Tuesday November 7, 2023 | LANGFORD, BC
Last week more classrooms were announced for School District 62 Sooke (SD62). They will come in the form of pre-built modular classroom units that will be adjoined to two existing elementary schools.
That differs from portables, which are separate structures apart of the main area of a school. Modular classrooms are considered a better learning environment because students are connected with the regular flow of student traffic in hallways and other service areas.
SD62 enrolment numbers have increased steadily within SD62 due to a continued surge in overall population growth in the west shore (Langford, Colwood, Sooke) where housing is still considered to be relatively affordable.
The current student tally is 13,767 as announced today by SD62. That’s 680 more students over last year.
“While we are pleased that our schools continue to be a destination of choice for families,” says Block. “The sustained growth pattern presents a real accommodation challenge for us now, and in the future.”
SD62 Deputy Superintendent Paul Block says the greatest influx of students is seen at the elementary school level (as more young families move to the west shore) and at the secondary school levels (as families make shifts or students chose an area where courses and programs suit their educational goals).
The current enrolment profile shows almost the same number of students in elementary as in middle and secondary combined.
- Elementary: 5,959
- Middle: 2,828
- Secondary: 3,914
- Online: 862
- Continuing Education: 204
Block says that both secondary schools in the west shore (Belmont and Royal Bay) are at 130% capacity. So the next school build priority is for a high school in Langford (for which land has already been purchased on McCallum Road). The Edward Milne Community School (EMCS) high school in Sooke is also at capacity, he says.
Projected long-term growth is in elementary, said Block in an interview with Island Social Trends last week.
Specialized growth areas:
- The number of students who are supported through our Inclusive Education Services Department grew significantly from 3,824 to 4,378 students, up 554 from last year.
- Students who receive English Language Learner support also increased from 1,125 students last September to 1,409 students this September.
- Students of Indigenous ancestry who receive language and cultural supports increased slightly from 1,235 to 1,243.
Growth rate surges upward:
SD62 declares “a remarkable growth rate of 40% over the last 15 years”, saying this year is no exception. “The municipality is open for business and for development,” said Deputy Superintendent Block last week. “The municipality has been very aggressive and rightfully so,” said Block about Langford jumping on the expansion opportunities found within the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) growth strategy. “The challenge for us has been in keeping up with that, of course,” said Block, “knowing that we’re working on a different development cycle than development does”.
Schools rely on public dollars, unlike the development sector which operates through private dollars (most often from lenders). “that takes time, understandably, as the province starts to address all of the pressures across our growing province,” says Block.
The addition of 680 students in SD62 this year represents a growth rate of 5%, putting the District among the fastest growing in the province. In fact, SD62 student population growth has averaged out to 5% per year over the last three years. Last year (2022-2023) there were almost 700 students and this year over 500. In a few years, Block expects the rate of increase to be up to 6%.
“We continue to have students in our District, specifically those in the west shore who are unable to attend their catchment schools because there is no space,” noted SD62 Board Chair Amanda Dowhy.
“As residential developments across the west shore continue to expand, it is imperative that new school infrastructure and expansion funding coincide alongside them,” said Dowhy today in a new release.
The District is already using several growth management strategies such as seeking provincial capital funding for new schools and expansions to existing schools, increased use of portables (although the district’s inventory is already fully utilized) and use of overflow schools when a catchment school reaches capacity.
SD62 delivers K-12 public education in Langford, Colwood, Metchosin, Highlands, Sooke and Juan de Fuca (East Sooke, and west of Sooke up to Port Renfrew), through three families of schools in the fast-growing municipalities of Langford, Colwood and Sooke. Student population of 13,767 at Oct 31, 2023 was up from 12,811 at Sept 26, 2023 — 5.6% higher than 12,249 one year earlier at Sept 30, 2022.
Loss of specialized classroom space:
In heavily populated SD62 schools, all spaces — apart from the learning commons and the gym — have been converted back into general classroom space. That means that flexible or multi-purpose space for programming like music, art, drama or small group learning is no longer available.
SD62 says this type of solution is a “last resort”, saying it “negatively impacts the school environment and experience for students, staff, and families”.
Last year a couple of music teachers spoke up at a board meeting saying that’s not the way to go, that it creates a degeneration of the learning experience. Stinson acknowledges that it presents a greater challenge for teachers to relate music-related equipment from room to room but emphasizes that the music programs have not been cut.
Growth by a full school or two:
To understand growth pressures for a school district, SD62 suggests visualizing a school at typical capacity. This year and last year, the district grew by the size of a typical middle school.
The next new school in SD62 is not scheduled to open until fall 2025. With the continued housing development in the Latoria/Olympic View area in the Westshore, it is expected SĆIȺNEW̱ SṮEȽIṮḴEȽ Elementary School on Latoria Blvd in south Langford will open near or at capacity.
“Simply adding more portables to our current infrastructure is not a feasible solution. The purchase and/or movement of portables places extreme pressure on our operating budget. The more operational dollars spent on portables, the less we are able to spend on students,” added Dowhy. For several schools, the physical addition of a portable is not possible due to lack of yard space.
Modular classroom add-ons:
Last month, the Ministry of Education and Child Care announced two prefabricated additions at Ruth King Elementary in Langford and David Cameron Elementary in Colwood; those modular classroom additions will accommodate 380 students (approximately 190 at each school) starting September 2024.
The innovative investment outside of the regular budget cycle was a welcome relief to the heavily populated cores of Langford and Colwood. “We are grateful to be part of the Ministry’s prefabricated addition program,” said Dowhy. That came at a $24 million price tag ($16 million ‘above the line’ funding plus another $8 million in ‘risk reserve’ if needed).
Risk reserve would cover unforeseen things that cause cost escalation. SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson itemized those as including “site issues, supply shortages, and staffing shortages” – things that extend development timeline of a project and thereby add costs.
“These prefabricated additions will bring much needed relief to the downtown cores of Langford and Colwood. While these additions provide a welcome respite in our immediate space challenges, the continued heavy residential growth in newer neighborhoods throughout Langford and Colwood, with no end in sight, means we still need new schools,” said Stinson.
“Provincially there has been pressure on the Ministry to act, and to act quicker,” Stinson told Island Social Trends in an interview last week. “I give credit to the Ministry of Education that they consulted with some of the fastest growing school districts and said ‘what can we do, how can we make this happen’,” said Stinson. “They took that advice and came up with this plan.”
The modular classroom idea was included in plans offered to municipal leaders during the 2023 Unionof BC Municipalities convention in September in Vancouver, noted Langford Mayor Scott Goodmanson last week. SD62 was aware of the options, with Paul Block mentioning the modular classroom option back in July.
“The plan creates some funding off-cycle,” said Stinson last week, and produces results “in a much faster way to create permanent structures.”
The idea is to expand in “the areas we already have”, said SD62 Secretary-Treasurer Harold Cull at the classroom-additions announcement on October 31, saying Ruth King and David Cameron “were the obvious choice”. There will be a small loss of sports field space “but we’ve got enough space here (at Ruth King) to be able to do it”, said Cull.
“Every school will have their own contractors,” Education and Child Care Minister Rachna Singh told Island Social Trends at the October 31 announcement in Langford.
What drives the growth:
To those who follow Greater Victoria area regional politics, this student population growth should come as no surprise.
The Capital Regional District (CRD) level of government which oversees the regional interests of 13 municipalities in the Greater Victoria area of south Vancouver Island (plus the Juan de Fuca Electoral Areas), established their Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) as far back as 2002 — wherein housing growth has been targeted for the west shore. The RGS saw updates in 2011 and again in 2018 (with population update considerations through to 2022).
CRD said in 2020 that the “percentage of Canadians living with low income saw the most significant decline in a five-year period since 1976”, largely as a result of pandemic-related supports. This gave people a bit more money to buy homes in the 2020-2022 time period, though that trend is likely waning with the current cost of living pressures resulting from 10 central bank interest rate increases in the last 19 months.
Keeping their eye on the ball:
SD62 saw the onslaught of student population increases coming long ago. In 2014 there was already a shift in SD62 planning, administration and hiring related to facilities growth.
SD62 said in their news release today that “it is impossible to predict exactly how many new students will join the Sooke School District in coming years”. But SD62 insists they will “collaborate with municipalities, review housing trends and statistical data to predict future enrollment trends”.
A few years ago the SD62 student population growth estimate was off by a massive 50% one year (not taking into account that more people would live in housing that is typically for fewer people). That’s when the struggles of affordability for families seemed like a surprise to the education administrators.
“We’re getting a lot more mature with our projections,” said Block, regarding that one year where the awareness of higher density fell short. SD62 now looks at the type of housing being built and Block acknowledges that families are willing to move into condos, apartments or townhomes due to the affordability factor. “That’s a trend that’s shifted,” said the long-time educator.
From around 2014 to 2018 the board hired a population analysis consultant; that expenses was dropped from the budget (an error, in hindsight). Otherwise, population tracking seems to be back on track, mostly under the keen eye of Deputy Superintendent Block who has been crunching the population numbers (and matching them to classroom delivery) for now over a decade.
More students coming:
The student population projection is a total of more than 16,000 students by 2030, according to SD62 this week.
The SD62 capital plan submission to the Ministry of Education and Child Care addresses their immediate growth needs and supports the critical infrastructure investments required to support future growth.
- Classroom space slam dunk for SD62 (October 31, 2023)
- School in rural west shore Metchosin finally gets a crosswalk (August 18, 2023)
- Indigenous name gifted to new elementary school in south Langford (August 14, 2023)
- SD62 ushering in Paul Block as their next superintendent starting 2024 (July 3, 2023)
- SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson retiring at 2023 year-end (May 1, 2023)
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Mary P Brooke has followed the news of SD62 at the board and committee level since 2014. She is the founding editor and publisher of Island Social Trends which launched at IslandSocialTrends.ca mid-2020 (and before that MapleLine Magazine 2008-2010, Sooke Voice News 2011-2013, and West Shore Voice News 2014-2020). Island Social Trends will re-emerge in print starting 2024.
Ms Brooke reports with the BC Legislative Press Gallery and this year was nominated for a Jack Webster Foundation award for contributing to community through journalism.
Mary P Brooke was a trustee candidate in SD62 in 2022 as a way to enliven discussion around key issues for parents in the community.
Mary raised her four children in Oak Bay/Fairfield and Sooke (SD61 and SD62) over the years when education suffered under cutbacks and slow school growth under the previous (BC Liberal) government. Ms Brooke she was active in parent PAC leadership, generating facilities results with new sidewalks at two elementary schools and a parking lot for parents at one of those schools.