Enrolment decline smaller than projected

WHYCOCOMAGH: For the second year in a row, Strait regional school board (SRSB) officials are pleased that the steady decline in enrolment they have seen over the past two decades appears to be slowing down.

“We only had 46 fewer students in the SRSB this year than we had last year, and that’s a big change from some previous years,” said superintendent Ford Rice, who presented the 2017-2018 enrolment update at the board’s October meeting.

As of September 30, there were 6,197 Primary to Grade 12 students enrolled in the SRSB, down from 6,243 students in September of 2016. The difference of 46 students shows a much smaller decrease than the 227 students projected in the spring. Last year’s report showed a decrease of 37 students between 2015 and 2016, a decline which was also smaller than predicted.

Rice contrasted the numbers from the last two years with the much steeper drops in enrolment the board has experienced in the recent past.

“From 2007 to 2008, we decreased by 360 students in one year. And then we had a few years where the number was in the 240 range. For the last number of years, it has been around 171 to 179, but in the last two years, it dropped right off to 37 and 46. So it’s a big difference in the rate of decline,” said Rice.

Student enrolment information is released each September and is used to help inform decisions such as provincial funding for the following academic year. The two schools that showed the greatest enrolment decline over the past year were Chedabucto Education Centre/Guysborough Academy, which saw a decrease of 15 students, and Richmond Education Centre / Academy, which was down 17 students from 2016. The two schools with the largest rise in enrolment were Antigonish Education Centre, which saw an increase of 27 students, and Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School, which was up 19 students from last year.

While many factors contribute to changes in student enrolment, Rice said that the board has made efforts in recent years to slow the decline by attracting and supporting new students.

“We have around 34 Syrian newcomers in our board that we didn’t have a couple years ago, so that’s one of the things that have been happening,” said Rice, who pointed out that the board has also expanded its international student program.

“Back a few years ago… we had around 32 to 33 international students and currently we have 97… So we’ve really worked hard on our international program and we’ve put extra staff in place to work with the program”

Declining enrolment within the SRSB has been an ongoing concern since the board was established 21 years ago. In 1996, there were 11,476 students attending 39 schools throughout the board. This year, the SRSB serves 6,197 students attending 21 schools. Despite the decrease, the board is hopeful for the future.

“We’re very pleased that our enrolment [decline] seems to be tapering off and we’re holding our own,” added Rice.