The Prince George School District is expecting to see 200 to 500 less students return to classes on Sept. 4.
Superintendent Brian Pepper said the district is expecting about 14,500 students this year, but final numbers won’t be known until the end of September.
“We were a school district of 21,000 students at one point. We’ve been losing about 100 to 500 students a year,” Pepper said. “We’re likely going to reach 13,000 students in the next few years.”
Although the district has reduced its number of teaching positions, there was no layoffs because of the high staff turnover this year.
“We’re looking at a minimal drop, less than eight, from the number of teachers last year,” Pepper said. “[But] we’ve hired 60 new teachers… 20 new CUPE staff… six new trades personnel… four new special education professionals… and eight new administrators.”
Class sizes are expected to meet the provincial standards set out by the Ministry of Education.
“Our board is very interested that our class sizes stay as small as possible,” Pepper said.
Most of the vacancies were caused by retirements, or teachers leaving for other districts, he said.
With just over 800 teachers, the district saw nearly 7.5 per cent teacher turnover this year.
Pepper said he is excited to have some many enthusiastic young teachers joining the district.
Improving literacy and numeracy will be key focuses this year, he said.
“Student achievement is job one for us. We certainly want to improve the graduation rate.”
Construction of the new Duchess Park Secondary School and major renovations at College Heights Secondary School are slated to begin in the early spring.
“Things are well underway in terms of planning. But we’re hoping to actually put a shovel in the ground in spring,” Pepper said.
District board of education chairman Lyn Hall said the board will be looking at recruitment and retention initiatives to draw teachers to the north.
“We’re looking at a 20 to 30 per cent staff turnover in the next few years,” Hall said. “What can we offer them to attract them here and keep them?”
Hall said the district is in a solid position, despite declining enrolments in Prince George and across the province.
“In 2001, 02, 03, 04 we went through a real decline in enrolment. We closed 14 schools,” Hall said. “At this point, as a result of what we did earlier, we’re in a pretty good position. We have facilities full and near capacity.”
The board has shifted its view of the superintendents of achievement appointed by the Ministry of Education, he said. Earlier this year, the board joined other school boards across the province in opposing the move which would give appointed bureaucrats the ability to overrule decisions by elected trustees in some cases.
“I know our administration has had some dealing with them over the summer. If we view them as a professional resource to assist us, it may in fact be beneficial,” Hall said.
Two of the four superintendents of education have been appointed, and appointments are pending for the remaining positions, Minister of Education Shirley Bond said.
Bond said the superintendents will be working with groups of schools to promote best practices and provide professional feedback. Declining enrolments province-wide forced Bond to review capital projects to prevent districts from constructing unneeded buildings. However, Bond said, the Duchess Park Secondary School is in no danger of losing its funding.