PORT McNEILL—In an effort to facilitate more educational opportunities for the North Island's secondary school students and potentially deliver instruction to remote locations, School District 85 officials are working toward synchronizing the class schedules at Port Hardy Secondary School and North Island Secondary School, in Port McNeill.
"We recognize it's imperative for us to offer the academic required courses for our students at the time they need them, and not at the time our smaller secondary schools are able to offer it," assistant superintendent Katherine McIntosh told the SD 85 board at its regular meeting Feb. 11. "But we also envision it opening up additional electives for us to offer to students."
Shrinking enrolment on the North Island for nearly 20 years has led to cuts in a variety of elective programs, including band and music instruction and some language classes, and limited access to core curriculum classes in science, math and social sciences. A synchronized timetable, in combination with advances in technology, could allow the district to provide a single class to students from both North Island secondary schools.
"With smaller schools and smaller staff, it's pretty hard to have some of these specialists," trustee Lawrie Garrett said. "With two schools working together, it's like one school with 600 students on two different campuses."
Garrett said he had spoken to principals who noted some advanced classes, like chemistry 12, could not be offered because only seven or eight students signed up at one or both North Island schools.
"I'm wondering whether we should investigate the technology, for example, of videoconferencing equipment or webinar technology for delivering courses," Garrett said. "We might have eight students in McNeill and seven in Hardy, and we could deliver chemistry 12. We might have a teacher here in a classroom, and have a smaller classroom or a lab in Port Hardy with seven students and a TA (teaching assistant). We could deliver those courses."
McIntosh said the district is hosting a pair of focus group meetings on the subject this month and can provide a report back to the board at its March meeting. The first focus group session was held at the District office in Port Hardy Tuesday, after the Gazette went to press. The next meeting will be held next Tuesday, Feb. 26, also at the District office.
"They will consist of the principals and vice-principals, and we'll ask the teachers to join in on that conversation to look at not if we should go to synchronized schedules, but how we'll get there."
Currently, PHSS classes run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with a one-hour lunch break, and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., without the lunch break. NISS, meanwhile, runs from 9 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., with a 52-minute lunch break, five days a week.
"The other advantage is, it would allow us to deliver these courses to remote locations," said Garrett. "like Kingcome or River's Inlet or Zeballos."
Budget bylaw approved
The board approved the final amended budget bylaw for the 2012-13 school year, showing an overall boost while cutting the district's deficit from $910,380 to $189,542.
The board was initially presented a preliminary budget last spring for the coming fiscal year (July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013).
"The first budget we do is an early projection," treasurer John Martin said. "This refines both the revenue and expenditure side."
The District operates at total budget of slightly more than $21 million, up from last year's $19,480,723 figure. While SD 85 showed a deficit in net revenue, it does have an overall budget surplus of $665,653 in the form of its capital fund.
Enrolment drop continues
Provincial funding and teacher staffing could take a hit next year, based on preliminary enrolment figures that indicate a decline in enrolment for the 2013-14 school year. The final numbers of students for the 2013-14 school year, though, will not be know until classes resume in the new school year.
"We work with all the community service providers, including day cares, preschools and so forth, to figure out what we're expecting for students coming into the system," said McIntosh. "Those numbers, combined with the number of students graduating this spring, indicate to us we're going to experience another decline, we think about 77 students."
McIntosh said the District will take another survey at the close of the current school year to determine how many families are planning to move out of the area. But, she said, current industrial projects on the North Island could result in an influx of new families to the region.
"The final decision on staffing will be made later in the spring," she said. "We have until March to find out which teachers are returning from leaves, and those who may be retiring. We'll work in consultation with the local teacher's union, our principals and vice-principals as we make any changes to staffing."