A lesson well learned
Educational arena coping with an expanding population

Emma Levez
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 19/98) - The quality of education in Yellowknife has not decreased, despite a significant increase in the number of students, says Don Kindt, assistant superintendent of instruction at the Catholic school board.

In keeping with the trend of most Canadian cities today, Yellowknife has experienced a notable increase in population over the past decade.

According to the GNWT's bureau of statistics, the population of Yellowknife was 11,753 in 1986. By 1996 (the year in which the last census was taken), the city's population had increased to 17,275.

The city continues to grow, and as it does so provisions must be made to accommodate a greater number of people. The educational arena has been challenged to meet the needs of the growing number of students while at the same time coping with budget cuts by the government.

Major reductions in funding occurred in the 1995/96 and 1996/97 school years when the Catholic board lost over $800 per student. Last year there was a slight recovery -- an increase of $75 -- but Kindt emphasizes that still, the funding is significantly lower than it was three years ago.

The way these cuts (and the increased number of students) have affected the schools has been to create a lack of needed space.

Despite the addition of a brand new high school three years ago, the Catholic board still finds it challenging to accommodate all of their students.

"There are more students at St. Pat's now than the school was designed for," says Kindt, "We are maximized, there's no doubt about that."

In the 1989-90 school year, 931 full-time equivalent students were enroled in the Catholic schools of Yellowknife. In the 1997/98 school year, that number had escalated to 1404 full time equivalent students.

"We've had a 56 per cent increase in students in the last six years," says Kindt, "But not a 56 per cent space increase."

There are other projects in the works which will provide more space for the students. Four portables have been added to the other Catholic high school, St. Joseph's. The building of a new elementary school will be started in the spring, and that is expected to be finished by the fall of 2000.

Reduced funding and more students also challenges the teachers.

"There is a greater diversity of students now than ever before," Kindt says. "Teachers have to be better trained. They have to be current in pedagogy and technology. Their job is much tougher these days."

The public school district has not experienced such a drastic increase in their number of students. In fact, over the last three years, their numbers have stayed stable, hovering around 2,250 full-time students. They have grown somewhat in the past decade though -- in 1988, only 1933 full-time students enroled with the public school board.

In reaction to the growing number of students, N.J Macpherson public school was built in 1988 and Range Lake North public school was built in 1993.

Ken Woodley, Superintendent of Education (District 1), states, "The growth in population has caused the system to grow. We've had a positive increase in numbers, which has allowed us to expand the offerings we can give to students."

He agrees with Kindt in that quality has not been compromised despite the challenges they have faced. "We are managing to hold our own quality, and the quantity of services we offer have not diminished."

Perhaps the increased number of students is actually helping the system, since schools receive per student funding. Indeed, Woodley says, "The more students we have, the better programs we can offer...it makes us cost efficient."