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Nanaimo school district sees ‘unprecedented’ increase in distance-ed students

School District 68 hires teachers to support distance learning and transition program pupils
Distance learning, home-schooling, in-class and transition programs were options offered to parents as the start of the school year began for Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools. (Nanaimo News Bulletin file)

With class back in session under COVID-19 regulations, Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district has seen an upswing in distance learning enrolment.

School started Sept. 10, with Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools offering the usual in-class, distance (distributed) learning and home schooling. A transition learning program for parents apprehensive about sending their children to bricks-and-mortar schools right away was also offered. Transition students retain their catchment school spot, with program support in place until Nov. 6, when parents will have to decide whether to continue distance learning or choose in-class or home-schooling.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, superintendent Scott Saywell said many have signed up to Island Connect Ed K-12, the district’s distributed learning program.

“It’s been quite remarkable that we’re up and running with two new programs,” Saywell told trustees. “We have expanded the distributed learning program, Island Connect Ed, in a way that of course, is unprecedented … when you quadruple the number of students in a school, you’re quadrupling the staff, adding more desks and chairs. It’s a remarkable job done by the principal and teachers and the support staff in that building.”

Saywell said the transition program, which began Sept. 21, involved another 400 students, something he likened to “starting a whole new school in about a couple of weeks.”

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Tim Davie, district deputy superintendent, said extra teachers have been hired to accommodate increased enrolment. He noted that 11 full-time equivalent teachers were added to Island Connect Ed in the first round of hiring in September, two of whom are teaching French immersion. He said one student-support teacher will be hired to work with the additional distributed learning students.

Davie said coordinator time has also been increased by 1.6 full-time equivalent through to Nov. 6. The coordinators won’t be required to teach, allowing them to “fully engage in support and helping the transition and supporting the new teachers that are coming into the DL programs.”

An additional 17 teachers on-call have been hired to work within the transition program.

The district is working closely with the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association for class size and composition, Davie said. It is also “in the midst of considering” out-of-catchment requests for students.

“Obviously, that work is complicated by the fact that we have a number of students who are either remaining in the transition learning program and may opt for regular in-class instruction, or we have students who have opted for distributed learning at this point and we have to consider the fact that many of those students may elect to return to regular in-class instruction for next year,” said Davie. “So we’re looking at the impacts of how that’s going to play out over the coming years as well.”

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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