The Surrey school district has about 550 fewer students than what staff was predicting for the 2020/21 school year.
Superintendent Jordan Tinney gave an update at Wednesday’s (Oct. 14) board of education meeting.
He said the district was projecting 44,267 elementary students, but the current enrolment is 43,493.
“In such an incredibly different year, this is 774 fewer students than projected in our elementary schools and that’s quite a shock, indeed.”
However, at secondary schools, Tinney said enrolment is slightly up.
The district was projecting 28,714 students and 28,930 have enrolled, he said.
“But when you put the elementary and the secondary together, as a combined piece, it still is not a positive story,” noted Tinney.
“That’s so unusual for Surrey. We know that there have been changes in immigration and we know there have been changes in international students, but it’s been a rare time indeed, certainly not one in my years in Surrey where we’ve seen a number like that.”
While enrolment is slightly up about 200 students from the last school year, Tinney said the 550-student decline from projections affects budgeting., such as hiring more teachers and support staff.
“That’s like an entire large elementary school, like Maddaugh Road that just didn’t appear but we paid for it. It’s just so hard, in this scenario, when you get into September to be able to pull back is extremely difficult.”
Enrolment at the district usually increases by about 1,000 students each school year.
“Our overall enrolment numbers are slightly above last year, but they are below our projections for the 2020/21 school year,” explains Laurie Larsen, chair of the Surrey Board of Education said in a release Oct. 9.
“This is due to a number of factors, including a decline in immigration and international students, and the fact that some parents opted to home school their children.”
Larsen said there is “no question” that the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges to the public school system, “but it has also brought opportunity.”
After hearing from parents, she said the district began developing its blended model.
According to the district, most students returned to class full-time in September, with the exception of grades 10 to 12, who are participating in a blended model with both online and face-to-face learning.
Students in grades 8 and 9 were able to register for online options. Students in kindergarten to Grade 7 went back to school for full-time face-to-face learning, but there was an option for a blended program with a goal of gradually increasing face-to-face learning.
Tinney said this is “new territory” for the district.
“In an average school year, the vast majority of our students physically attend classes, and our staff is able to offer in-person support. This year, we have a program where about 29,000 students in our district are receiving at least half of their education online.”
This year, 34,571 elementary students are learning face-to-face, while 8,944 opted for the blended program, according to district data released on Oct. 9.
In high schools, 10,387 students are learning face-to-face, while 1,116 students in grades 8 and 9 are in the blended program and 17,531 students in grades 10 to 12 are in the blended program.