School districts around the province have been working hard to fill the more than 2,000 teaching positions created by a Supreme Court ruling in late 2016; and Teresa Downs, the superintendent of School District No. 74 (Gold Trail) says that as of last week, the district still had seven vacant full-time teaching positions at area schools.
“That’s certainly more than we usually have at this time of year,” says Downs. “We thought that this year would be a challenge, with a push across the province for more teachers. Districts in the Lower Mainland need more than 500 more teachers, and we’re not sure what that means for us.
“I’m not feeling incredibly confident about filling the positions, and my fear is we might see resignations when the school year starts. There’s a significant level of concern.”
She adds that 15 teachers who were employed in the district during the 2016–17 school year have left to take up positions in other school districts. “We’re concerned about what this says to our communities. But we’ve seen the commitment and dedication of many teachers who could have gone to other positions but decided to stay. They’re truly appreciated.”
She notes that the district worked hard over the spring and summer on teacher recruitment, and has managed to fill 35 teaching positions. At the moment, Lytton, Lillooet, and Shalalth are the communities most affected by the existing teaching vacancies.
Downs says that students and parents will find “multiple realities” at district schools. “All of our schools have created schedules and timetables based on having a full complement of staff. What we’ve asked them to do is to re-look at their organization and structure and create timetables and schedules if they do not have that full complement of staff. The one thing we’re striving for is not to be disruptive to students during the year. We would much rather add teachers than remove classrooms or divisions.”
The teacher-on-call list for SD 74 looks to be in good shape, notes Downs. “We still have a number of individuals who are choosing to continue in that capacity and we’re grateful for that, because so many things can’t occur in the district without TOCs.”
Many school districts have been scrambling to create more classroom space in their schools, to accommodate the increased number of teachers. Downs says that is not a factor in SD 74.
“We are happy that that is not currently an issue for our school district. We have sufficient space for new divisions. That’s the one perk of being small.”
Last November, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against 2002 legislation brought in by the B.C. Liberal government in 2002 that barred teachers from negotiating class size and composition related to special-needs students. In March 2017 an agreement was struck that restored smaller class sizes, resulting in the need for a significant increase in teacher hirings.
Rural districts have traditionally struggled to attract and retain teachers, particularly specialty and secondary school teachers, and the Supreme Court ruling has made this even more difficult. It has also had an effect on some teacher-on-call lists, as many teachers on those lists have now obtained a full-time position. A $2 million fund was created this spring to help rural schools offer incentives to new teachers, such as moving allowances and housing supports.