ROCKY VIEW— Adjusting to the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic Rocky View Schools’ teachers are moving out of the classroom and signing-in online.
Educators have received an added challenge due to the provincial government’s announcement of the reduction of school boards’ instructional and transportation grants for the remaining school year.
In a press release sent out on Thursday (April 9) Rocky View School board said it will be decreasing its operating budget by $5.03 million to match the government cuts— this includes a reduction of $3.46 million in staffing costs and $1.57 million in transportation costs beginning in the spring.
These cuts will include ending 50 support staff temporary contracts and the temporary layoff of 240 support staff effective May 10. Funds originally allocated for substitute teachers will also be repurposed.
Those included in the layoffs are select Education Centre support staff, school-based learning commons staff and receptionists.
Laid off staff will have the option to retain their health, dental, long-term disability and life insurance with the board paying the premiums.
Rocky View Schools estimates that 50 per cent of learning assistants will be retained to help facilitate online student learning.
The outbreak has challenged educators to adopt a very different way of teaching, said RancheView School principal Sharon Cronin in a statement, but the transition has been aided by educators' pre-existing relationships with students and families.
“This pandemic has empowered our teachers to rise above and beyond. At home, learning has never been something that any of the teachers anticipated planning for and here we are in the middle of the second week of providing lesson plans for our learners,” Cronin said. “Every teacher knows that relationships are foundational to any connection with students and families.”
The top priority for teachers remains the social and emotional well-being of students, she said, and teachers have developed at-home learning plans with this in mind.
Teachers are offering personalized phone calls, video chats and virtual wellness rooms to ensure students have the social and emotional supports they need.
Students are being asked to “do what you can” as classes are moved online with aid and guidance from their teachers. Cronin added that teachers are working to foster opportunities for parental supports to help students with online learning.
Teachers will be offering academic support to families during their office hours that reflect a regular school day, Cronin said.
Schools have also provided technology to families needing a device to ensure no interruption in learning occurs.
“I am proud of how our staff have stepped up at this difficult time to help provide some normalcy for our learners,” Cronin said.
The RancheView classrooms are now empty and it has been challenging losing the daily face-to-face interactions with students, Cronin said, but the entire community is adjusting to the new normal during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
For now, Cronin said she is looking forward to when the school can be reopened for students.
“I am incredibly proud of the efforts of all Rocky View Schools staff, who has demonstrated resiliency throughout this pandemic,” superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach said in a statement. “They have quickly pivoted to a different delivery method while working hard to ensure that relationships and wellness stay at the forefront.”
Students will have access to flexible weekly learning plans, he said, and almost all Grade 10 to 12 options will be able to continue after the spring break.
Rocky View School Board of Trustees chair Fiona Gilbert said in a statement administration has put a learning continuity plan in place for students that are designed to be flexible for staff, students and families during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The system-wide plan will ensure students can continue their education across Rocky View Schools and keep connected with their peers and teachers.
The top priority of Rocky View remains the health and safety of students and staff, Gilbert said.
“Rocky View School remains committed to providing meaningful learning opportunities for our students, and services to our families during these unprecedented times,” she said. “We value each staff member and are saddened by these temporary layoffs— We look forward to having our full team back when school reopens, and students return.”