MHCBE weighs benefits of November break, late start to school year

At the regularly scheduled board meeting of the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education on Tuesday, there was extensive discussion about the 2023-24 calendar.

From feedback received, three themes emerged: Start the school year for students after the long weekend, continue with the November weeklong break and coordinate the school year with Medicine Hat Public School Division No. 76.

To meet the required number of instructional days in the first semester, it’s not possible to meet all the requirements. The board was presented with two draft calendars for 2023-24, one starting after September long weekend and the second with the November break.

Neither No. 76 or Prairie Rose have finalized the 2023-24 school calendars, but both are leaning toward cancelling the November break and starting after the long weekend again.

“It was very difficult to meet all the asks of the stakeholders and still have enough instructional days in semester 1 with all the complications of school start-up,” said MHCBE deputy superintendent Chuck Hellman. “Approximately 68 per cent of comments made were positive for having that full week off in November.”

Principals reported the week off in November helped the entire school reset. Energy tends to get lower about halfway through the semester for both teachers and students and the week off enabled everyone to recharge.

Chair Kathy Glasgo thinks the November break trumps the September long weekend.

“Teachers I’ve heard from, they love the November break. It’s right around report card time. It’s just such a huge rest and in the summer, they don’t like going back before the long weekend; however, they’ve had the summer,” said Glasgo. “I would always be in favour of the weeklong November break.”

Superintendent Dwayne Zarichny told the board that feedback received from parent council associations points to starting school after the September long weekend as the top issue for them.

“Parents for the most part don’t like the November break,” said Zarichny. “It may be something we look at to try and balance.”

A draft of the 2024-25 calendar was also presented and input received from the schools indicated it was too early to be planning two years in advance. MHCBE had reasons for that around international education, along with many parents needing to know dates so they can plan child care and holidays.

The motion was made to accept the calendar with the full November break for 2023-24 and to table the calendar for the 2024-25 school year until more feedback is received. The motion was passed with only one trustee opposed.

SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News