Teacher allotments tweaked

Jack Hulland Elementary School will have one fewer teacher this September. The Porter Creek school is one of the losers of the Education Department's annual shuffle of teacher allotments.

Jack Hulland Elementary School will have one fewer teacher this September.

The Porter Creek school is one of the losers of the Education Department’s annual shuffle of teacher allotments.

It’s the third consecutive year the school has seen a staffing cut, said Paul Nordahl, chair of the school council.

He worries the drop to 25 teachers will result in “more and more split grades and less flexibility for programming for students who need extra assistance.”

“When you start to whittle down the numbers, you can’t offer that same level of service,” he said.

But department officials say they’re simply trying to keep up with shifting demographics.

In the past decade, Jack Hulland has seen its enrolment dwindle by nearly half, to its present 278 students from a peak of 510.

This September, enrolment is projected to fall to 261.

If the department’s projections for Jack Hulland prove correct, the school will actually end up with a slightly better student-to-teacher ratio than it had this year. It will retain fewer than 11 students for every teacher, which is on par with the territory’s average.

But Nordahl has his doubts about the department’s forecast.

He’s watched duplexes and townhouses spring up in the neighbourhood in the past year, and “inevitably, some of those are going to be families with school-aged children.”

The total number of teachers employed across the Yukon in September will remain unchanged this year, at 476 staff.

In all, nine schools are expected to see minor staff reductions. Three will see increases.

Among the winners will be Whitehorse Elementary, a French immersion school that has bucked the trend of declining enrolment across the territory and seen its student ranks swell sixfold since 2003, when it had just 66 students, to 410 students today.

Enrolment is expected to further grow to 436 in September.

To match this growth, the school’s staff will increase by one, to 33 teachers.

“I’d have been surprised if we didn’t get it. We have enough new students to have a whole new class,” said council chair Erik Blake.

Staff reductions won’t result in any full-time teachers being forced to change schools, said Val Stehelin, the department’s director of human resources.

“All the adjustments are in schools where we’re expecting retirements or resignations. If there’s going to be a decrease, it will be in the positions that are currently vacant,” she said.

Contrary to speculation in past months, the department won’t be pulling extra teachers from the classroom to work on interdepartmental tasks, such as curriculum development, said Stehelin.

Three teaching positions have yet to be allocated to schools. One full-time job and a half-time position are contingencies, to be put into schools that have higher than anticipated enrolment.

The remaining jobs are for teachers to focus on behaviour issues and aboriginal integration into schools, said Stehelin.

Yukon’s teaching ranks have grown considerably in the past decade, at a time when the number of enrolled children has shrunk. As a result, the ratio of students to teachers has shrunk from greater than 13:1 to less than 11:1.

As a result, Yukon, on average, now has one of the best teacher-student ratios in the country. The national average is about 16 students for every teacher.

But considerable discrepancies exist between Yukon schools.

Rural schools tend to have a higher ratio of teachers to students,

because these schools have smaller student populations and it simply isn’t practical to cram students from a wide range of ages into a single classroom.

Considerable staffing gaps also exist between Whitehorse’s elementary schools.

In the most extreme case, Selkirk Elementary had a ratio of staff to students nearly twice as large as Whitehorse Elementary this year. It had only five students for every teacher.

But the biggest differences appear to be shaved off by the department’s latest juggling act, with Selkirk losing a teacher and Whitehorse Elementary receiving one, among other changes.

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