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150 new staff being hired as P.E.I. students' need for extra help grows

The Public Schools Branch hired 60 new teachers over the summer to work in English-language public schools around the Island.  (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
The Public Schools Branch hired 60 new teachers over the summer to work in English-language public schools around the Island. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

Some Prince Edward Island schools will see a jump in the number of teachers and support staff when the school year starts next week.

The Public Schools Branch has added 150 new positions across the province, including 60 teachers and 90 educational assistants.

Education officials say it's not because of a jump in enrolment. Instead, they say, it's become clear over the last couple of years that students need more support.

"Coming out of the pandemic, there are some social needs, there are mental health issues that all parts of society are dealing with today," said Andy Doran, president of the P.E.I. Teachers' Federation.

"And of course the housing crisis — those things put stress on students and families. And it may not be that the total number of students is higher, but the number of teachers we need because of the needs of the students is increasing."

When students arrive to a classroom unexpectedly it can take a strain on teachers and support staff, says Andy Doran, president of the P.E.I. Teachers Federation.
When students arrive to a classroom unexpectedly it can take a strain on teachers and support staff, says Andy Doran, president of the P.E.I. Teachers Federation.

When new students arrive in a classroom unexpectedly through the school year, it can mean extra pressure on teachers and support staff, says Andy Doran, president of the P.E.I. Teachers' Federation. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

A greater number of newcomer families has also challenged the resources of Island classrooms, he said.

"If you're a teacher and you start out the year with 22 students, but as the year goes along, those numbers crawl up to 23, 24, 25 — let's say it's Grade 4. That becomes very difficult, especially if a student's first language isn't English," he said.

When it tabled its spring budget, the Dennis King government committed to paying for 100 new school staff positions for the fall. A few weeks ago, it came up with the money for an additional 50.

Over the summer, the Public Schools Branch hired around 60 new teachers and 40 educational assistants to work in the province's English-language school system.

Kelly Drummond, director of human resources at the Public Schools Branch, said it became clear that 40 new EAs weren't enough. So the branch made a case to the government for 50 more positions, and that was approved a few weeks ago.

"The last 50 we asked for are really around the unanticipated needs, the needs we're not aware of," said Drummond.

"As students are coming in to enroll for kindergarten and assessments are done, we're identifying needs."

Staffing needs could increase

The challenge now is filling all the additional EA positions before the school year starts. Drummond said they won't find enough certified EAs already trained for the job, so some people who are hired will be uncertified.

One of the key causes of school staff burnout is when people don't have the appropriate supports in place to help them do their job, says Kelly  Drummond, director of human resources at the Public Schools Branch.
One of the key causes of school staff burnout is when people don't have the appropriate supports in place to help them do their job, says Kelly Drummond, director of human resources at the Public Schools Branch.

One of the key causes of school staff burnout is when people don't have the appropriate supports in place to help them do their job, says Kelly Drummond, director of human resources at the Public Schools Branch. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"What we're doing in turn for those uncertified folks is providing a level of training for them," said Drummond.

"It won't be a certificate, but they'll have the professional development that they need and the training they need that will match the students they're assigned to, so that they can be successful, and more importantly [so that] the kids are getting the supports they need."

It's possible there'll be a need for even more teachers and EAs during the school year, she said.

The first day of school for the 2023-24 academic year is Thursday, Sept. 7.