By Matthew Liebenberg
More student than expected are attending schools in the Chinook School Division during 2022-23.
Director of Education Mark Benesh presented the official enrolment report during a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, Oct. 11.
The enrolment figures are based on student numbers on Sept. 30, when there were 5,920 learners. This is an increase on both the projected and actual enrolment for the school year.
It is 60 students more than the projected enrolment for the 2022-23 school year and an actual increase of 40 students compared to the 2021-22 enrolment of 5,880.
“We’re celebrating the fact that we did go up 60, which is a lot for us, and it kind of offsets a very, very slow decline that we’ve had,” he said. “So it’s a good news story and we’re happy that we’ve gotten a few kids back.”
A breakdown of the 5,920 students indicates there are 5,256 learners in public schools, 481 are Hutterite colony students and 183 are enrolled in home-based education. In comparison to the previous school year, there are four more Hutterite colony students and 18 fewer home-based education students.
The higher enrolment is a positive outcome both from an educational and financial perspective for the school division.
“We get kids back in the building that we can support and be successful with,” he said. “The financial one is that if our numbers have dropped, and we knew that other divisions around the province are going up, likely we may have gotten less funding.”
He felt the higher enrolment is related to students returning to in-person learning as a result of the changing pandemic situation.
“We do know that there’s a large group of kids coming back based on the COVID circumstance around the province,” he said. “So it was important that we also saw an increase, because we want them here. That’s the main thing.”
The increase in student numbers as a result of the higher enrolment took place in schools across the division.
“I would say it depends on each community,” he mentioned. “Some went up slightly, some went down slightly, some stayed exactly where they’re projected, and then there’s a few that were a little outside that normal, either going up or down.”
Benesh indicated the school division is doing some work to ensure that staffing and support within schools are appropriate to local levels of enrolment.
“We have a couple of settings where we’re looking at some additional staff, because of that pocket,” he said. “They have a few more students than we planned and because of the impact it’s having, we’re likely to have the support that way.”
This increase in student numbers bucks the trend of a slow and gradual enrolment decline. Future enrolment data will indicate if this was simply related to the pandemic or not.
“Over the past 10 years we’ve been on a very slight decline each year,” he said. “Some years it’s almost none, some years it might be 15 or 20 kids. I think this has just caught up from the COVID pieces over that time. I hope it stabilizes things, don’t know that, but the reality is it may continue to have that slight decline and all this has done is kind of offset things temporarily.”