Drop in students hurting small P.E.I. schools: teachers' federation

The president of the Prince Edward Island Teachers' Federation says declining enrolment is taking a toll on teachers at small schools, and the government needs to take action.

The president of the Prince Edward Island Teachers' Federation says declining enrolment is taking a toll on teachers at small schools, and the government needs to take action.

Phyllis Horne said there is too much responsibility given to teachers at smaller schools because the budget doesn't allow for as many instructors as there are at larger schools.

"The board and the Department of Education are either going to have to increase funding to support the small schools or they're going to have to come up with some alternatives, whether that means

joining up a couple of smaller schools. I'm not sure what their decision will be."

The province's three school boards are creating action plans to be presented in November, following a report Thursday that said there has been a dramatic drop in school enrolment.

The report shows enrolment has dropped by about a third since 1970, and is expected to drop by 14 per cent over the next decade, leaving the Eastern School District with 17 schools that have fewer than 100 students each.

Sandy MacDonald, superintendent of the Eastern District, said some schools may choose to close or amalgamate, and his board is prepared to make some tough decisions.

"Our job, my job, is to do what's best for all 43 schools … this is not to say the education kids are getting at smaller schools is a poor education … we just can't continue to deliver that quality in the face of declining enrolment."

Some schools could be closed by next fall, following public consultations in the new year.

But nothing can be done without aproval from the province, said the Minister of Education, Gerard Greenan.

"As cabinet, we make the final decision. As you can appreciate this is something new for any government in recent years. We will see, let the school districts do their work and see what comes out of it," he said.

Janie MacDonald, a teacher from Cardigan Consolidated, said having small classroom sizes has its advantages. This year, she has 12 students in her Grade 8 class.

"It just depends on the situation. It gives you time for individual attention, but also it very much depends on your classroom composition," she said. 

Nancy MacIntosh, the principal of Cardigan Consolidated, agrees.

"It doesn't matter the size of the building or what the building looks like. It's programs that are offered in the building and it's the quality of the education that children get," she said.

At Cardigan Consolidated, the number of students has decreased 33 per cent over the last five years.

Schools amalgamating

Ronnie McIntosh, the principal at Rollo Bay Consolidated, said the success of his students is more important than the future of his school.

This fall, 46 Grade 7 and 8 students will be attending Souris Consolidated, a few kilometres away, because it's offering visual arts, career exploration and computer technology for the first time.

The exodus leaves Rollo Bay with only 36 students, 34 in Grade 5 and Grade 6, and only two in Grade 8.

"They'll be residing in a Grade 6 classroom, but I think at other times that will mean they are working independently," said Mackintosh of the Grade 8 pupils. 

Souris principal Sharon McIntosh said she would like to see all five schools in the Eastern School District closed so a large school for all kindergarten to Grade 12 students can open. 

"I mean it's inevitable, there's got to be change, with declining enrolment," she said.

She said she hopes the Eastern district will support the idea, once it sees how well the mini-amalgamation with Rollo Bay works.