A high graduation rate across the school district last year included students with special needs, and Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools hopes to stay the course.
According to the B.C. Ministry of Education and Child Care, 71 per cent of special-needs students – those with a disability of an intellectual, physical, sensory, emotional or behavioural nature – graduated from high school in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in 2021-22. Overall, 87 per cent of students graduated in the district, including 77 per cent of Indigenous students.
Sixty four-per cent of special needs students graduated in 2020-21 and the 71 per cent represents the highest ever achieved in the district, according to superintendet Scott Saywell.
The district has increased the number of full-time equivalent staff to address students with disabilities and different abilities, he noted. This year’s budget includes $250,000 for supports for such students, with two full-time and one part-time staff members.
“I think it’s around concentrating efforts and some great work by our learning services department to make sure that more of those students graduate,” said Saywell, when asked about how the supports help students. “I think that rate will continue to go up because I think we have a long way to go.”
A record number of students (88.7 per cent), along with 80.3 per cent Indigenous, graduated in 2020-21 and there are numerous factors that could account for the drop, according to Saywell, some out of the district’s control.
“Cost of living is way up. A lot of families have been impacted by disruptions in employment and housing over the last couple of years,” he said. “These students graduating last year, 2021-22, were in Grade 10, just at the beginning of the graduation program … they’ve kind of been in a pandemic those three years. You could argue they’ve been more affected than students finishing their Grade 12 a couple years ago.”
Jeremy Inscho, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association president, said the graduation rates are positive.
“We are working hard to improve the rates for groups that traditionally have lower rates,” he said. “There’s some concern at what cost. Are we providing the same opportunity for students who traditionally do well? Is there less opportunity for them? … But I know that it’s a good thing students who weren’t graduating before are now or are improving now.”
While numbers did decrease, Saywell said he hopes the district stays the course.
“Over the last five years, our grad rates have improved year over a year,” he said. “This year, the rate dropped a little bit and the difference is minor, but, I’m certainly not concerned … We couldn’t improve year over year forever.”
Across British Columbia, 92 per cent of all students, 75 per cent of Indigenous students and 77 per cent of special needs students graduated last year.