By David F. Rooney
In her 11 years as superintendent at School District 19, Anne Cooper hasn’t seen anything like it: a drop in enrollment unlike anything Revelstoke has seen before.
“It’s a continual decline,” she said in an interview this week. “We’re hoping to capture just over 1,000 (students) so our grad class this year will be the lowest ever, about 104 kids roughly. But worse, this is our absolutely worst-wildest-nightmare: just 58 kids walking in the door for Kindergarten in four schools.”
Those 58 kids portend dismal number for years to come, Cooper suggested.
“We believe the cohort behind this one is a little stronger — in the 70s — but this is an odd year enrollment-wise because I know what it means for future years.”
The ripple effect through the system caused by such a small cohort will touch everyone from teachers and administrators to support staff for about a decade, Cooper said.
The effect could be alleviated if there are a number of future cohorts in the 70s “but if we end up with another small cohort of 60 or less a couple of years out it really starts to change the face of the district. ”
“Spread 58 kids over four schools and you do the math. The cohort is 15 per grade. At 15 in each of four schools you can’t organize a single grade. Spread them over three schools and its a little more do-able.”
And three elementary schools is what Revelstoke is soon going to end up with. Mountain View and Mount Begbie elementary schools are scheduled to close. That will leave the existing Arrow Heights and Columbia Park schools and the as-yet-unbuilt new school to educate the next generations of young students.
“When we started the school-closure process years ago and we determined we needed to run with three schools there were comments made in open meetings — and I made some of them — that if you were starting a school system from scratch in Revelstoke knowing what the projected enrollment was going to be — 600 kids in elementary or less — and you had the opportunity to build new to be honest you’d build two schools that could hold 300 each,” Cooper said. “But we don’t really have the luxury of organizing that. Three schools will be better than four.”
Having said that, Cooper went on to say that Arrow Heights will operate with less than 150 kids. That’s the superintendent’s biggest headache right now. And it should be. Some classrooms are being converted into storage space at AHE, which was once so crowded the district had to tack on extra classrooms.
Columbia Park will have 190 students this year, but that’s 100 fewer students than when the Big Eddy School was closed back in 2002. Mount Begbie and Mountain View “have parallel enrollments at about 110 each” so when they eventually are closed and their populations amalgamated, it will be in a school that is a little larger than Columbia Park.
Cooper admitted that the shrinking school populations means there are “a few less teachers every year” while support staff are being maintained. Consolidation of Mount Begbie and Mountain View will inevitably mean fewer teachers and support staff will be required but the district, “which has a budget a shade under $10 million,” will be able to save money that it can then plow into special needs, technology and other areas.
“I think we’re making all the right decisions in the district, but it isn’t easy,” Cooper said. “It certainly isn’t easy when you have to say you’re not going to paint a classroom that clearly needs it. But on the other hand we won’t hesitate to add an education assistant for a youngster who has a disability or a special need. We’re making some hard decisions to keep our money focused on the kids who need it and that’s really paying off.”
Revelstoke Secondary School is expected to have 475 students this year, Cooper said.
“That drop below 500 is another milestone we’d rather not see,” she said, adding that students will nonetheless have a full slate of courses and electives to choose from.
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