Student numbers continue drop

  • Nov. 3, 2010 9:00 a.m.

Once again, the number of students attending school on the islands has declined, trustees learned at the Oct. 26 school board meeting, held at Sk’aadgaa Naay elementary school in Skidegate. Enrollment at Sk’aadgaa Naay has increased, with nine more students attending this year for a total of 192. But that did not outweigh falling numbers in Sandspit and Masset, according to the enrollment report for September 2010. At Agnes L. Mathers school in Sandspit, there are only 50 regular students and six adult students this year, compared to 63 regular and seven adult last year – a drop of 14 students for the small school. Tahayghen elementary in Masset saw a loss of 13.5 students, declining to an enrollment of 105 this September from 118.5 last year (some students count as a fraction of a student, like half-day kindergarten students). At G.M. Dawson Secondary, there are 110 students this year, down about two from last year’s 112. The other two public schools on the islands, Port Clements elementary and Queen Charlotte Secondary, had small increases: three more students at QCSS, and 4.5 more in Port. The enrollment at QCSS is 153, and the enrollment at the Port school is 47. The total enrollment in this district is 662.625 students: 652.125 regular students, and 10.5 adult students. This is down 13 students from last year’s enrollment, and is less than the district had been expecting. The numbers are important because the amount of money the district receives from the Ministry of Education is based on the enrollment. Superintendent Angus Wilson also gave trustees a report on class sizes in the district, as required by the province. The class sizes on Haida Gwaii comply with all provincial regulations and are lower than in many other districts. The average kindergarten class in islands schools has 16.1 students, according to the report. The average for grades 1-3 is 17.8, for grades 4-7 it’s 19.1, and for grades 8-12 it’s 16.4. Mr. Wilson said there is a physical education class at Queen Charlotte Secondary with more than 30 students in it, but there is an assistant in the class to support the teacher. Evelyn von Almassy, president of the Haida Gwaii Teachers Association, said the district may be technically in compliance when it comes to class sizes, but many teachers are struggling with the number of special needs children in their classes. There are classrooms in Haida Gwaii with more than three students on individual education plans, or IEPs, she said. IEPs are used for students with special needs. “What I hear from teachers is they would really like to have trustees come into the classrooms,” Ms von Almassy said, adding that a class of 30 regular students can be easier to handle than a class of 12 students heavy with special needs . “We are concerned about class composition… Numbers can’t be the only consideration.” However, trustee Christine Martynuik said she has been hearing good things about class size and composition in islands schools. “I heard from the new teachers here that we have it really easy in this district,” she said. “The reality is that there are IEPs everywhere… I have heard from the new teachers that this is a really good place to work.”