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WCPS enrollment showing some surprises

Ponoka, Blackfalds taking the biggest hit so far
Student numbers across WCPS are far lower than projected and part of the reason could be the recent economic turn that took place in the province. File photo

With the final deadline looming, student numbers have provided a few shockwaves for Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS).

As of Sept. 15, the school division has witnessed a few trends that have administration somewhat baffled and in some cases concerned regarding the direction those figures are heading.

“We are certainly seeing some interesting trends and definitely have been surprised by a few of the numbers,” said Jayson Lovell, WCPS superintendent, noting that division wide student numbers are off by 100 from what was projected.

“There seems to be have been a levelling off of student growth in Lacombe, while the significant drop in Blackfalds is obvious though a bit troublesome.”

Over the past several years, Lovell explained, Lacombe has seen a constant rate of growth, something that seems to have been interrupted.

When compared to student projections, Lacombe’s James S. McCormick is down 17 students and Lacombe Junior High is lower by 13. Meanwhile, Lacombe Upper Elementary is up 21 students and Terrace Ridge has increased by 23.

“While overall Lacombe seems to be down slightly, there remains growth on the north side so I’m curious to know why there seems to be slower growth than what we thought was going to continue,” he added.

The major surprise comes in Blackfalds, where two of the three schools enrollment numbers differ vastly from what was projected. Iron Ridge Elementary is down 80 students, while Iron Ridge Intermediate has fallen by 25. Only Iron Ridge Junior High is close to projections, up by three.

“When making our projections, there was a lot of uncertainty with the new Red Deer Catholic school set to open (in Blackfalds) and their division initially thinking of an enrollment of about 250,” Lovell stated.

“The most recent number we got saw that figure jump significantly. It was obvious this school opening was going to take some students, but if these numbers hold, we are going to have to take some time to determine why we have lost these students.”

Some factors that Lovell agreed the new school seems to be taking advantage of include being located on the community’s growing east side, that it is pre-kindergarten to Grade 9 and busing isn’t as big an issue as for WCPS.

“Those things are just a reality and, while we are extremely proud of how our schools continue to perform, parents in each community have a choice,” he said.

“The ongoing challenge in Blackfalds is future capacity, especially since Lacombe Composite still has space for those high school students, but it won’t in a few years. That’s why we have to look at staying viable and attractive and project where we need to be regarding our current schools and a possible new high school.”

Go north and both Ponoka and Rimbey are experiencing lower numbers, with Ponoka Secondary Campus down 36 students and Rimbey Junior/Senior High down 26. The two elementary schools in the communities are bucking the trend — Ponoka up four, Rimbey up 16.

Lovell believes both dips can be somewhat attributed to the changing economy and movement of families, though he knows Rimbey has seen families with younger children move in recently and the Ponoka figures tend to be influenced by the fluid nature of students that come from Maskwacis.