Continuing a 15-year trend, the Pembina Hills School Division is down 46 Grade 1-12 students from the previous year, but gained nine Kindergarten and pre-school kids.
Secretary-treasurer Mabel Wang told trustees at their Oct. 23 meeting at the Pibroch Colony School that as of Sept. 30 there are 3,779 K-12 students enrolled in its 11 community schools, two Hutterite colony schools and two Outreach programs.
It should be noted the figure does not include the Vista Virtual School because students can enroll in it throughout the school year.
However, it is worth noting that Vista Virtual served 0,146 students in 2018-2019, which was a slight decrease from the 10,474 served in 2017-2018.
Wang said there are 406 Early Childhood Services (ECS) students in Pembina Hills this year versus 397 last year. ECS includes all 288 Kindergarten students in the division, as well as 118 in pre-school programs.
When asked why ECS students were included in the report, outgoing secretary-treasurer Tracy Meunier noted that the 118 children are all “fundable” students, meaning that they have mild to moderate disabilities or delays and may be targeted with special funding. There are, in fact, more than 118 pre-school children within Pembina Hills, but the typically developing children aren’t counted.
But while ECS enrolment has climbed, Grade 1-12 enrolment has decreased from 3,816 in the 2018-2019 to 3,779 this year.
It is worth noting that the actual enrolments for this year were higher than the projected numbers for 2019-2020. Pembina Hills originally expected 389 ECS students and 3,366 Grade 1-12 students.
Since 1994-1995, enrolment in Pembina Hills has dropped by 1,578 students, or 29.46 per cent.
Some schools experienced growth while others fell. After reaching an 18-year low in 2018-2019, Westlock Elementary School’s enrolment appears to have stabilized, Wang noted.
While the ECS population decreased by eight, there was an increase of 10 Grade 1-6 students for a net gain of two for a current K-6 enrolment of 487.
R.F. Staples School saw its enrolment drop by 36, which is roughly equivalent to five per cent. It was noted in the report that R.F. Staples is currently being affected by a decrease in enrolment that started in WES — R.F.’s junior high enrolment of 252 is the lowest it’s been in nine years.
Busby School saw its ECS numbers increase by 11, which more than made up a four-student Grade 1-6 decrease. The school’s total enrolment now stands at 117.
Eleanor Hall School lost five students, including three ECS students. The population is now at 258 K-9 students.
Pembina North Community School also had a rough year, losing a total of 16 students from 2018-2019. While the ECS population went up by two, the Grade 1-9 population decreased by 18, leaving the total enrolment at 204.
Board chair Jennifer Tuininga asked if the division should be doing more in terms of examining why parents opted to move their children from one school to the next ahead of when they were supposed to.
She noted she had heard that a bunch of students had suddenly moved from PNCS to R.F. Staples ahead of their Grade 9 graduation.
“Sometimes I wonder … are we doing enough to find out why people move?” she asked.
Supt. Dave Garbutt said that was being worked on right now by assistant Supt. of education services Mark Thiesen.
“Right now, we haven’t done a great job of collecting that data,” he said.
Garbutt noted that principals usually handle exit interviews when a parent moves their child out of a school.
Trustee Wendy Scinski pointed out a potential flaw in that strategy: what if the principal is the reason a student is leaving?
Garbutt acknowledged her point, but said principals also do entrance interviews. Hopefully, parents would choose to be more honest with an incoming principal than the outgoing one, he said.
Scinski also pointed out a potential issue if the student chose to move to St. Mary School, which is not part of Pembina Hills.
Garbutt said they could still follow up with kids who moved to St. Mary. However, he argued that as important as it is to follow up with students who are moving, you also need the right people talking to those kids.
“You send the wrong person, you’re going to lose them,” he said.