Director’s update shows enrolment numbers remain strong, but COVID-19 causing drop in reading scores

Herald file photo. Robert Bratvold answers a question during the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division annual general meeting in 2016. On Friday, provincial government sent a letter to the division asking them to find ways to freeze labour costs for the next year. Bratvold said there are some concerns about the request, but no final decisions would be made until March at the earliest.

Enrolment numbers continue to remain strong in the Sask. Rivers public school division, education director Robert Bratvold told trustees at their board meeting on Oct. 4.

Complete figures were not available for the end of September, but Bratvold said the division ended the last school year with around 8,000 students. He projected that number to increase to around 8,400 this year.

The exact total remains fluid, Bratvold said, since students have to register in both their primary school and the Distance Learning Centre (DLC) as a secondary school due to a Ministry of Education directive.

“The number we are anticipating for a final number will be somewhere between 8,550 and 9,000,” Bratvold said.

Board members greeted the news with applause. Bratvold said it wasn’t 100 per cent clear if all students who left due to COVID-19 will return, but early enrolment figures show a positive trend. He thanked teachers and school staff for making that possible.

“Lots of work went into it by teachers and staff at schools to stay connected,” Bratvold

One example of a school in the division with increased enrollment was Meath Park which saw an increase of 50 students. There were other various anecdotes about enrolment in schools across the division from trustees.

Trustee Jaimie Smith-Windsor attended a Meath Park SCC meeting and noted how they designed their high school to align with the four block system of the DLC so that some students can attend both regular school and DLC.

Enrollment numbers are a key metric in the money received from the province after the budget is announced each year.

The director’s update also included COVID-19 numbers as of Sept. 29. That report shows 16 of 32 schools in the division were reporting COVID-19 cases. As that time, the division had experienced 59 cases total.

“Our cases in schools are far higher this year than last year and that’s primarily because the Delta variant didn’t emerge until late last year,” Bratvold said.

“So last year in total we had 118 cases of COVID and this year we are just into that 70 range,” he added.

The division made the decision to not handle each COVID-19 through press releases to media outlets this year.

Saskatchewan Rivers is also part of rapid testing for families pilot program. According to the written report, four schools in the division are included and it has run smoothly thanks to Principals.

Supplies of testing kits have been a concern in the division especially with the province announcing it is now open to all school divisions.

The 500,000 test kits in the announcement are still not fully procured or available according to the memo.

Bratvold’s report also contained reading data that showed how the pandemic caused significant drops in reading scores. The report explained that pandemic instruction disruptions were significant.

The numbers show 40.9 per cent of Grade 1s in the division were reading at or above grade level, compared to 47.4 per cent in 2019. For Grade 2 students, 43.1 per cent were reading at or above grade level in 2021, compared to 50.3 per cent in 2019. For Grade 3s in 2021, 53.8 per cent were reading at or above grade level compared to 68.2 per cent in 2019.