Despite a challenging summer where the Central Okanagan School District had to deal with floods, fires, the hiring of more than 150 new teachers and the creation of 59 new learning spaces, the opening of this school year was one of the best in recent memory, says superintendent of schools Kevin Kaardal.
Kaardal told the board of education Wednesday evening all 43 schools in the district reported smooth and orderly openings despite the addition of the new teachers, classrooms and 393 new students, 54 more than predicted.
The district, the fifth largest in the province, now has 21,631 students.
“Despite all the distractions, this was one of our best opening years,” said Kaardal.
Along with the community, the school district had to deal with the impact of the flooding—including at one school—that occurred in late spring and early summer, and then the wildfires.
While that was happening, district officials were out recruiting teachers to meet the Supreme Court of Canada-ordered mandate that required school districts across B.C. to hire comply with contract language negotiated 16 years ago, the subject of a long-running legal battle between the B.C. Teachers Federation and the provincial government.
The hiring of the teachers also prompted the need for more space at many schools in the district.
Kaardal said unlike some other districts in B.C, the Central Okanagan was able to recruit virtually all the new teachers it needed and have the classrooms ready for them for the start of this new school year.
While the district is still looking for about 50 more teachers to join its on-call list, he said a number of factors helped his district find the teachers it has attracted, including the quality of the recruiters it used, the relationship it has with UBC and its teacher-training program, the fact it went farther afield to locate teachers than many other districts and the desirability of the Central Okanagan as a place to live.
Susan Bauhart, president of the Central Okanagan Teachers Association paid tribute the work of the district administration in recruiting the teachers Wednesday and to the CUPE support staff for preparing the new spaces for them to work in.
She said she was in Vancouver last week and in one instance there at one school, students will have to temporarily be taught in a tent because there are not enough classrooms, while other district have not been able recruit enough teachers in time for the start of the school year there.
She also publicly thanked not only teachers for sticking with the fight to challenge the government for ripping up its contract with the BCTF 16 years ago, which was the subject of the legal battle, but also the community for its support of teachers over the years.
In addition to local students, the Central Okanagan school district is also seeing an increase in international students, with 400 expected to be enrolled at local schools this year, up from 374 last year.
Kaardal the in the last year, the district has seen 241 students from 41 different countries settle here.
The increase in the total number of students has also had an effect on busing. The is year there are 5,755 applications for school busing, up from 5,507 last year.
The Central Okanagan School District, with a total budget of more than $250 million, continues to be one of the biggest employers in the area with a total of more than 3,000 employees, including 1,600 teachers, 1,400 support workers, 88 administrators, and 37 senior staff.
Kaardal said initial student figures are not final at this point as many schools are still seeing new and returning students arrive.
He plans to make a second presentation to the board at the end of the month with revised numbers.