The first day of school has been months in the making for Saskatoon school divisions.
Classes started Thursday for many students in the city, including hundreds of newcomers.
Ray Morrison, chair of the Board of Education for Saskatoon Public Schools, said the division expects around 600 additional students for the 2016-17 school year.
“We continue to see more and more new Canadians coming to our school division, and I think we’ve become more adept over the past six or seven years at dealing with this … we’ve come to expect this,” he said.
According to Morrison, 200 fresh faces showed up to register for school in the month of August alone.
In 2015, overall enrolment for the division was more than 24,000 students, and it’s only growing this year.
“The surprise of 200 Syrian refugee students in a really short period of time last spring helped us change some of our habits and behaviours,” Morrison said, adding teachers are learning better ways to manage classrooms with multiple languages.
The board chair said having more new Canadian children in Saskatoon schools, with varying backgrounds and cultures, creates diversity for students to learn from one another.
“Classrooms these days tend to be more colour blind and students just make friends with each other,” he said.
And it’s not only new students being welcomed to public schools in Saskatoon this week—Morrison said he recently met with around 80 teachers joining the division for the first time.
“You could sense the enthusiasm, nervousness and excitement in their voices and their faces in the classroom,” he said, adding supports are in place to help all teachers starting out in their new career.
As for the financial situation, Morrison acknowledged while it’s stressful, Saskatoon Public Schools have been relatively lucky compared to other systems in Canada.
The board chair also responded to recent news the province is keeping a Workers Compensation Board surplus of around $4 million, which was originally flagged for Saskatchewan schools.
“It’s a little bit frustrating, but then again, it was a surprise and something that wasn’t expected.”
Morrison noted this year marks the fourth or fifth time the Saskatoon Public Schools board dipped into reserve funds to keep the student to teacher ratio down.
“I don’t think we can do that much longer. We’ve been at it for a while now,” he said.
“We joint tender with our sister school division—Greater Saskatoon Catholic—and we have joint buying agreements with the University of Saskatchewan for things, so we are always looking at ways to maximize the money that we have.”