The number of students in secondary schools in the district continues to decline, however, the number of students in the younger grades is starting to level off, and even see a marginal increase in some schools.
Dave Witt, superintendent for School District #83, says this district, which includes Salmon Arm, Sicamous, Enderby and Armstrong, is down between 150 and 200 secondary-level students.
“It’s a significant decline, but it follows the trend we expected,” says Witt. “There’s no surprises.”
Salmon Arm Secondary is down approximately 80 students from last year, while Eagle River Secondary is down about 15 students. Eagle River may see that number come up a bit as recruits from the Sicamous Eagles Junior B hockey team enroll in classes. Currently Eagle River’s student population has dropped below 200 students to 196.
“We’re expecting another four years of declines before we should start to see the numbers stabilize a bit,” adds Witt.
At the elementary level, schools in Salmon Arm are seeing more steady numbers, with South Broadview Elementary down slightly, while Bastion and Hillcrest have both seen increases.
Parkview Elementary is showing a slight drop in students for a total of 184, however, the kindergarten class has the highest enrolment in three years.
Overall, the school district has seen a significant downward trend. Witt says over the past 12 years, student enrolment in District #83 has gone from 9,000 students to under 6,000. This has meant the closure of schools like Salmon Arm Elementary and Malakwa Elementary and the loss of numerous teacher and support staff positions.
While the numbers at the secondary level continues to decline, this does not necessarily mean class sizes are similarly smaller. Indeed, the school district is currently struggling with many overcrowded classes at the Jackson and Sullivan campuses, including a leadership class with more than 40 students and other classes with 36 students. Classes are also operating with more special-needs students than mandated.
“Where classes are supposed to have only three special-needs students, we have some classes with nine, 10, 11 special-needs students,” says Lynda Bennett, local president of the North Okanagan Shuswap Teacher’s Association. “Certainly that is not the most optimal learning or teaching environment.”
Bennett is encouraging parents to make their views about classroom issues known.
“Voice your concerns to the school, to the school district, to (education minister) George Abbott. Parents have the loudest voice. It is huge what parents can do.”
Bennett and Witt both say they are working together to attempt to resolve the issue of overcrowded classes.
This year’s back-to-school process has been complicated by the job action by teachers, who are currently in contract negotiations with the government. This includes the withdrawal of administrative services and teacher supervision on playgrounds outside regular instructional time.
The most noticeable change for School District #83 has been the cancellation of recess for elementary and middle school students.
“It is really important parents are aware that teachers were never in support of cancelling recess,” says Bennett, who notes that out of 44 school districts only seven have taken the same step of cancelling recess as this district.
“They say it is a safety issue, but it is not a safety issue for 37 other districts, then we are left to wonder why this district had to do it? We are in respectful conversation with the school district, but we definitely disagree as far as cancelling recess. It is not good for kids and not good for teachers.”
Witt reiterated the district’s position that the district does not have enough non-union staff to safely cover recess at the required schools.
“We didn’t do this lightly… but we are reluctant to say to the schools who used to have three or more supervisors plus an administrator, now cover recess with one person who, in many cases, isn’t even going to know the children at all. I’m not comfortable making that call.”
Witt says many schools, especially at the elementary level, are doing an excellent job of providing physical activity during the school day.
“That is helpful for both students and staff.”