Central Okanagan Public Schools administration is engaged in the start-up of classes for the 2022-23 school year, which begins on Tuesday, Sept. 6. (File photo)

COVID concerns diminish for new Central Okanagan school year

Two elementary schools reopened for 2022-23 school year

Central Okanagan Public Schools is bracing for a student enrolment increase of more than 300 students – including 76 refugee students from Ukraine – when classes resume on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

“The projection is our enrolment is still growing,” said Kevin Kaardal, school district superintendent/CEO.

“Could be the equivalent of an elementary school or small middle school. The numbers are strongest on the Westside…

“But school space continues to be our challenge. We are at 106 per cent capacity on average for our school district. Some schools are as high as 125 per cent capacity and some are lower at 90 per cent.

“But that is why we have more than 140 portables on school sites this fall.”

Student head counts are monitored closely by school districts because the per pupil funding formula is typically adjusted in the current budget year, with the 2022-23 Central Okanagan School District operating budget forced to absorb a $3.3 million budget deficit.

As school health safety protocols continue to move closer to pre-COVID-19 pandemics standards as dictated by the provincial government health and education ministries, Kaardal said there is a bit more sense of normalcy to students returning to class that has not existed in the previous two years.

“Our clinical disease protocols are in place now and we look forward to offering full programming and extra-curricular activities this coming year,” Kaardal said.

“Our teaching and administrative staff are excited for the opportunity to offer our students a world-class education.”

Kaardal said Central Okanagan School District, like others around the province, has come to a point of learning how to live with the presence of COVID-19 and be adaptable to deal with whatever situations are to arise from it.

He said 2021-22 was a positive year of education achievement for students, from in-person learning to graduation levels, and the school district look to continue to build on those successes this year.

The administration is also dealing with the reopening of two schools, Webber Road Elementary in Glenrosa and Bellevue Creek in the lower Mission, with the school renovations for Webber pushing the deadline due to permit delays from the City of West Kelowna.

Work will also begin to repurpose George Pringle Elementary as a new secondary school for the Westside, while French Immersion students at Pringle have been shuffled to both Hudson Road and Glenrosa elementary schools.

Susan Bauhart, president of Central Okanagan Teachers Association, says teachers are approaching this September where for the first time in two years, COVID-19 is not overshadowing students returning to class.

Bauhart said teachers went through a three-day professional development session in Lake Country on Aug. 29-31 along with continuing to prep their classrooms for school reopening.

“COVID is still rampant out there from what you read but pretty low key this year with schools reopening,” Bauhart said, noting schools this fall will be open again to the public, wearing masks is optional and following appropriate hygiene practices will continue to be encouraged.

She says any rise in the COVID infection ranks among teachers will be felt because of the five-day or longer absence requirement, which can place a strain on teaching resources.

“The reality is (COVID) is not done but who knows what this virus is going to bring this year,” she said.

Bauhart said rising enrolment means additional per pupil provincial funding increases for the school district, and that in part translates into more teaching jobs.

From 1,186 teachers in 2015, the school district now employs more than 1,500 teachers, with enrolment projections likely to see that increase.

But while that creates potential teaching job opportunities for teachers wanting to move to the Central Okanagan, Bauhart cautions cost of living aspects such as housing affordability and wages now keep some from making the move.

The BC Teachers Federation remains without a new contract, which expired June 30, as Bauhart said the apparent settlement between the BCGEU and the province will set the roadmap for other public sector union contract settlements.

“We are all anxious to see the details of that settlement as while that was going on and with summer, everything has been in a bit of limbo…getting a new contract is an issue but bargaining talks are continuing at this point so not much else to say at this point,” she said.

backtoschoolCentral Okanagan Regional DistrictCity of KelownaSchools

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