South Peace seeing smaller classes, but class composition still an issue for teachers

Sawchuk said during a special school board meeting on Wednesday afternoon that the average size of classrooms in all grade levels from Kindergarten to Grade 12 in the district are below the thresholds mandated by the provincial government. She said there are four classes in the entire district with more than 30 students – all at the two campuses of Dawson Creek Secondary school, and all have 31 students.

How those provincially-mandated averages are arrived at though, the district management could not answer. Assistant superintendent Rob Dennis said while administrators and teachers generally agree that classroom size limits are needed to create a proper learning environment, what those limits should be is a contentious issue and one subject to ongoing debate. Sawchuk added she was not aware of any scientific research indicating what an optimal class size should be.  

Sawchuk said there are 41 classes in the district that have more than three students with an individualized education plan (IEP), indicating those students have special education needs identified by the provincial government. She said that number doesn’t reflect the actual number of students with those designations because each class those students attend will report individually.

She said classes that have students with IEPs are resourced with support staff who assist those students in the classroom but are not assigned to specific students.

Lorraine Mackay, president of the Peace River South Teachers’ Association, said while she is satisfied with the district’s management of classroom size, she does have an issue with class composition, namely the number of students in one class that do not meet the provincial criteria for an IEP, but do require teacher’s to adapt or modify their curriculums because of special learning needs.

“We recognize that special needs children are in our classes, and they deserve a spot in our classes and we are certainly happy to have them there, but we need the resources behind that and provincially that is not happening,” said Mackay.

She added there are no longer the ratios of special needs teachers and support staff to students as there was in the past.

“We have certainly seen a loss of those jobs since 2002, and I think it really is affecting the quality of service that students are getting.”

Sawchuk said school administrators would inform district management if there was a classroom composition they felt was inappropriate for learning, and that has not occurred this year. Dennis added there is funding provided by the provincial government to address learning needs for those students who are not given IEPs, and he said as with class size, there is no “gold standard” for classroom composition.

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