Superintendent Dave Sloan says a “modest” increase in enrolment is expected for the 2013/2014 school year.
“Here it’s a growth economy,” he says. “Just have a look around town at the number of houses that are for sale and the amount of building that’s going on to know that people are coming to the northeast.”
Primary classrooms are likely to be “bursting at the seams”, while enrolment is still steady at middle schools and North Peace Secondary. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that class size limits will be pushed, as there are other ways to find room in schools and classrooms.
“Using spaces that aren’t always designated as classrooms, or using classrooms beyond and being innovative with their use,” Sloan suggest, giving the examples of multiple classes using a gym at once, or using specialty rooms like a band room for other purposes. Many former computer labs have already been taken over now that some schools are using laptops, and creating the Energetic Learning Campus at the Pomeroy Sport Centre also helped in that regard.
Despite those efforts, the inevitability of the district needing another school is fast approaching, and the replacement of École Central is past due. However, demonstrating the need to the Ministry of Education can be challenging.
“Every year it’s a discussion with the Ministry in terms of, we’re growing at this rate,” Sloan says. “We have projections through to 2025, and we know that sooner or later, we’re going to reach our maximum capacity. Right now the Ministry is still pointing to, ‘well you appear to have room,’.”
In the meantime, the challenge is determining where all the students live, for the possibility of redesigning school boundaries. Sloan points to the example of the newer subdivisions in the northeast of the city near the hospital as not being there when maps were last drawn up, and students going to either Bert Ambrose or Alwin Holland depending on what side of 112th Avenue they’re on.
“Once they’ve reached their maximum space it becomes a different challenge,” he argues. “You have to go to a different school because we just physically can’t accommodate you. Our nightmare is the family that moves in right across the street from a school and then gets told, ‘well, we’re full, so you’re going to have to go across town to a different school’.”
The school district also used to enjoy letting students go to the school of their choice, a convenience which is basically no longer available. However, Sloan believes the solution to that problem is working on improving the reputations of the school that aren’t considered as strong. Part of that can come from improving in the annual Fraser Institute school rankings, but the argument is made that those don’t provide a full picture of a school, and can be skewed due to the mobile nature of the workforce in the region.
“When we get statistics that talk about graduation rates, those statistics don’t take into account that 20 per cent of kids who start in Fort St. John don’t finish here,” Sloan argues. “They move to Alberta or the move to other parts of the province. It’s hard to track those kids.”
He adds he’s fairly confident students that leave for other jurisdictions complete high school within their six years.