Campbell River students returned to classes this week to find that the grades in their schools have been totally re-configured to combat ongoing dwindling enrolment.
School District #72 elementary schools are now just K to 5; middle schools which used to be 7 to 9 and now 6 to 8; and Timberline and Carihi secondary schools have expanded to 9 to 12. At Carihi that means student enrolment has jumped from 750 to 925 in a year when total school district enrolment has dropped once again by about 100 students. The changes in grade distribution are designed to sustain “maximum learning outcomes” in the face of continuing enrolment declines, says Superintendent Tom Longridge.
Province wide enrolment for the 2012/13 school year is estimated at 534,600 full-time students. That’s down 6,000 in one year and is down 63,000 since 2000/01. Here in SD #72 the student population has dropped from 8,500 a decade ago to about 5,000 this year.
Longridge says the process of planning reconfiguration started two years ago and has involved input from teachers, principals and the District Parents’ Advisory Council. The goal, he says, has been to “stay on the cutting edge” of innovation and creativity in the district.
“We were looking at the declining enrolment in the school district. We’ve been challenged by that for a number of years and we’ll continue to be challenged. We’re through the worst of it, but it will continue through our secondary schools.”
Longridge says if student enrolment fell lower and the status quo was maintained the district would lose the ability provide students with the appropriate program flexibility and a full range of classes.
“We looked at what would be the best configuration for learning, not just what was best for the secondary schools. At the end of the day it became apparent that moving to a 6-7-8 middle school model would be the configuration of choice.
“That helps bolster the secondary schools and gives the Grade 9s coming in more choice and gives them opportunities they may not have had in the (old) middle school configuration,” the superintendent says.
Longridge says the school board has been extremely reluctant to consider closing schools … “it’s been off the table.”
This year increasing focus is being placed on student “engagement” in the middle and secondary schools. “There has been a concern throughout the province about engaging kids because there are so many other ways young people can be engaged through (social) media, through hand-held devises, through the distractions of touching a button on a screen,” Longridge says.
The question is “how do you engage those young learners who are being bombarded constantly with electronic information and media. Instead of being afraid of that we are looking at ways of engaging young learners where they are.”
Longridge says the focus is increasingly on project-based, hands-on learning. That means taking on projects in the community.