First step toward new school review policy released

Long-range outlook being presented to board

This week, the South Shore Regional School Board (SSRSB) is expected to release its long-range outlook, which is the first step taken as a result of the new provincial school review policy.

Its intent is to support earlier public engagement and discussion about the school community and to provide more consistency across the province.

“It’s all mandatory. All the schools use the same data that’s been collected, and all the outlook does is project that data and say looking forward this group of schools, or a school, is overcrowded and we may need to build a new school, or this group of schools appears to have a dropping enrolment based on the data and we may need to do a school review to examine what could be done,” said Brian Smith, director of operations for the SSRSB.

“It could be a school closure, could be a recommendation for grade reconfiguration between schools. There’s a number of possibilities that will come up out of that long-range outlook. In other words, it will indicate and it will project forward what families of schools and individual schools will look like going forward.”

The outlook will include 10-year projections of population and enrolment figures and the same information from the past 10 years.

The Halifax and Straight regional school boards outsourced their information to Baragar Systems, a software company. It’s hoped that similar software would be available for all boards next year.

“Those statistics we’ll use next year will take into consideration a lot more complicated set of factors than we’re using to project enrolment. We’re using a very simplistic method that doesn’t take into consideration birth rates, for example, or movement of people. … A more sophisticated method used by the province will be much more accurate,” said Mr. Smith, who also mentioned this accuracy may show a sharper decline in students.

School capacities will also be analyzed.

“Students in P-9 schools, in those grades, generally operate in the classroom or go out to [other spaces] so some spaces in the building are actually exempted spaces.” Examples of the spaces exempted for these younger levels were for music, gym, tech ed, art, libraries, IT classrooms and learning centres.

“The assumption in a 10-12 school is that all spaces in the school – gym, music room – could be instructional spaces,” said Mr. Smith of high schools where all spaces are included. “All the rooms in the school are multiplied by a factor of 0.85, so they get 15 per cent of the space as flexible space where we don’t expect there to be students in every inch of the building.”

Dividing each school’s enrolment by its capacity gave each school utilization percentage. According to the draft version of the document, dated January 31, elementary, junior high and middle schools are considered full at 100 per cent utilization. Most schools operated by the board wouldn’t come close to meeting these standards, and schools are looking at a continued drop in enrolment.

“We know that whatever the utilization is now will likely be less in 10 years, so that’s at a point where you could say maybe we need to look at this a little closer. What are the costs of operating a school? What are the ways we can utilize that space? Can we engage others in filling that school? For example, some of our schools have daycares in them right now, or in New Germany we have an early years centre that’s going to be opening. So those are ways that the space could be utilized in a different way,” said Mr Smith. “These are public buildings funded by taxpayers, and we should really try to use the space within the buildings.”

The purpose of the document is to provide information to support discussions and future decisions about the delivery of education programs and services in the area.

The document is to be reviewed by the board on April 15 and will be available to the public April 30.

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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