edu.gov.mb.ca/educationreview/briefs/index.html. The SVSD’s submission is listed as Brief 22, of the 62 submissions available there.

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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