DSBN head office, St. Catharines. SUPPLIED

Additional teachers hired to reduce elementary class sizes

If you have been languishing as a teacher on the District School Board of Niagara’s “supply” list, chances are you just received an “occasional” contract. Not a guarantee of long-term employment, but at least a foot-in-the-door.

In a recent media statement the DSBN announced the hiring of up to 70 teachers to address the need to reduce class sizes in the elementary panel for the coming school year.

“Their tenure will be a reflection of the needs of their school,” said DSBN Communications Officer Carolyn LoConte.

The hirings are being financed through the release of $4.5 million of the board’s accumulated surplus fund.

The statement quoted Sue Barnett, DSBN Chair, saying, “Safety is our top concern, and the pandemic has presented us with unique challenges. By using the accumulated surplus funds to hire more staff, we anticipate we will be able to decrease class sizes by three to four students. We feel this is an important way to support our students.”

This funding is separate from the federal and provincial funding that the school board has already received.

Warren Hoshizaki, the DSBN Director of Education, noted in the statement that public secondary schools in the region will be capped at 15- student classes (as provincially mandated), while elementary grade classes will see a reduction of three or four students from previous estimates. Expect average class sizes of 22 in Kindergarten, 17 in Grades 1 through 3, and 20-25 students in Grades 4 through 8.

For those students attending classes in person, enhanced cleaning schedules have been developed, and classrooms have been organized to support physical distancing via the removal and spacing of desks. Signage has been posted in all schools to reinforce safe separation, proper hygiene practices, and directional flow in hallways. Visitor restriction in schools is also in place.

A staggered start to classroom attendance was to start yesterday, September 8, with virtual, online learning for both elementary and secondary schools kicking in the same day. Approximately 80% of DSBN students will be returning to the classroom.

Pelham’s DSBN trustee, Nancy Beamer, confirmed to the Voice that “all three Pelham schools will have staffing enhancements to support in-class learning.”

Principals at A.K. Wigg, Glynn A Green, and E. L. Crossley declined to comment, instead referring inquiries to the DSBN communications department.

The Niagara Catholic District School Board is also planning to reduce class sizes. It’s in-class participation rate should approximate that of the DSBN.

Despite the efforts of the Ford government to equip Ontario schools appropriately in these pandemic times, the four provincial teacher unions have filed appeals with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, arguing that safety precautions in place are insufficient to adequately protect teachers and students.

The Premier defended his plan at a daily media briefing, saying it’s been approved by experts, including the province’s Chief Medical Cfficer of Health.

“I’m always going to listen to the doctors,” said Ford. “I’m not going to listen to the head of the unions that are playing politics.”