Preliminary figures from the new school year have shown a startling reversal in a long-standing trend at the Mission school district. For the first time in recent memory, enrolment is up, bringing with it excitement and hope among administrators.
Heading into the year, Mission Public Schools had budgeted for 50 to 55 fewer students in the current year, reflecting the fact that, as Superintendent Bill Fletcher said, “We’ve always been on the decline.”
But this fall, a preliminary count by school officials has shown an increase in enrolment of 115 students among the total school population of around 5,500.
The increase is up in elementary and middle schools, and in the newly created Mission secondary school. If the count holds through an annual audit by the province, the increase in enrolment will bring with it an uptick in funding.
While they’ll be watching to see whether this year’s increase continues next fall, Fletcher and secretary-treasurer Wayne Jefferson say the increase in students may be in response to the district’s move to create a single high school that can offer expanded programs for which students had previously been leaving the district.
“We think that is a signal that people saw a change being made and it allowed us to retain some students,” Jefferson said. “This is a change and I think it’s students who have reacted in the change in a delivery of programs.”
Jefferson said there was also an increase in interest among international education students, who are among those who would be attracted by increased programming at the high school.
“Next year, if it grows again, I think you’ve seen a change in what was happening in this district in terms of retention of students. We did know there were students who were leaving our district to go to other schools.”
Jefferson said the numbers have prompted excitement at the district, and will be watched closely.
The growth is a first for him.
“I’ve been here three years and each year we were just trying to estimate how many we were going to lose. This time, the news was greeted with excitement.”
The district is also now out of debt, after taking on bank loans and leases more than a decade ago to build Riverside College.
Fletcher said that will add to the district’s financial flexibility.
“We can do so much more now that we don’t have this debt over our heads.”
Fletcher said that will enable the district to increase programming, and curriculum development. With changes coming to the provincial curriculum, which will focus more on problem-solving and less on the rote learning of facts, the district can now increase assistance to teachers.
As for the new high school, Fletcher said it had a “great opening,” and that while some work remained, he had yet to hear a complaint about the new school.