Against the trends

CBN school rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­act to pop­u­la­tion pre­dic­tions

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY MELISSA JENK­INS

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.

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