By Nick Bernard
There appears to be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, especially for students, teachers, and staff at Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB).
At their committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 8, the board heard a number of reports from across its schools, with the discussions lingering less on COVID-19, and more on the future.
Superintendent Tim Ellis expressed a spike in enrolment, which tied into a number of plans already in place, including a facility renewal plan that will see a modernization of many school facilities, with the aim of accessibility and disability management.
“With the unexpected spike of students across the board … staff contemplated the best way to look, or deal with that increased spike in terms of what it looks like going forward,” Ellis said, describing the process in which the board reported this expected growth to the Ministry of Education. He said the amount of growth expressed to the province also took into account possible departures in September. “So what we did is we decided to be consistent with our pre-COVID trends, and keep the numbers on a conservative level.”
This was done, Ellis said, to ensure that the upcoming budget remains, as he calls it, “realistic”. Ellis said despite the enrollment growth, he reported a small drop in the number of students.
“Just giving anecdotally what we are expecting, [we’re] expecting elementary to drift slightly lower over the next few years as we have seen pre-COVID, but it will be pretty stable. We haven’t seen any drastic declines for a number of years,” he said. “That being said, we are aware that there [are] a couple of substantial housing developments … and we are waiting to see when those developments are coming online, as well as what type of buildings, and seeing what the yields are coming out of that.”
For 2022 and 2023, Ellis said the projected number of students across the board will be 11,151 at the elementary level, and 4,918 students at the secondary level.
In a series of updates from across the system, board superintendents painted a vivid picture of the mood and overall flow of activity in schools following a number of developments coming out of the pandemic.
TLDSB director Wes Hahn characterized a sense of optimism during a school visit that day.
“To see the positive outlook, the positive excitement, the energy that’s in our schools right now, very positive,” Hahn said. He also commented on the successful implementation of the daily health assessment within schools, similarly characterizing it as a positive method of maintaining the quality of in-school learning.
Superintendent Paul Goldring provided a brief COVID-specific update, and expressed his own optimistic outlook.
“I’m very pleased to report that we have no schools and classes that have been pivoted to remote learning at this point,” Goldring said. “We’re continuing to work closely with our health units to monitor the percentage of student absences in our schools, and we’re very optimistic about seeing things move in a positive direction in the next few weeks.”
Goldring said there was a push to get vaccinations for students aged five to 11, with consent forms having been sent out to the families of those students. He said the health unit plans to conduct clinics based on where they see demand. Goldring also emphasized that no vaccinations will be given out without parental consent.
Adjusting to the new, old timetables
Secondary school students returned to a semestered, four-class-a-day schedule, following a condensed two-class quadmester system. Superintendent Kim Williams presented a number of anecdotal quotes collected from the semester’s first day on Feb. 7.
“Of course, with any of our best plans, there’s always glitches that need to be worked through,” Williams said, acknowledging that while many of the quotes Williams collected were optimistic, there were still wrinkles in the carpet.
“Wow, the first day went by so fast,” said one quote.
“I had a great day; I honestly prefer a full semester from an academic perspective, I think it’s much easier to learn what we need to from a full semester,” said another.
Many of the concerns from students were of a social nature, especially around forming groups and navigating the hallways between classes.
“Younger students didn’t know where to go, or where their lockers were. It all seemed so chaotic,” one student expressed.
Williams also reported on the positive return of some low-impact, school-based extracurricular activities, with the return of inter-school competitions on the horizon.