Sooke School District finds creative ways to accommodate new class sizes

An additional 28 portables may be needed next fall across the West Shore and Sooke

Portable classrooms

The Sooke School District will see more classes filled with students in September, and it’s not just because of population growth on the West Shore.

A Supreme Court ruling that effectively lowered the maximum number of students per class has caused the district to find creative ways to redistribute the student population next school year.

Superintendent Jim Cambridge estimates the district will need an additional 28 portables to accommodate a combination of lower class sizes and new students.

“It’s basically two elementary schools,” he said of the extra classroom space, adding “we anticipate an additional 310 kids next year.” He noted the district is looking to the provincial government to cover these additional costs. “Hopefully we’ll find out at the end of the month.”

But the district isn’t just using portables to address the impending space shortage.

“Royal Bay (secondary) is giving up their staff room,” Cambridge said, adding it’s roughly the size of a classroom. Other spaces currently being used by high school teachers for prep periods will also be converted to full-time classrooms. “We’ll (also) be looking at eliminating elementary school computer labs, where necessary, and turning them back into classrooms,” he said.

While many adults have fond memories of computer labs during their elementary school years, Cambridge noted the concept is dated and no longer very practical. “We’d rather have the technology in the hands of the kids in the classroom … Kids should have access to technology when they need it.”

Looking ahead, the district is also considering boundary adjustments to redraw catchment areas. With demographics constantly changing in neighbourhoods, Cambridge said, this will alleviate pressure on some schools by shifting some of the student body to under-utilized schools.

Before this happens, however, public consultation will allow parents to weigh in.

With more classes comes the need for more teachers. In February the district hired roughly 20 educators using interim funding from the province. Cambridge expects another 10 to 15 will be needed.

As a result, there’s more need for support and administrative staff. “Custodians now have to clean those extra classrooms (as well),” he said. “All of those supports need to be in place.”

Earlier this month, B.C. teachers accepted a deal with the province to end a 15-year battle over bargaining rights. The vote came months after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a provincial law blocking teachers’ ability to bargain on class size was unconstitutional.

At the time of that ruling, B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Glen Hansman estimated it would cost between $250 and $300 million per year to bring in the additional resources. While the Ministry of Education has yet to release details of what that will look like, Cambridge is hopeful there will be funding for elementary teacher librarians, something he said has been underfunded in previous years.

“It’ll be great to see that return,” he said.

katie@goldstreamgazette.com

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