Rocky View Schools (RVS) Superintendent of Schools Greg Luterbach confirmed that growth pressures in RVS contributed to a shortage of teachers in some classes and other logistical problems, such as a lack of desks or textbooks, in a few Airdrie schools at the start of the 2022-23 school year.
“That’s certainly not normal,” admitted Luterbach, in response to public complaints received by the Airdrie City View that some local RVS classrooms did not have teachers in place for the first week of school.
“We have got over 1,500 teachers across [RVS]. There are typically two situations that come up to cause us to maybe not have a regular teacher in front of their child on the first day of school.”
Luterbach noted those absences could be due to a teacher requesting a leave at the last minute, or being unable to return to work due to medical considerations.
“We typically find out about those very late in the summer or just when school is coming,” he said. “So we find a different person to start the year in that class. The second thing might be, whereby, we might be looking at numbers for that school and the class sizes are getting higher than what we would want. And therefore, we add another teacher to that class last minute.”
Because the hiring process takes some time to complete, Luterbach said it sometimes results in not having a teacher in place on the first day of classes.
“It is not normal, but it is not unusual to have a handful of these situations across those 1,500 classrooms in Rocky View,” he said.
Similarly, Luterbach confirmed, there can be instances where there are not enough desks or textbooks in place within a classroom to start the year, as his staff is not always 100 per cent sure how many students will show up on the first day of class.
Sometimes, the superintendent stated, competition for tight resources means it takes a few days to understand which classes need more desks and textbooks and which need less. It then can take operational staff a few days to move those resources from one school or classroom to another, Luterbach added.
“You are constantly managing your resources and you are trying to get them to the right school,” he said. “We certainly appreciate our families’ patience, because sometimes we’re doing that last-minute juggling, and sometimes that juggling is happening into the first week or two of school."
Like every other public school division, RVS is not immune to supply chain challenges, Luterbach said.
“We try to be proactive in those situations, and make sure that sometimes it's about moving the resources from one school to another.”
RVS Ward 6 (Cochrane) Trustee and Board Chair Fiona Gilbert said the logistical challenges faced by some Airdrie schools – and other urban schools throughout the division – are often a symptom of the larger growth pressures and infrastructure problems RVS is facing. Earlier this month, at the first Board of Trustees meeting of the 2022-23 school year, the trustees heard a presentation that stated RVS’ enrolment will be over 1,000 students more than last year.
“We are crowded in all our urban schools across Rocky View Schools,” Gilbert confirmed. “That includes Airdrie, Cochrane, and Chestermere as well. It’s right across our system in our urban centres – they are reaching 100 per cent capacity, and some of our schools are over 100 per cent capacity.”
Gilbert said that growth pressure, which has been bringing about 1,000 new students into the division each year for several years in a row, means there is a desperate need for new school construction in the division’s urban communities.
“We have a lot of catch up to do,” she said. “With the numbers we are growing [by], we need a new school every year in Airdrie. And every second or third year in Cochrane and Chestermere.”
She added RVS is “stepping up our advocacy and making sure (the Alberta) government is aware that these are our needs.”
Gilbert acknowledged it was unlikely the provincial government would agree to fund as many schools as RVS needs on a year to year out basis. It means division staff has to be creative with how they use space and how they allot the resources needed to support every single student in Rocky View Schools.
“From a Rocky View Schools perspective, we are pretty innovative and creative in maximizing our space to offer students the best education possible with the space that we have,” she said.
Luterbach said, unfortunately, his staff has to sometimes rely on the patience of parents and students as the district scrambles to meet those needs.
“The growth reality has been here for awhile at Rocky View, and our families have been really exceptional at understanding and working with us,” he stated. “It’s not our desire to be scrambling (for resources) and changing teachers in the last minute, but we certainly appreciate the patience.”