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St. Anne’s Catholic School in St. Thomas, Ont., is expanding to make room for 210 more students. Photo courtesy LDCSB

Board scrambles to meet staffing needs

  • September 10, 2023

The London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) is emerging as a living example of the principles of supply and demand.

The projected enrolment for the 2023-24 school year is 26,000, a staggering increase of 2,000 students compared to the 24,000 who attended LDCSB institutions in 2022-23. To accommodate all these new pupils, the school board launched a campaign to attract new staff and authorized multiple construction projects.

Such sudden and dramatic growth — driven by London being the fastest-growing city in Ontario according to 2021 census data — was unforeseeable. The number of new pupils is enough to fill at least three schools.

Filling out the 200 advertised positions, including 75 teaching jobs, will take time. And just like Rome was not built in a day, constructing all the required space to effectively accommodate all these new bodies could not be accomplished by Sept. 6, the first day of classes.

“We are delighted with the growth, but it is coming more rapidly than we may have anticipated,” said Susan Nickle, an LCDSB superintendent of people, culture and general counsel. “We are like the proverbial duck: we are floating along the surface but scrambling underneath to ensure we have adequate facilities and teaching staff, support staff, etcetera.”

Based on precedent in recent years, LCDSB expects a large wave of students to be registered during the first two weeks of school and throughout the year.

Nickle said a few handpicked personnel from the board’s general staffing department took charge of the ongoing recruitment drive. Last spring, all 3,800 LCDSB staffers received a memo encouraging them to ask qualified educators in their network to consider joining this ever-growing team.

“We expect to remain in hiring mode for some time to come as we try to meet the needs of our growing district,” said Nickle.

“It is going well so far. We are getting experienced teachers coming in from other boards. Lots of staff members are also coming over, and people are switching careers to serve as administrative staff. We are hiring on many fronts. There is a teacher shortage throughout the province, and we continue to do our very best to attract the best and brightest. To be candid, some of the bigger cities are seeing decreases in enrolment in some pockets, so we hope to attract teachers (from those schools) to come to us.”

Meanwhile, relocating, leasing and installing 44 portables over the summer was just the beginning of the LCDSB’s slate of building projects. Construction continued during the summer on childcare and kindergarten spaces at Assumption Catholic School in Aylmer, Ont. Partial occupancy will be available for the kindergarten classes at the start of the school year. The childcare centre will be complete before 2024. A new childcare centre will open at St. Mary’s Catholic School in West Lorne, Ont. during this upcoming October.

“I think the board was struck with the nonstop work done over the summer, and we are still doing work with portables and repurposing space to accommodate classrooms,” said Nickle. “We are just going to keep working away.”

In the long term, builders seek to manifest enough space to allow St. Anne’s Catholic School in St. Thomas, Ont. to fit 210 additional young scholars. Production has also begun on a new 507-student elementary school in London. This project will likely take 18 months to execute.

Renewal projects are also underway within LCDSB schools. Catholic Central High School in London is revamping its culinary arts teaching area. St. John Paul II School, also in London, is renovating its hairdressing salon. St. Mary’s Secondary School in Woodstock is completing repairs on its cafetorium and building exterior. And finally, for now, Monsignor Morrison Catholic School in St. Thomas is transforming its full-day kindergarten spaces.

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