British Columbia

Independent school in Victoria to close over provincewide teacher shortage

After struggling to find enough staff, a small independent school in Victoria, with a 30-year history, is closing its doors.

Elizabeth Buckley School will close in June after more than 30 years

Elizabeth Buckley School is a small, independent school that focuses on a STEAM curriculum — an arts-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education approach. (Elizabeth Buckley School/Facebook)

After struggling to find enough staff, a small independent school in Victoria, with a 30-year history, is closing its doors. 

Elizabeth Buckley School, an elementary and middle school, was originally founded in 1986 as a school for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.Today, its student population is diverse in terms of learning abilities and needs. 

The school is set to close at the end of June.

"It really stems from the teacher shortage in the province," said Roberta MacDonald, a vice principal and teacher at the school.

The lack of teachers is a provincewide problem after a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling required smaller class sizes and composition. 

Since the ruling, school districts around the province have hired nearly 3,500 teachers, the largest hiring blitz of teachers in B.C.'s history but many schools still have open spots.

The cost of living in Victoria, along with the lower pay offered at the independent school compared to public schools, compounded the problem, MacDonald said.

"We're just having difficulty finding skilled staff to work in the school," she said.

Including special needs students

At schools like Elizabeth Buckley, the need for special education teachers is particularly high.

"We were one of the only schools, or maybe even the only school in the community, that actually practised full inclusion which means that the children with special needs spend most of their day in the regular classroom," MacDonald said.

Laura Trunkey, a parent of a child with autism, said she transferred her son Angus to the school after they had a "rough kindergarten experience." 

"It's really hard to imagine that we'll have to find something else for next year," Trunkey said, who was overjoyed to see her son thrive in the hands-on learning environment.

She's toured a few private schools in the area but said public school is the only option for their family right now because other independent institutions have long wait-lists for accepting kids with special needs.

"It'll be difficult for us ... Our neighbourhood school has over 500 [kids]. That's going to be a big change, especially for a kid that's so sensitive to noise and loud groups of people."

Coming to the decision to close was not easy, she told Gregor Craigie, the host of CBC's On The Island.

Students and their families are now looking for other options for next fall, ranging from public schools to homeschooling.

Although the shortage of teachers was challenging for the school, MacDonald said she believes the demand will help her staff find new employment after the summer.

"They are very highly skilled and dedicated," she said. "I know that the need for people who are trained to do special education is great in the community, so I think they will probably be successful in finding a new placement."

With files from On The Island.