Two new portables were recently moved onto the grounds of Millstream Elementary School in Langford. (Kendra Wong/News Gazette staff)

Sooke School District enrolment higher than anticipated

Space especially tight at high schools in SD62

Enrolment numbers in the Sooke School District are higher than anticipated but the exact figures will have to be determined later in the fall.

“Right now it’s very tight, particularly at the high schools … It’s higher than we projected,” said SD62 superintendent Jim Cambridge. “But we’re not sure what that will look like … We never really know.”

With new enrolments during the summer and other students moving or changing schools, Cambridge noted the District will not be able to determine the exact number of students until after classes have begun.

SD62 has also had to accommodate the addition of roughly 30 classrooms for the new school year because of changes to class size regulations paired with the expected growth on the West Shore.

“It was like building two new elementary schools over the summer but spreading it out over 15 sites,” Cambridge said, adding staff have worked incredibly hard during the summer break to make sure these new classrooms will be ready for the first day of school.

The last of 19 portables were installed this week. In addition to those structures, the district also converted 10 computer labs and three other rooms into classrooms to accommodate the need. Now, staff are just finalizing the needed permits and adding furniture and teacher supplies to the spaces.

“It’s actually worked out well,” Cambridge said. “Overall, I’d say it was a success.”

The computer labs that were repurposed came out of elementary schools, where Cambridge noted they were not needed. Instead of following an old model where computer labs were approached in a similar fashion as going to the library or the gymnasium, he said they’ve shifted their approach to mobile labs, where technology is available in the classroom.

“Kids have access to technology at home, they should have it there in the classroom when they need it,” he said.

Instead of out-dated desktop computers, students will now have portable devices. “It’s the access to information that’s important,” Cambridge added.

SD62, along with other districts across the province, are working to implement new staff levels determined by an agreement reached with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation before the May election.

The B.C. Liberal government signed a deal in March providing $330 million to fund 2,600 new teacher positions, to comply with a November 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that ended a 15-year court battle over contract language governing class size and special needs support ratios.

Cambridge noted the Sooke School District filled most of its teaching positions back in the spring, before the funding had even come through. He added one of the reasons they were so successful in hiring is because the region and the Island are such desirable places to live.

Related: Rural teachers make exodus to urban areas

The court case cost the B.C. government $2.6 million in legal costs. The settlement is to provide a system to carry the province’s public school system to 2019, when the current teacher contract must be renegotiated.

The B.C. education ministry issued a statement last week saying progress is being made to hire teachers to meet the agreement reached between the former government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

“We’ve been advised that most school districts are successfully hiring the teachers they need to be in compliance with the [agreement] with the BCTF – and also to meet local enrolment growth,” the ministry said. “However, there are some recruitment and retention challenges, especially for specialist positions and replenishing teacher-on-call lists. The challenges become more acute in rural and remote areas, where it can be difficult to attract and retain staff.”

When the agreement with the union was reached, the ministry established a $2 million fund for rural and remote school districts to help recruit and retain teachers. The agreement also includes alternatives when a district can’t meet the restored teacher contract provisions that were removed by legislation in 2002.

Teachers can agree to take additional preparation time, extra teaching support or other forms of assistance, if approved by them and their union local.

Under the School Act, B.C.’s 60 school districts are responsible for all recruitment and hiring.

New to the Sooke School District?

You can register your child online at registration.sd62.bc.ca or you can register directly at your neighbourhood school beginning on Monday, Aug. 28 until Friday Sept. 1, from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

The first day of school is Tuesday, Sept. 5 with all schools in session for a half day with the exception of Kindergarten programs. The first day for Kindergarten students will be Wednesday, Sept. 13 with orientation sessions that will be schedule through the schools.

Classroom vacancies will not be known until after the first day of school so children new to the district may not be placed until Sept. 7 or 8. For more information go to sd62.bc.ca.

With files from Tom Fletcher

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

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