He describes it as "a school start-up like no other I've ever been involved with in my career," and now Rocky View School (RVS) Superintendent Greg Luterbach is giving an update on just how things have gone during the first month of school in the COVID-19 era.
Luterbach says school preparations with the virus, and the first month of being back together for students and staff, have shown the resiliency in RVS communities as everyone tries to find their way through new and evolving safety protocols, and now, cases of the virus in RVS schools.
"Somehow, through all of that, we still see smiling faces, most of them from behind a mask. I hear comments from staff and students that they're excited to be back and then we have over 3,000 students who are online who are now settling into routines and getting used to that. While it's a school year like no other, I think things are going well."
As of Friday Luterbach says there have been 12 cases of the virus reported in RVS. That's out of just over 25,300 students along with all the school staff. When the first case showed up on one of the staggered entry dates at W.H. Croxford High School in Airdrie, Luterbach explains that they worked through the process with the Regional Medical Officer of Health. The communication challenges that were faced in that first incident were learned from to help improve the response for future cases.
"It was our first time going through it and understanding how Alberta Health Services (AHS) works. We had seen kind of on paper what the process would be but now we needed to live that process."
Luterbach says as a case is identified, AHS send a Public Health Inspector into the building to go through their follow-up routines and provide advice back to the school, advice he says is very much appreciated.
Luterbach is pleased with how online learning, which involves 3,000 students, is going. "Especially our grade one to nine program, which didn't exist, is going very well. It's certainly not perfect but I think everyone is understanding how much work it is to teach online. I think maybe that some people have a perception that teaching online is easy and it certainly is not and we appreciate the efforts of all of our online teachers, just as we do our face-to-face teachers."
COVID-19 has impacted another area of RVS, that of school enrollment. "When we started talking about how many students we were anticipating this September, probably last January, we projected that we would have 26,400 students. As of today (October 2) we're right around 25,300 students, so we're about 1,100 less than we thought."
Luterbach says the lower enrollment isn't entirely unexpected. Over 200 kindergarten students haven't been sent to school this year because of the virus while around 500 students left RVS for other educational offerings, including home-schooling. The weak economy and pandemic have also impacted in-province migration with not as many moving to Airdrie, Cochrane, and Chestermere, RVS communities that have been bursting at the seams in the past.
While the lower enrollment won't affect funding for this school year, Luterbach says it could for the next. "Because it's kind of an average of your enrollments over the previous year, the current year and the next year, we'll get less money next year for students that we actually have.
Luterbach says all school boards across Alberta are in the same boat and conversations are starting to happen on what can be done since this is such an unusual year.
Overall, Luterbach believes that some of the trepidation, anxiety, and fear that many people had as the school year started has eased. "I think that once people have heard back from their children about what is going on in school and what they're doing to protect everyone, both kids and staff, I think for a lot of people that alleviated the anxiety. But then, people hear about there being cases in schools across Alberta which may tweak their anxiety. It's in the front of all of our minds these days, making sure that we're looking after the safety of everyone, both staff, and students."