170 students registered for first day of school on Gabriola

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, September 4 2019

Gabriola Elementary School is starting the school with 170 students, and eight divisions (ie: classrooms).

And has a new principal in Kate Russell.

Russell spoke to the Sounder this past week, saying the school is in really good shape heading into the first week, with all the teaching and support staff positions filled.

170 students is the highest the school has had going into the first day of classes in many years. There were 160 students  in 2018; and 148 in 2017 (by the second week of 2017 there were 166 students in the school).

2015 was the low point for the last decade with 150 students; 2013 was the high with 177.

How the eight divisions will be broken down between the grades has yet to be determined - that will happen over the first full week.

Russell comes to Gabriola from Elkford, which is north of the Town of Fernie in the eastern part of the province - but she is originally from Vancouver Island, having gone to high school in Victoria.

Over the years she has taught and worked with the BC Offshore School in Cairo; as well as in Abu Dhabi.

She was back in BC from 2012-2015, which was when her daughter Oluchia Emejuru was born. Oluchia will be going into Grade 1 at Gabriola Elementary this year.

“I wanted to come home, the island is my home.

“I really like small communities - so when the opportunity came up for Gabriola, it was like a perfect fit. I have an artistic side, my daughter is incredibly artistic, that’s the claim to fame for Gabriola. It seemed like a really good fit for me.”

Russell says she knows in small communities, the school is a centrepiece for community, and that it doesn’t just serve the students who are enrolled in it.

“I worked in Bella Coola, the Slocan valley, super small community schools.

“My career has been in small public schools - I like that you make connections with the community around you - you get to meet the kids, see them grow, and build relationships that are so important to them as they grow up.”

With a number of changeovers in staff over the last couple years, including two principals in two years, Russell knows there is a desire for more stability.

She said she knows the teaching staff has worked hard on building a positive team.

“My commitment to the district and community is to stay [on Gabriola] for four to five years, probably until my daughter goes to high school.

“The District really wanted that commitment, they know Gabriola has had high turnover, they want someone who is committed to building on the great work being done here, and building stability.”

The partnership which the school has built with Simon Fraser University for place-based and land-based learning is one Russell wants to focus on. “There’s a lot of funding attached to that partnership - aligning with the district goals of environmental stewardship, as well as reconciliation. Our partnership with SFU embodies that, we will be working with the staff and students to expand on that idea and incorporate land-based learning into all aspects, math, language arts, social studies, and science.

“I’m really happy to be here, I’m bringing my daughter to this school - we will be part of this community. I’m looking forward to digging in to Gabriola.”