School enrollment reaches new low

  • Oct. 5, 2012 8:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret-The number of students attending public schools on the islands has dipped even lower than administrators were expecting, says school district superintendent Angus Wilson. With the final numbers compiled this week, Mr. Wilson said there are about 595 full-time equivalent students attending the six public schools. Principals had expected about 602 students to show up when school started in September. The difference is not large, he said, but it is significant given the low numbers involved, and because the 602 estimate was extremely conservative. “Every year it’s down further than anybody thought,” he said. “It’s not just non-aboriginal people leaving, either. It’s everybody.” Mr. Wilson said that in the past five years, the district has lost about 100 aboriginal students. That translates into a loss of more than $100,000 of money earmarked for aboriginal educational programs. It’s very hard to make cuts in this area, he said. “We’re struggling with those issues now,” Mr. Wilson said. “They’re all good programs. These are difficult issues I’ll be discussing with the board.” The biggest drops were at Tahayghen and Sk’aadgaa Naay elementary schools. At Tahayghen, there are 87 students, pretty much the first time the enrollment ever been under 100. Sk’aadgaa Naay is still the largest school in the district, but its enrollment has dropped to 151 students. At one time it had over 200. At Port Clements elementary, there are 39 students this year, while at A.L. Mathers in Sandspit, enrollment including e-school students is just over 66 full-time equivalents. At the two high schools, the numbers held steady, with 108 attending G.M. Dawson and 142 at Queen Charlotte Secondary. Even though families on Haida Gwaii are larger on average than elsewhere in BC, the numbers continue to fall because people are moving away, Mr. Wilson said, mainly because there are better employment options in other places. “The vast majority of it is people moving away and people not moving here,” Mr. Wilson said. “Demographically speaking, Haida Gwaii is the fastest-shrinking area of the province.” As far as students are concerned, the low numbers can mean less opportunities. In the high schools particularly, Mr. Wilson said, it’s not good for enrollment to get below 80, or it becomes difficult to offer the right mix of courses. On the plus side, students on Haida Gwaii are continuing to receive an excellent quality of education, Mr. Wilson said, and the student-teacher ratio remains one of the lowest in the province. The district has also hired two counsellors. At the north end, James Blake has moved here from central-northern BC to work in a full-time position. At the south-end, a new, part-time counsellor position has been created in response to community demand. Jen Jury, a part-time teacher at Queen Charlotte Secondary, will also be working as the counsellor at QCSS, Sk’aadgaa Naay and A.L. Mathers.

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