The distance education program through Navigate (NIDES) has been seen some large gains in enrolment. Image, screenshot

The distance education program through Navigate (NIDES) has been seen some large gains in enrolment. Image, screenshot

Comox Valley school enrolment up despite fewer kids in class

Growth being driven heavily by increase in distance education numbers

Even with all the upheaval around getting students back to classes, School District 71 has seen a marked increase in the numbers of students.

It was a bit of an ordeal to determine for district staff, as many students opted for home or distance education options. Some signed up through other districts, while students from elsewhere have registered for the Comox Valley. In the end, the district has ended up with more students than they projected.

“This year was the most complicated projection cycle ever, with COVID coming in,” assistant superintendent Geoff Manning told the board at the Oct. 27 board meeting.

Typically, the district passes a preliminary budget for the coming year in June. Based on the number of students as of Sept. 30, the Ministry of Education calculates a district’s operating grant, which is then used for a final budget for the school year. Due to all the changes to how classes are delivered due to COVID-19 restrictions though, it was harder for the district to get a clear picture.

There are fewer students in actual classrooms, as the district lost 413 students from classes in “brick and mortar” schools. Of these, 244 signed up with Navigate (NIDES) for distance learning and 62 became direct home-schoolers through the district, meaning roughly three-quarters were not actually lost, though some are funded differently.

In all, the district was well above projections, particularly through online classes at Navigate (NIDES). In all, the growth in the district works out, after factoring in losses in some areas and growth in others, to about 900 additional students more than had been projected. This has meant challenges for NIDES, so the board’s education committee will be hearing from NIDES at its next meeting in December.

“It was like adding a Vanier or an Isfeld to the school district,” Manning said.

RELATED STORY: Comox Valley distance ed lands almost a thousand new students

The net total amounts to just over 9,500 full-time equivalent students, while the actual headcount, which includes part-time students, was roughly 11,400 students.

“We wound up in a very good place, especially compared to other school districts around the province, who were having to go through funding cuts, budget shortfalls, because they lost a lot of those students,” Manning said.

The changes in how students are taking classes right now have meant adjustments everywhere, including among teachers, who have devoted professional development time to learning to use technology such as Zoom or working toward outdoor learning certification in order to incorporate educational opportunities outdoors.

“Teachers are trying to teach in a new atmosphere,” he said.

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