Principal Tom Aerts of Oak Bay High. Aerts is new to the school this year, an added challenge in preparing the strict regime for high school during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

New principal leads COVID-19 school year at Oak Bay High

Small cohorts, masks and sanitizer mark start of school

When Oak Bay High students arrive this week it will be a different experience.

Expect masks, directional arrows, designated doors and a lot of handwashing and sanitizing, said new Oak Bay High principal Tom Aerts, who comes over from Reynolds secondary following the retirement of Randi Falls.

Among the changes at Oak Bay High is a switch to a quarterly semester system, which all high schools are doing. It’s part of a rigorous health and safety regime that students and staff will experience starting Sept. 10. The Greater Victoria School District guidelines dictate a daily cleaning of class areas. Frequently-touched surfaces such as door knobs and light switches, will be cleaned twice or more every 24 hours.

Aerts arrives after seven years as principal of Reynolds, six years as principal at Cedar Hill middle school, and stints as vice principal at Vic High and Arbutus middle school before that.

He will oversee Oak Bay High’s transition from being one of the last high schools to use the linear system in B.C., where students attended up to five classes a day, and studied all eight courses throughout the year.

“In the quarter system there are two classes per quarter, so it minimizes the exposure students will face while at school,” Aerts said.

Students could have a cohort of up to 24 in a traditional class like English.

READ ALSO: Retiring in style, Oak Bay High celebrates with big sendoff

Students will follow strict routines. They’ll start in small groups with transition workshops on Sept. 10 and 11. Teachers will use the two-day delay to report for training sessions on the new system Sept. 8 and 9.

If students do end up missing more classes than normal, it could add stress to the student’s workload and for teachers trying to keep students on track. For now, missed classes are something the school will wait-and-see before adjusting, Aerts said.

Each student will have a designated entrance and exit, depending on what group they are in. All students will use hand sanitizer upon entering the building and, Oak Bay High is “lucky” to have sinks in most classrooms so students can be expected to wash their hands upon entering and exiting, Aerts noted.

READ MORE: Oak Bay Grade 8 students end time at Monterey with drive-through goodbyes

“It is mandatory that students and staff self-check their health every day before coming to school, he said. Masks are to be worn at all times on campus until the students and teachers are in the classroom with their cohort. “There will be directional arrows on the floors much like any [grocery store] and a limit to how many people can be in a washroom.”

The benefit of the quarterly system is that in-class instruction is about 70 per cent of what it was in the linear system, Aerts said.

“There will be art, band, choir and dance, but unfortunately there won’t be any sports yet,” Aerts said.

The hope is that this year’s graduating class will be afforded traditional ceremonies as opposed to the non-traditional options schools and grad classes drummed up in June. It meant virtual grads, drive-through ceremonies, auto parades, and other variations.

“I feel sorry for the [2020] Grade 12s who didn’t get that normal graduation experience,” Aerts said. “Students were really understanding of the situation and they understood the big picture, and rose to the occasion.”

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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