British Columbia

Prince George, B.C., reopens elementary school because of Supreme Court victory

The Supreme Court decision awarding teachers the opportunity to restore class sizes to their smaller 2002 levels has allowed an elementary school in Prince George, B.C., to reopen.

Springwood Elementary on city's northside will reopen after shutting down for 7 years

Parent Erin Norwood with her seven-year-old son Wyatt in front of Springwood Elementary School in Prince George. (Jordan Baker/CBC)

Thanks to a Supreme Court of Canada decision, elementary school students in the City of Prince George are entering the hallways of Springwood Elementary for the first time in seven years.

Superintendent Marilyn Marquis-Forster said the decision that awarded teachers the chance to restore class size and composition to 2002 levels comes at an opportune time.

"The whole province of British Columbia is attempting to deal with the challenge of additional space or additional classrooms," she said.

"I think we were the only district in the province that was in a position to have a facility ready for September after that March decision. We were very proud we were able to do that."

Reopening Springwood Elementary — which is located in the northern part of the city nicknamed "the Hart" — fits strategically with student populations.

"The Hart is experiencing a population growth," she said. "It's experiencing an increased number of students coming to us in our Hart schools."

Challenging prep work

Getting the school upgraded and ready for the September start was a challenge, however.

Just a few months ago, stacks of unused desks, old lumber and old equipment filled the rooms of the school. Wireless technology, new flooring, a new public announcement system and other upgrades were also required.

On top of that, B.C.'s worst ever wildfire season threw a wrench into the timeline.

Facility staff spent much of the summer helping evacuees who had relocated to Prince George. Some evacuees were using schools in the Prince George area to temporarily house animals and pets.

"Our facility services folks have really stepped to the plate and have been double-timing to keep the Springwood project on time," Marquis-Forster said.

New beginnings

Kelly Johansen, the new principal at Springwood Elementary School, says families are excited for the school to open.

"There's a school opening a little closer to them," she said.

Johansen and the district had to finalize the hiring of teachers and support staff including education assistants and teacher librarians in time to welcome the nearly 170 new students for the school year. 

Although hiring teachers has been a challenge elsewhere in the province with hundreds of vacancies remaining, new teachers Briana Popin and Natalie Sales, both recent graduates of the University of Northern British Columbia's teaching program, are excited to start the school year.

"Both of us just graduated and we're kind of lucky now. To be able to have our own classrooms in our second year of teaching is a great opportunity for us. It's kind of nice not to wait a long time," Sales said.

And for parents like Erin Norwood whose two elementary-aged children will be starting at Springwood Elementary this year, it's a new beginning.

"I think it will be good for them. It's a smaller school, and the staff, I think, are really good," she said.

Listen to Course Correction: Beginning the new era of B.C. education on CBC Radio 1 from Sept. 5 to 8, 2017