The Greater Victoria School District continues the unenviable task of expanding infrastructure to meet increased student enrollment at a time when regional construction growth is so strong, finding ticketed tradespeople is daunting.
The “skeleton crew” of tradespeople in SD61 is working hard to get classrooms in place for students returning in September. Though the District has plans to accommodate all of the approximately 19,000 students in its 27 elementary, 10 middle, and seven secondary schools, some will be in a temporary place until later in the fall, says Mark Walsh, SD61 secretary-treasurer.
Working around the clock to prepare for the upcoming school year. Last night, a new Learning Studio was delivered to Central Middle School. Our Facilities department prepared the site and will continue to complete the classroom on the school's grounds. 🌛 ✨ #sd61 #sd61learn #yyj pic.twitter.com/GeGhMWyszP
— Greater Victoria SD (@sd61schools) August 3, 2018
Nine additional classroom spaces had to be invested in for the 2018-19 school year at George Jay Elementary, James Bay Elementary, Tillicum Elementary, Oaklands Elementary, Quadra Elementary, and Central Middle schools in order to address increased enrollment since last September.
“There may be a few more but these are the ones we had to spend time and money getting ready,” said Walsh.
The school district isn’t using the term “delayed” to describe the temporary arrangement as they were aware of the timing of the delivery from the start and have come up with interim solutions. It is a different situation than last year when it had to scramble to accommodate the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2016 that restored contract clauses on class size and composition. SD61 had to add 84 new classes and twelve portables last year at the elementary and middle school levels.
Even with interim measures planned in advance, the reality of teaching without a proper classroom remains the same for those waiting on spaces – extremely difficult and stressful.
“It is super stressful for the teachers. They are trying to make it right for their students, they are trying to make it right with the parents,” said Winona Waldron, Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association contract chair. “Kids can’t learn appropriately when they are being moved classroom to classroom or when they don’t have a classroom. It was really hard watching that Grade 8 class at Central last year not have a home.”
There were three classes at Central last year that didn’t have a proper classroom.
One class spent the year in the staff-room.
“That wasn’t too bad for the students, but it was really hard on the staff. It is really important for staff to have a place to meet. But the students at least had a place to go,” said Waldron.
A second class moved into the music room. The class would have to come in, set up their tables, do their class, and then leave whenever there was a strings or choir class that needed the room, only to have to do it all over again.
The third Grade 8 class had the most challenging year. They moved every day from the cafeteria to the gymnasium, sometimes to a standing-room-only art space. They would also use other teachers’ classrooms when they weren’t in use.
“Those kids had no sense of place,” said Waldron.
It is Waldron’s hope that SD61 will open schools that were previously closed due to low enrollment.
“Portables are a stop-gap measure. We should look very closely at re-opening the schools that are closed and rented out, in order to give teachers real places to teach. I feel like we are in an emergency situation,” said Waldron. “I want the district to recognize what the teachers are going through.”
Fred Schmidt, president of CUPE 382, said there have been ongoing conversations about opening facilities over the last few years.
“So far the answer has been that it seems the catchments for the schools getting overpopulated are not necessarily the same as those with closed schools,” said Schmidt.
The district is looking at this issue.
“Our big task now is the boundary review. We are going to look at how many kids will be living in each neighbourhood over the next 10, 15, 20 years, look at the capacity of the schools and try to better match them,” said Walsh.
For now, this year’s additions are simply about keeping up with growing enrollment.
“We are ready for the school year,” said Walsh. “We talked to the schools waiting on Learning Studios and offered them the opportunity to have an older-style portable but they said they would prefer to come up with an alternative and wait for the finished product. The only one that is a little further behind than we hoped is Quadra.”
“We are really hoping to have everything done by fall, with the awareness that we are running a skeleton crew and could get delayed by needing to pull guys for maintenance needs,” said Schmidt.
SD61 continues to seek Red Seal tradespeople: https://www.sd61.bc.ca/our-district/employment/
School may be out but there is still plenty happening across the District. Our Facilities crew is busy upgrading our childcare spaces at Cloverdale, thanks to the Board’s childcare capital reserve. 🛠 #yyj #sd61 🔨 pic.twitter.com/LfE8egTTWq
— Greater Victoria SD (@sd61schools) July 20, 2018
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