The Surrey Teachers’ Association is calling on the school board to reconsider a “regressive” decision they say will reduce the level of library services available to young students.
This is because teacher-librarians are being called upon to cover the additional prep time allotted for elementary school teachers, starting in September, without any new staff being hired.
The new collective agreement, ratified in December, includes 10 extra minutes of preparation time to be added for elementary school teachers, bringing the weekly allotment to 120 minutes – a number, the STA notes, that is still below the national average.
The additional funding from the Ministry of Education and Child Care to staff the increase in prep time will be coming to all school districts for the fall term.
However, the extra time for Grades 1 to 3 classroom teachers will be covered by teacher-librarians in Surrey, who have two general roles; one is to teach primary students while their classroom teachers do prep work and the other is flexible time where they collaborate with teachers to plan lessons, work in the library and co-teach.
Without increasing staffing – and while the district is experiencing a shortage of teacher-librarians in elementary schools – this will take them away from their core duties for longer periods of time, impacting older students’ library use especially, Lizanne Foster, first vice president of the STA told Peace Arch News.
The STA would prefer to see the extra time allotted to music teacher staffing.
“Because there had been so many cuts to music teachers in elementary schools, our idea was… you (the district) made the cuts because you don’t have enough money. But now you’re getting money, you can restore what you cut from music teachers,” Foster said.
There are currently 34 teacher vacancies at elementary schools in the district, with 18 of those positions being for specialist teachers, including music teachers and teacher-librarians, the district confirmed.
Hiring more staff has been an ongoing goal as the province experiences a teacher shortage, said Ritinder Matthew, communications representative for the Surrey School District.
“We know that hiring a large number of specialized teachers by September wouldn’t have been feasible, given the rapid growth that our district is experiencing, as well as the shortage of teachers in this province,” she said.
School board chair Laurie Larsen and vice chair Gary Tymoschuk were not available for interviews.
Following news of the new funding, the district turned to the STA and other groups to hear their ideas.
Foster said they were thrilled to be asked, but excitement turned to disappointment when they learned how the money was to be allocated.
Matthew said several options were considered before the decision was made.
“The district told us they are making this decision because finding additional music teachers would be challenging,” STA president Jatinder Bir said in a news release.
“The truth is that many qualified music teachers in Surrey are not currently teaching music because they cannot find full-time music assignments. Increasing music teacher entitlement would make the position of elementary music teacher much more appealing to qualified music teachers. Retention must be about more than just numbers; it must also be about creating positions that teachers want to be in.”
The amount of time teacher-librarians will get to spend collaborating with teachers and library administration will be about 50 per cent of their schedules, Matthew said.
Foster highlighted how much libraries have evolved in the last few years and the integral role that teacher-librarians hold in schools.
“It is very disappointing that this incredible work by our teacher-librarians has been recognized nationally but does not seem to be valued by our school board,” Bir said.
Teacher-librarians in Surrey were recognized last fall for their work with a national award from Canadian School Libraries. The work these educators did to be recognized may not be possible next year, Foster said.
“The library is a safe space for so many children. It’s used often by the marginalized and traumatized kids, even in high schools… this is when these kids just blossom.”
The STA adds that teacher-librarians are not just responsible for book exchanges, but also allow students to develop skills in technology, robotics, applied design, media literacy, research, equity initiatives such as race and ability and more.
“In the past, the excuse was we didn’t have enough funds, which absolutely, we don’t have enough money. This time, they have the money to do this. They are choosing not to use the money in the way that it was intended. That’s the problem,” Foster said.
“The colourful libraries will go to shades of gray.
“As teachers, we always live in hope that things can change and we are devastated by this so we are still hoping there is another way.”
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