Enrolment declines continue to challenge district

Enrolment declines continue to challenge district

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Mitch Van Aller doesn’t have a crystal ball, but he knows what will be the school district’s biggest challenge in the next 10 years.
The director of facilities said replacing aging schools and struggling to address decreasing enrolments will be test. That was his prediction at last week’s public engagement forum at Southern Okanagan Secondary School.
The forum focused on several topics including new directions in education, enrolment trends and facilities.
School District 53 operates on a budget of $24 million with eight schools and approximately 2,360 students. It employs 146 educators and 131 support staff.
Superintendent of schools Bev Young outlined the changes in the education system. “We’re learning so much more on how kids learn and what motivates them.”
Young said they need to be more flexible to meet the needs of 21st century learners who come to school with Google in their pockets.
She outlined the BC education plan that focuses on personalized learning for every student and learning empowered by technology.
Young noted the district has set its sights on achievement goals, such as improving student success to literacy and numeracy, and increasing completion rates for all pupils, particularly aboriginal students.
Under enrolment trends, Young said the district has lost 654 full-time equivalent students in the last 10 years. Oliver Elementary School has lost 87, while Tuc-el-Nuit has lost 88. Southern Okanagan Secondary School has lost 229 students.
Combined, all of Oliver’s schools have lost 404 students in the last 10 years. And predictions indicate declines will continue. Young said the district stands to lose an additional 412 students in the next eight years. Oliver schools alone will lose approximately 130 pupils by 2019.
Young said Tuc-el-Nuit lost about 10 students this summer. She noted the general trend is families moving out of the area.
School trustee Sam Hancheroff said open borders have taken some kids away from this district. He noted parents now have the option to send their children to the Skaha district, adding that’s the reason they have lost pupils in Okanagan Falls.
Assistant superintendent of schools Jim Insley talked about early development indicators and the vulnerability of children as they enter the school system. He noted the district was the ninth most vulnerable district in the province (for students with physical, social, emotional, cognitive and communication deficits). That’s why they established the StrongStart programs.
“The vulnerability of a child has a lot to do with a vulnerable family and community,” Insley said.
But he noted the district is addressing these vulnerabilities with the help of Communities for Kids, before and after school care, preschool partnerships, and the new family “Hub” centre in Oliver.
However, in the vulnerability scale, Oliver has jumped from 10 per cent in 2005/2006 to 28 per cent in 2010/2011 in the category of physical health and well-being.
In finances, the district is spending nearly 70 per cent of its budget on salaries, and 17 per cent on benefits. Fourteen per cent is spent on services and supplies. Staffing costs show that nearly 60 per cent goes to teachers, while 14 per cent goes to support staff. Nine per cent goes to principals and vice-principals.
Van Aller gave a synopsis of district facilities. He said the SOSS rebuild will be completed by August of 2013, with a capacity for 600 students. The project will include a daycare centre, a Neighbourhoods of Learning centre, and a 400-seat theatre to replace the old Frank Venables auditorium.
Van Aller said the average age of district facilities is 43 years. The oldest schools are Cawston Primary and Similkameen Elementary Secondary at 62 years. Oliver Elementary School is 48 years old, whicl Tuc-el-Nuit is 36.
Van Aller noted that the daily operating cost for Oliver Elementary is about $1,700, while Tuc-el-Nuit’s cost is about $1,475.
Van Aller said facilities staff are “phenomenal,” adding they really care about their jobs and it shows.
Mayor Ron Hovanes said the new $55 million high school will be a huge attraction in the community, especially with the new theatre and Neighbourhoods of Learning centre.
“There will be more citizens walking through the school on a daily basis . . . I think this school will be the coolest thing around.”
Hovanes expressed his optimism about the correctional facility coming to Oliver and the new people and jobs it will bring.
Local parent and Tuc-el-Nuit school advocate Karen Somerville asked the mayor if there were any leads on new housing for young families.
Hovanes said the Desert Hills development will provide housing above the cemetery.

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