Against the trends
CBN school representatives react to population predictions
Trinity Conception is a unique region when it comes to school populations.
Over the past two decades, multiple schools have closed and new ones have been built. School populations in some areas have amalgamated and grades have been restructured.
But where do schools in the region currently stand? Are more school closures or grade restructurings on the horizon?
With the new census expected out next year, it’s hard to accurately gauge where populations of each town and community stand.
Is it possible to predict school populations, both growth and decline, accurately from previous trends?
If you ask municipalities like Carbonear, leaders will likely say local populations should increase because of the number of new homes being built in the town. That would usually correlate to more students at the local schools.
For a place like Bay de Verde where the death rate is significantly higher than the birth rate, there may be less of a belief that population will grow.
Predictions can be useful, especially for a school, in order to determine how many classes will be needed the following year, what course selections can be made available and how many classrooms will be needed for a new school under construction.
That is exactly what the school districts in Newfoundland and Labrador have done in the past.
Based on available statistics, as well as municipal and historical trends, the department developed a ten-year projection of school populations from 2010 to 2020.
Three schools are no longer on the Trinity Conception list from 2010 — Davis Elementary in Carbonear, Epiphany Elementary in Heart’s Delight-Islington and Harbour Grace Primary. And one new school has been built — Carbonear Academy.
The projections show a trend of increased population in the more urban areas, such as Bay Roberts and Carbonear.
A decrease in the more rural communities, like Whitbourne, is also demonstrated.
But two schools in the region don’t fit in with the trend.
Cabot Academy in Western Bay has increased from 96 to 123 over the past five years. Western Bay is in a rural area known as the North Shore, which has a cachment area of over 30 kilometres from Kingston to Caplin Cove.
St. Francis School in Harbour Grace shows a decline of just under 10 per cent over the next five years. Harbour Grace is in Conception Bay North between two major centres and boasts a population of some 3,200.
The Compass has reached out to school representatives to discuss what they think of their schools’ projections and if they believe they are accurate. Cabot Academy growth Gerard Murphy, principal at Cabot Academy, isn’t surprised the area has increased based on his observations.
“To my knowledge, most of the students that have come to my school that have families returning to the area have some connection in some way, shape or form to the area,” Murphy told The Compass last week.
Although not always the case, the number of new students has demonstrated that the population is on the increase.
In the five years prior to 2010, the school’s population had been on a decline, Murphy explained. Since then, it has begun to grow.
He believes young families in the area are also a result of the increase.
“My numbers in kindergarten are increasing,” he said, noting there are 19 students registered in kinderstart at Cabot. “It’s been a gradual and marginal climb on a year-to-year basis.”
St. Francis chair not concerned
Don Coombs, the community representative and chairperson for the St. Francis school council, has heard the numbers, but is not convinced the school is losing students.
“I’d like to know how they projected it,” he said. “I’ve seen it before where they did the projections for Harbour Grace Primary and the projections didn’t work out.”
In 2013, Harbour Grace Primary closed, moving all local children into a K-8 St. Francis.
Coombs has been a representative on the school council at St. Francis for many years. In his time there, he has yet to see justification for a drop in population from 292 to 271.
“Any decline in population would be something to be concerned about,” Coombs noted. “We were down a bit last year, and we’re up again this year. Next year I think it’s projected to have about a five or six student loss.”
Although Harbour Grace is one of the bigger municipalities in Trinity Conception, Coombs doesn’t believe the school’s growth should compare to larger municipalities.
“We can’t compare Harbour Grace to Carbonear or Bay Roberts based on populations,” he said. “I’m more concerned with the education we’re providing the kids as a school. And we may be number two in numbers, but we’re number one in our teaching at the school.”
All three schools in Carbonear and Bay Roberts are seeing an increase in student population over the next five years.
When asked why the projections may not be accurate, Coombs confirmed that there are several developments in the area, including neighbouring Bristol’s Hope. He also believes young people and young families have been moving back into the area, which would not have been known when the projections were done five years ago.