Student decline is holding steady

Public school enrolment numbers have continued to drop this year, but not by as much as school officials were anticipating

Public school enrolment numbers have continued to drop this year, but not by as much as school officials were anticipating.

Officials thought the drop would be approximately 175 students but the actual drop was 137, said Coast Mountains School District director of instruction Brent Speidel.

By the end of September, when school districts report their enrolments to the province, head counts in Terrace, Kitimat, Hazelton and Stewart schools stood at 4,762.

The number of students at Caledonia, which added Grade 10 to its Grade 11 and Grade 12 offerings this year, and at Skeena Middle School, which added Grade 7 after losing Grade 10 to Cal, making it a Grade 7-9 school, threw off estimates.

“Both Skeena and Cal were well above projections,” said Speidel.

He attributed part of the increase to students moving from outside the area to Terrace for secondary school.

As school populations drop elsewhere in the northwest, the kinds of courses that can be offered also declines, so students from Prince Rupert or the Nass Valley, for instance, might now be attracted to Terrace, Speidel said.

But this does present some staffing challenges for the district, as these students don’t always stay for the full year. By the end of last year, about 100 students had left the district – the majority at the secondary level.

“It’s a challenge for us, when you think of 100 kids and making space for 100 kids. In September I have to make sure we’re staffed,” said Speidel. “So we panic about having classes that are too full, but when the dust settles at the end of it all it averages out. Especially at the secondary level.”

And some students from private and First Nations-run elementary schools are now coming to Skeena one year earlier since it added Grade 7.

This influx of students at the secondary level helps boosts enrolment numbers and cushions some of the blow that occurs when more students graduate than enter kindergarten, said Speidel.

Right now, there are 581 grade 12s throughout the district but on average, between 310 and 330 kindergarteners have been registering over the past few years.

“So if you’re putting out 580 at the top end and bringing in 330 at the bottom end, and you pick up about 100 kids from the independent schools and first nations schools in between there, we’re still out about 100 kids when we look at next year’s projections,” said Speidel.

There are now 709 Grade 10-12 students at Caledonia and 629 Grade 7-9 students at Skeena Middle School.

Some elementary schools held their own despite losing Grade 7 to Skeena Middle School. Ecole Mountainview, for example, now has approximately 150 students as a kindergarten to Grade 6 school, roughly the same number it had last year when it was a kindergarten to Grade 7 school.

Officials start making their September enrolment projections as early as January and begin estimating how many teachers they’ll need in February. Adjustments are made up until June.

Speidel says the district’s enrolment has been in decline since 1997, which is as far as his data goes back – although he suspects it goes back further.

“We were a district that was upwards of 9000 students at one time,” he said.