Palsson Elementary School principal Jann Drake was on hand to welcome back students for their first day of school on Monday. This will be the last year that Jann will be able to greet the students on the beginning of a new school year as she is set to retire in December.

Back to school a welcome relief for all

Lake Cowichan students head back to class after teachers settle their dispute with the province

Monday marked the first day back to school after the months-long strike and lockout of B.C. teachers.

“I’m pretty excited,” says Donelle Eaton, a Grade 10 student in Lake Cowichan. “I was getting pretty bored at home so I’m actually kind of excited to do school work.”

The return to routine is a welcome relief for all sides of the issue.

“It’s great that they’re back. I’ve got three kids,” says parent Mark Rowbottom. “I just hope it doesn’t affect their learning because of the time lost. I just hope the teachers got a fair deal.”

The past six months have been filled with controversy for the province’s teachers, but last week an agreement was reached between the teachers and the province.

“Without knowing the particulars of the agreement, I somehow feel they probably still got robbed in the deal,” says Rowbottom.

Education representatives were diplomatic about the agreement.

“There was give and take on both sides,” says Chris Rolls, president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers’ Association.

But Rolls feels the government distracted the public from the main issues of the debate.

The real issue was never about teachers’ wages and benefits, explains Rolls, who has been an educator for 30 years. Teachers wanted to raise awareness about class size and composition, two topics that have concerned educators for years now.

The current agreement lasts for five years. Teacher salaries increased marginally, but they gave up the inflation increase, meaning that teachers’ wages were not increased enough to account for the cost of inflation over the next five years.

This means that the value of a teacher’s salary will go down in the next five years as the cost of living rises.

“Did we get what we want? No. Did we get what we need for our kids? No. But what we got is a good starting point,” says Rolls.

And what the teachers got, among other things, was a promise that the government would hear again in coming years the issues which teachers were fighting to make heard — class size and composition.

As parents, children and educators know, class size has been increasing over the past years due to budget cuts.

With those increases, there is often an increase of special needs which may or may not be recognized in students. Schools don’t currently have the resources to give each student the attention they deserve.

It is these two main issues that the teachers were really fighting to bring awareness to, explains Rolls.

With the new agreement, it means they can continue to discuss these problems.

As well, the new agreement provides $75 million province-wide for schools to dedicate to hiring new teachers.

“That was one thing from the agreement that we appreciate,” says Rolls. “I’m eager to see how this year is going to change and how many teachers get hired.”

In the end, Rolls says that a lot of really good things happened for children in the lake communities, and the most important thing was the community spirit.

“We greatly appreciate all of the people that showed their support,” says Rolls. “It goes a long way to making us feel like we were doing the right thing and fighting for our kids.”

Rolls voices what every parent and educator knows.

“It’s the kids that come first.”