A burst in student enrolment is playing out as expected in the Western School Division (WSD).
At the start of last week, growth was registered at 8 per cent over the 2021/22 school year, and Superintendent Stephen Ross says he wouldn't be shocked if that inched closer to 10 per cent in the next little while, once again slating Western as one of the fastest growing school divisions in Manitoba.
"The last couple of years prior to COVID-19, we were either first or second in the province in percentage in enrolment growth, and I see us being in the hunt again this year which is a great thing for the community and as that new school is coming along," said Ross, noting the growth is happening throughout all grades. "It is going to be one of the biggest numbers we have seen in Western School Division, I would expect."
Ross noted, Division officials anticipated the surge and as a result, planned for it through the budgeting process and by hiring additional staff.
A large part of this growth is due to new students arriving in the Division, particularly as part of newcomer families to Canada.
"We had planned for that, and we hired some additional staff to do some additional screening of EAL (English as an additional language) students so that they could be properly placed," explained Ross.
He also expects some of the growth could also be from students returning to public school now that the pandemic has tempered, whether they left for personal or health reasons.
With the 2022/23 school year set to begin, Ross feels there's a lot of excitement brewing for the new term with summer offering students, staff and families a chance to rejuvenate. And with no pandemic restrictions currently in place for schools, the Division is also planning for a return to normal.
"We know that there are still variants out there, and families will make their own decisions on how they approach certain things. And so, there may be some students or parents that, for their own personal reasons, choose to continue to try to do the best things for themselves and may wear masks - it's certainly not a requirement. So, we're going to expect a normal school year (with) normal activities."
Meantime, the Division has reached the 66 per cent design stage for the new k-8 school in Morden, and is quickly closing in on the 99 per cent stage. The hope, according to Ross, is to bring the project to tender early this fall with construction to start early next spring. Opening date is expected for September 2024.