A portable was placed at Sardis elementary in October, as the school district continued to build spaces for its fast growing student base. (Jessica Peters/ Progress file)

Top Stories 2017: Teacher shortage, classrooms filled, more students arriving

Chilliwack schools faced heavy burdens in 2017

The year started off with a hiring spree of sorts — 34 new teacher positions to be filled immediately in January 2017. But that would only partially restore staffing levels at Chilliwack schools to Liberal government cuts that took place 14 years prior.

The years-long battle between the Province and the B.C. Teachers Federation was settled late in December, 2016. By Jan. 5, the BCTF and province had hammered out a $50 million interim settlement to hire up to 1,100 teachers for this school year across B.C. As 2017 wore on, it became increasingly clear there just wasn’t a ready roster of teachers waiting in the wings.

With the full restoration planned to be in place by September, schools across the province scrambled to find teachers. And Chilliwack was no different.

At the start of the school year, Chilliwack still had to fill 63 teaching positions, including a continuing, full-time secondary mathematics teacher for AP Calculus and Pre-Calculus 12 at Sardis secondary, a full-time socials, science and math teacher at Chilliwack middle school, and kindergarten teachers at Bernard, Tyson and Cultus Lake.

It also included support workers, prep teachers, librarians, collaboration positions, alternative education postings, and temporary on-call teachers.

The other side of the restored language settlement was a return to smaller classrooms, with different compositions of students with special needs to educational assistants. That’s exacerbated both space and staffing issues here, and in other districts.

And a lack of space in a majority of Chilliwack schools meant creating classroom space in areas like hallways, the libraries, multi-purpose rooms, computer labs, and even utility closet spaces. At one school, two classrooms shared the library space for several months until a portable arrived, limiting access to library time for the school population.

A bit of space is being created at Promontory Heights elementary right now, with an addition that will include eight classrooms, two large multi-purpose rooms and additional washrooms and storage spaces. The school will still need portables, though. The district has also purchased land in Sardis for a brand new school, foreseeably an elementary-middle similar to Rosedale. And while this month, new school announcements were made by the provincial government (including $31 million in Surrey), none have been made for Chilliwack so far.

Topping off all of those woes, is something the governments can’t really control — the migration of families. Chilliwack is an ever-growing community of families and the population is continuing to boom. Chilliwack’s school district headcount continues to rise, and almost every school is well past capacity. While the trend over the last few years was growth in the southside schools, the district is now seeing a growth in enrolment in northside schools, perhaps showing that families are choosing to live north of the highway and giving some insight into how the city may grow in the future.

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