Creative solutions needed for declining school enrolment: MacPhee 0
Another school year means another drop in enrolment numbers for Canadian Rockies Public Schools, and according to new superintendent Chris MacPhee, there's no magic wand solution to the region's problems.
Schools in the CRPS district have seen a steady decrease in enrolment over the past nine years, and while the number of students lost each year might be a drop in the bucket for larger school systems, the Bow Valley and other rural school districts are another story.
Enrolment has been steadily declining since the 2004/2005 school year according to CRPS secretary treasurer Dave Mackenzie, with numbers this year projecting a loss of nearly 400 students since the trend began.
"During the 2011-2012 year we projected that we would have an enrolment decrease of about 70. We're still declining, but not as far as we projected, which is very positive," said MacPhee, noting that numbers are still down, but the 70-student decrease has yet to be seen.
While this year's numbers aren't quite as low as projected, the reality for Bow Valley schools is that the solution to declining enrolment might require some creative thinking, something MacPhee isn't shying away from.
"We're already at the point where we're starting to entertain any opportunity that's out there that could either increase our enrolment or our funding," he said.
"We're looking at a variety of things right now, whether it's increasing our international student program, looking at how credit enrolment units are generated at our high school levels, or looking at partnerships with other school divisions. A variety of those things that exist out there, we're going to be at the initial stages of having those conversations right now."
Also key will be how the province handles funding for rural schools, and while new education minister Jeff Johnson has acknowledged that the funding formula doesn't exactly favour smaller communities, MacPhee has no plans to twiddle his thumbs and wait for help.
"We're not going to sit here and wait and just try to keep our heads above water. We're going to look at any opportunities and initiatives that are out there that can best support our students and teachers in the classroom," he said.
"We will move forward with entertaining those opportunities and different initiatives, but running parallel to that is how the funding is done. We're not going to rely solely on that before we do anything. Remaining static wouldn't be an optimal situation."
The province's funding formula could indeed prove to be the pivotal piece in a funding puzzle that fails to recognize the challenges facing rural populations that are seeing a decline in young new families, the lifeblood of any rural community. And in a system that provides funds on a per-head basis, creative problem solving might be the only thing keeping the ailing system afloat until the province can reach out with a strong hand.
"There will always be challenges," said MacPhee, "but there will always be solutions we'll be looking for towards those challenges that any rural community has faced over centuries."