Fort High teachers will return to coaching sports and heading other extra-curricular activities this school year after receiving less required teaching time from the provincial government in their schedules this summer.
In early August, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation announced teachers again would have time to devote towards extra-curricular activities after Education minister Janet Ecker agreed to trim their teaching requirements from 6.5 classes out of eight to six out of eight.
Ed Ojala, president of OSSTF 5B (which includes Fort Frances, Rainy River, and Atikokan), said the change is a big difference—noting preparation time the teachers had to put in last year made responsibilities closer to seven classes a year.
“Our aim was to get teachers back to a reasonable workload. The positive side is having time for other things such as sports,” he said.
But community coaches who volunteered their time to save high school sports last year still will be welcome with open arms, said Greg Ste. Croix, co-athletic director at Fort High.
“At the present time, teachers are returning to join as coaches [but] community involvement is still strong,” he said. “The teachers that coach and those who volunteer have a passion for the sport and hopefully we’ll continue that.”
Community coaches met with Ste. Croix and FFHS co-athletic director Darren Johnson last Thursday to discuss the parameters of the agreement.
“We were just being informed which ones would be court supporters,” said Mike Busch, who volunteered to guide the Muskie junior girls’ and senior boys’ basketball teams.
“To keep each other informed and what we expected this season.”
Teachers decided they could not take part in extra-curricular activities under the direction of the OSSTF last summer.
Community coaches helped turn a potentially empty sports season into one with stellar results. For instance, Busch and Paul Noonan (senior boys’ basketball) and Adrian Chapman (senior girls’ volleyball) lead their respective teams to the all-Ontarios.
Busch said there are no plans that call for community coaches to withdraw their role with a team.
“[The teachers] didn’t say they didn’t want community coaches. They’re trying to work with us,” he noted. “They realized we were very successful.
“There was no pressure to move us out [after the decision].”
But former FFHS athletic director Rick Wiedenhoeft, who now teaches at the alternative ed. school and will return to coach the Muskie senior girls’ volleyball team, said the future of high school sports would look bleak if teachers could not have coached for more than one year.
“It was a touchy situation because we wanted programs to continue. If the community coaches were just a stop-gap solution, then we’d run into long-term problems.
“We were fortunate in that a lot of community coaches intended to stay for the long run.”
He added the return of teachers will only make programs that much stronger and healthier for students.
“I don’t think it’s a question of stability but one of continuity and consistency,” Wiedenhoeft reasoned. “With teachers involved, it will be a lot easier for community coaches to get active with what’s going on in the schools.”
Meanwhile, Ojala said things hopefully will carry on as they have in the past—something he’s already seen firsthand in Atikokan.
“It will always be their choice if they want to volunteer,” he noted. “We’ve seen several teachers started to re-volunteer their time.”
Last week, the Lakehead Public School Board in Thunder Bay also announced its teachers would have a lightened workload this school year, reviving teacher-run programs that had been dormant for a year-and-a-half.
But nothing has been made official yet, noted SSSAA past-president Kathy Clouthier.
Wiedenhoeft said he isn’t sure how things will pan out across Ontario.
“I don’t know what the situation across the province is like. Each board settled with a local negotiating team,” he explained. “I don’t know if this is going to be consistent across the province.”