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School enrollments hold steady in Houston, but increase in Smithers

Staffing levels also satisfactory according to the board report
School board trustees at work. (Deb Meissner photo)

Enrollments at public schools have pretty much held to projections, School District 54 officials told school board members at the first official meeting of the board’s new four-year term Nov. 15.

Overall, the total school district enrollment increased slightly, mostly due to most students at Smithers Secondary School and Walnut Park Elementary in Smithers.

Walnut Park has 333 students, up from a projected 287, while Smithers Secondary School has 622 students, an increase of 19 students from the anticipated 602 school population.

“The extra students at Walnut Park meant that we had to add a division at the school back in September,” explained school superintendent Michael McDiarmid.

“The Houston schools remain almost exactly on projection with student numbers remaining stable and different from a few years ago when numbers were going down fairly rapidly.”

Total enrolment stood at 1,968 students, up 20 from projections, as of September 30. When the 51 distance education students are counted, enrolment stood at 2,019 students.

READ MORE: School district buses teachers to Houston

School districts report their enrolments each Sept. 30 to the provincial education ministry and student numbers form the basis for district budgets.

As a smaller district, McDiarmid said School District 54 has class sizes that are generally smaller than most other areas of the province.

While there’s a school of thought that the smaller the class, the more preferable it is to students, McDiarmid said that may not always be the case.

“It is difficult to draw a direct link between class size and increased student achievement according to most studies that have been done,” he said, adding that smaller classes do make it easier for teachers to plan for the individual needs of each student.

One sticking point in smaller districts is that lower numbers of students compared to elsewhere, affect the number and variety of courses that can be offered.

Still, McDiarmid said the district is happy with the current class size and composition situation.

School district officials are also happy they’ve been able to keep current with required teacher staffing levels.

That’s not the situation in every northern or remote school district.

One innovative approach to retaining teachers was introduced last year — providing a surplus vehicle, as well as the fuel, as a commuting vehicle for teachers living in Smithers and Telkwa who have teaching assignments in Houston.

That was introduced in light of the challenges of finding housing in Houston and of the distance between communities.

“It is very popular with the teachers. Many have told us they were happy to keep working at Houston schools without the pressure of winter driving,” said McDiarmid.

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Facilities review Smithers Secondary foods room (Deb Meissner photo)
Facilities review - Houston Secondary (Deb Meissner photo)