Friday, 23 March 2018 09:51

Low enrolment at Hutterian schools presents a challenge for school division

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A decrease in enrolment at Hutterian schools and a growing number of small schools with less than 10 students present a challenge to the Chinook School Division, but it is continuing to meet the needs of the colony schools.


Superintendent of Schools Mark Benesh spoke about the provision of educational support to colonies during the presentation of the Hutterian status report at a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, March 12.
The number of Hutterian schools in the Chinook School Division actually increased to 32 in the 2017-18 school year with the addition of a school at the new Sunset Colony, but overall student numbers continue to drop.
There are currently 493 students, which is a decline of 59 students over four years and a reduction of 166 students over the past 11 years.
“We’ve just seen a pretty consistent decline over the last 11 years since we amalgamated,” he said after the meeting. “We used to have 600 or so students and we’ve dropped under 500, which is a decrease that affects a little bit of our funding.”
The consequences of a decrease in enrolment at a Hutterian school is no different from lower student numbers at a public school in the school division. In both cases the result will be a reduction in the funding allocation to Chinook.
He emphasized the lower enrolment in the Hutterian schools will not have a negative impact on the quality of learning.
“The learning circumstances are still pretty effective,” he said. “We have some really good math and literacy success in the schools.”
This is the fifth year of the school division's small schools agreement with the Hutterian Brethren. There are currently six schools with less than 10 students.
The school division has a respectful and positive relationship with the colonies. Due to the budget challenges facing the school division the Brethren has been providing budget support by paying for school janitorial supplies and several colonies have also been paying for phone costs.
The school division's own projections indicate that the overall decline in enrolment at Hutterian schools might slow down.
“In general I think we continue a slight decline, but we maintain a little bit better than we have and what we’re seeing is some schools are decreasing on a steady and then some aren’t,” he said.
Benesh noted that colony schools often seem to have a cycle where enrolment might increase or decrease.
“I remember a school being at four students back in the 90s, while they were at 40 students 20 years later,” he said. “So it just depends on the circumstance, so each one just in their cycle of having kids and which families are getting married. It just changes over time, and so we're hopeful that this won't continue and it will remain a little more constant.”
A learning coach is providing instructional support to all colony school teachers. This approach has been very effective to help young and new teachers to adapt to their colony school settings. In addition to support for math and literacy, the learning coach has been helping teachers with some student services work.
“All of our colonies have a single teacher or two teachers,” he explained. “These teachers may not have a student services background or may not have those strengths, especially new teachers.”
Due to budgetary constraints the Chinook School Division has implemented a new prep time model for Hutterian schools. In the past itinerant teachers travelled once a week to each of the colony schools, which made it possible for a colony teacher to have half a day off for prep time. This approach was expensive, because it involved a lot of travel and a certain number of teachers had to be available to go to the colony schools as a replacement.
Under the new model each colony school will close a bit earlier on one day in the week to provide teachers with prep time and the school division is also providing some sub days.
“Then also there’s three or four days usually in a year that are religious days that our public schools would be open but our colony schools wouldn’t be and so they’re using those days as prep time as well,” he said. “So by doing all that it alleviates some cost and we’re still providing our teachers the support they require.”

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Matthew Liebenberg


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