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Whistler schools grapple with growth

Provincial funding for new middle school likely long way off, says district superintendent

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Whistler schools are once again experiencing increasing enrolment numbers.

With 49 additional students, Whistler Secondary School (WSS) has seen the largest increase. It now boasts an overall population of 501 students.

"It's fair to say that that school is at or over capacity," said School District 48 (SD48) Superintendent Lisa McCullough.

Myrtle Philip Community School has an additional 13 students (bringing its overall student body to 341), and Spring Creek Community School has an additional 10 students (bringing its overall student body to a total of 344 students).

According to McCullough, the first couple of weeks of classes have gone smoothly, save for some "minor exceptions."

After gaining a full account of its overall student body for the Whistler area, SD48 had to hired an additional teacher at Spring Creek. According to McCullough, the teacher was scheduled to begin work on Monday, Sept. 17.

And a portable that was ordered prior to the start of the school year has yet to arrive at Myrtle Philip, leaving a class to take place in the school's library in the meantime.

"Right now portables are in high demand in the province," said McCullough.

Spring Creek also received a new portable for this school year.

On a positive note, McCullough said SD48 has been able to fill all of its full-time teaching positions.

"We're very fortunate that we have a district that's a place where people want to work and an area where people want to live," said McCullough, explaining that hiring has been a struggle for other districts.

In total the school district added seven additional "divisions" (which are essentially classrooms) in its elementary schools this year, the one at Spring Creek and an additional one at Myrtle Philip.

That said, McCullough is concerned about the availability of substitute teachers, known as Teachers on Call (TOC). SD48 has around 90, but many already have part-time positions with schools.

"When you get right down to it, we still have a number of teachers on our TOC list, but not many-in fact maybe none-who are available for full-time work," she said.

Expecting further increased in enrolment going forward, SD48 has submitted a plan to the province to build a new school in the Whistler area-though it is not a sure thing and likely a long way off.

After weighing a few options during a public consultation process last spring, SD48 submitted a capital plan in June to build a brand new middle school for students in Grades 6 to 8 on a parcel of land above Myrtle Philip.

The school would have a capacity of 425 students.

McCullough said that it makes the most sense when considering future projections of students and received the greatest support when the plans were put out to public consultation.

As the middle school would educate Grade 6 to 8s, it would alleviate pressure at the high school, which would move to Grades 9 to12. It is currently teaching Grades 8 to 12.

But before the province commits to building the school, McCullough said that it would likely expect to see SD48 continue to add portables to existing Whistler schools and wait to ensure that the growth keeps up.

While unable to give a timeframe for when Whistlerites could expect to see a new school, McCullough said that around seven years would be a reasonable estimation. "In my experience in other schools in the past, if you were putting portables every single year and the growth continued and it was sustainable, I would say you're looking at about seven years (for a new school)," she said.

Jeff Maynard, principal of Myrtle Philip, said that he is excited for the new year and thrilled to be leading a dedicated team of teachers. He said while operating out of the library isn't ideal, as it conflicts with visits, it is a sound learning space for kids.

"The library is such an amazing learning space," he said.

"The students that are in there right now feel fortunate to be in there ... but clearly we want to make sure all students are able to access the library and the resources.

Myrtle Philip Parent Advisory Council chair Kelly Hand said she's hopeful that the province will take swift action on building a new school, given the continued popularity of Whistler schools.

"No one has a crystal ball, but I don't see Whistler's population dropping, because it's such a wonderful place to be and live," she said.

"So I think plans for a next stage solution-no matter what, whether it's a middle school or something else-really need to be looked at seriously starting today.

"The reality is the school is growing, just as the population of Whistler has grown.

"It's time to get serious about thinking to the next step, as we're outgrowing our school."

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