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Growth in Grades 4-9 classes restricting school choice: Edmonton Public Schools

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Class sizes are growing at Edmonton Public Schools, with the largest growth happening at the Grade 4 to 9 level, where the average ranges from 23 to 26 students.

The new numbers were released Tuesday at a board meeting before the district begins its budget planning process. 

For core subjects, the largest junior high and high school class size is 46 students — an increase of seven students in 2020 and six in 2021, respectively.

This year, 37 per cent of core subject classes in the highest three grades have between 31 to 35 students.

In junior high, nearly 37 per cent of classes have 26 to 30 students, with 27 per cent having 31 to 35 students.

Almost 51 per cent of Kindergarten to Grade 3 classes have 21 to 25 pupils, with about 28 per cent this year having more than 26.

Roughly 45 per cent of Grades 4-6 classes have more than 26 students in them. Two academic years ago, only 31 per cent of classes had more than 26 learners.

For Kindergarten to Grade 3 learners, the largest class size is 33. In Edmonton Public upper elementary classes, the largest size is 46 learners.

Alberta Education required class size data reporting until the fall of 2019. Edmonton Public Schools decided to continue collecting and reporting the data.

Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks said she and division staff hear from parents concerned about growing class sizes weekly.

"What I see is a story of a growing division," Estabrooks told reporters. "Class sizes is [sic] something parents care about."

She pointed to Joey Moss School in the city's southwest, which just opened and already has an average class size of 35 students.

"That's the story of growth in Edmonton Public Schools," she added.

'THEY CHOOSE NOT TO FUND US'

Edmonton Public projects another 4,200 students will start school next academic year.

Estabrooks said the district requested funding for five new schools from the province but only received full funding for one, the new Edgemont K-9 school.

Their top ask from the provincial government, a Grades 7-12 school in Glenridding, still needs to be funded, she added.

Deputy Premier Kaycee Madu, the MLA for Edmonton-South West, said every school Edmonton Public has asked for since 2019 in his riding has been built.

"I've been fighting them to prioritize schools in Edmonton-South West and that's how we are going to solve this problem," Madu said. "The Edgemont school, by the way, was not a priority for the Edmonton Public School Board.

"I had to go to them, working with the school board trustee, to prioritize that particular school so it could be funded."

When asked about Madu's comments, Estabrooks invited him to have further conversations with the public school board.

"We have professionals who put together our capital and infrastructure plan," she said. "They know what they are doing. We need autonomy as school boards to decide where schools are built and when they are built."

"This government had an opportunity for the last two years in a row to fund our school projects, including that Edgemont school, including Glenridding," Estabrooks added. "They chose not to fund us."

SCHOOL CHOICE DISAPPEARING

During Tuesday's board meeting, superintendent Darrel Robertson said that while the district is relying on overflow schools to teach students whose community school is at capacity, those facilities and their ability to take more students are being impacted.

"They are doing their level best to ensure that those class sizes are reasonable," Robertson said. "It's really challenging to keep to those optimal class sizes in a growing division, in shrinking resources, in inflationary pressures."

Robertson said Edmonton Public has been a district that prided itself in championing school choice for decades.

"The reality is, with population growth, choice is becoming more restricted," he explained, adding that school lotteries, which aren't popular with parents, are becoming more common.

"We have pressure points in terms of the total number of students in large neighbourhoods that are expecting to get into a community school," Robertson said.

"Folks want to be able to go to the school they choose to go to."

Trustee Saadiq Sumar, representing Ward G in the city's southeast, called the class size data "alarming" but thanked teachers and principals for finding ways to accommodate students.

"There's a lot of gratitude there for teachers," Sumar told board members. "I can't imagine being a teacher, let alone a teacher in a core subject with 46 students in a division four class [Grade 10 to 12], but somehow they manage that." 

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