Regular four-class semesters will be reinstated across all TLDSB secondary schools in February, says the board’s director of education Wes Hahn. The decision was announced Dec. 9, with Hahn providing additional details at a Dec. 14 organizational meeting of the board.
He said strong vaccination rates of secondary school students was a key factor, with a significant number of the board’s Grade 9-12 student body having received a first and/or second dose of the vaccine.
While students have been engaged in the quadmester system since September, Hahn noted co-horting at the secondary level has not been taking place.
Students have been mixing, and participating in extracurricular activities – sometimes with students from other schools and boards.
Despite this level of interaction, TLDSB has had only five cases of COVID-19 across its seven secondary schools and six alternative and adult education centres between Sept. 1 and Dec. 14. Superintendent Kim Williams said principals and teachers have been engaging with students since the start of the year over the pros and cons of the quadmester system. “While many students enjoyed quadmesters, many others preferred the semester system where they could spend more time learning key concepts to help with the retention of material for future use. The benefit of having more time to learn and retain information was echoed by teachers and principals,” Williams said.
“Our principals work with students and staff every day in our schools. They believe the semester system is best for student learning.”
A quadmester is a condensed schedule where students participate in two classes daily over a 44-day period. Regular semesters see students engaged in four classes over the course of several months. Haliburton trustee Gary Brohman supported the decision.
“I think students in Grade 9 and 10 that have never felt semestering will love it. They will feel it’s like a high school,” Brohman said. Williams noted lockers will be made available to secondary school students beginning Feb. 7.
Despite challenges over the past 12 months, Hahn said TLDSB had made “great strides” on several fronts in 2021.
Continued investment in technology ensured all students from Grade 7 to 12 had access to a device they could take home for virtual learning, while around $17 million has been spent bringing school facilities up to new health and safety standards, with the installation of HEPA filters in classrooms and improvements to central ventilation systems taking centre stage.
TLDSB’s four-year graduation rate increased by one per cent, while the graduation rate for students enrolled in “specialist majors” increased from 48 per cent in 2019/20 to 58 per cent in 2020/21.
Each department head provided updates, with Williams saying the board is expecting to see a decrease in credit accumulation rates for students from Grades 9 to 11. “Despite a strong start, students struggled as the year ran on and COVID fatigue settled in,” Williams said.
“Although we have a number of credit shy Grade 9 and 10 students, we are confident we will be able to help them graduate on time through programs like School Them in a College, dual-credits, specialist high skills majors, Ontario Youth Apprenticeships and summer school co-op.”
Hahn said the board has yet to receive any information from the ministry regarding potential school closures in the wake of a fifth COVID-19 wave.
The provincial government announced new restrictions Dec. 17, with the number of daily cases exceeding 4,000 for the first time since April.
The Omicron variant, considered to be a super spreader by health care professionals, is prevalent in many parts of the province, including the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district. Should there be any changes to the school schedule, Hahn said TLDSB staff will be ready. “If there are changes over the holidays, as we have done in the past, we will take a very measured approach to allowing people to come back into the building, get what they need to ensure we can start up in a different mode of learning,” Hahn said.
“There is no panic here. We are going to continue on in the way we’re doing things right now, and hoping we will be back in-person after the holidays. But if there are changes, we are ready to go.”