New substitute teachers help alleviate school staff shortage
By Megan Gannon
After a staff shortages forced school closures at Nome-Beltz Middle High School – one last month, one this week — the district continues to seek volunteers and substitute teachers to help patch vacancies and staff absences.
During the regular monthly school board meeting on Nov. 8, Nome Schools Superintendent Jamie Burgess said the district received several substitute applications which were processed. Later that week, Burgess reported that six new subs had been hired and student workers were also helping to fill staffing gaps.
A new web platform will come online soon to allow parents and community members to select volunteer slots, Burgess noted in her written report to the board. In the meantime, the district has been encouraging volunteers to call the secretaries at the campuses to coordinate dates and time to help with lunch, hall and recess supervision and to help cover classes.
Cynthia Gray, the district’s HR manager, wrote in her report to the school board that her department has been challenged to find creative ways to recruit subs. On Oct. 28, Gray joined NBMHS Principal Teriscovkya Smith and NES Principal Elizabeth Korenek-Johnson for a novel recruitment event at Norton Sound Health Corporation to speak with staff about volunteer and substitute opportunities. Kawerak also increased the number of volunteer hours for its staff members to encourage them to help in the school system.
In other staffing news, NBMHS has a new vacancy for a music teacher after the unexpected resignation of Brandon Smith.
Principal Smith said that the need for another full-time teacher is becoming more critical, especially considering this new vacancy, because many high school classes have up to 30 students. She said student feedback strongly suggests they would like to see more elective courses in the arts.
In addition to subs, the district is looking for a part-time after school program aide at NES, a kindergarten instructional aide at NES, a behavior specialist at NES and multiple special education paraprofessionals at both schools.
NBMHS does have some new hires: Behavior Specialist Ashley Crowe, and Dean of Students, Helen Kaha’i.
Last month, Principal Smith told the school board that use of vapes, e-cigarettes, tobacco and marijuana has increased dramatically at NBMHS compared to years past. This month, she has reached out to state legislators as well as U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola to advocate for a comprehensive curriculum that would address the issue.
In the meantime, NBMHS will install vape sensors in all restrooms on campus, Smith said. In her report to the board last month she wrote that a test vape sensor that had been installed in one set of bathrooms was being set off upwards of 20 times a school day. Nome-Beltz counselors have also established a partnership with the Norton Sound Health Corporation CAMP Department to begin implementing education on tobacco and other substances.
“I feel that the ads that a lot of us were raised with that scared us away from tobacco and other substances have been lacking,” Smith said during the Nov. 8 meeting. “We don’t even have the posters that we used to see in school that address substance abuse.”
With about one third of its fiscal year passed, the district has received nearly 27 percent and spent nearly 32 percent of its $16.5 million budget, according to the report from financial manager Genevieve Hollins.
Burgess said the district would be making its first revision to the budget soon. With enrollment at around 725 students, there are about 40 more students in the district than expected. That means the state will eventually offer the schools an increase in funds.
During her report, Burgess said that an effort to replace the roof at Nome-Beltz would likely receive additional state funding; the project was ranked ninth on the list of major maintenance grant priorities released this month by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
“We are seeing some continuing problems with leaks here and there at the high school,” Burgess said. “The roof is at the end of its life. It’s over 30 years old at this point so replacement is a priority.”
Burgess said that the state’s top ten major maintenance projects typically have a good shot at being funded by the legislature. The district’s next highest ranked project on the list, coming in at 17, is a generator replacement at Nome-Beltz. Much less likely to be funded are an NES fire alarm replacement project, ranked 41st, and a project to make NES and Nome-Beltz more accessible to those with disabilities, ranked 66th.
“We must wait for the legislature to determine how much funding will be allotted,” Burgess said. She noted that legislators would have to allot at least $25 million this year for Nome to get the $5.6 million the district requested for the roof replacement, and to go above $36 million for Nome Schools to get the requested funds, over $900,000, to replace the generator. Burgess said that the district would be on the hook for 30 percent of the cost-share of funded projects, and that money would come from the capital improvement project fund.
Board member Bob Metcalf asked Burgess if Nome Schools needed to worry about impending cuts in light of the recent news that Anchorage School District was considering closing six schools and making major cuts to immersion programs and other offerings to help close a $68 million budget gap.
“Ideally, we’re not facing that kind of a drastic situation like Anchorage, thank goodness,” Burgess said. She said that the Anchorage School District had been using the influx of COVID funding to support quite a few positions and was facing a big problem now that those funds are drying up. “We’ve tried to be very careful about using our COVID funding for extras and not for propping up what currently exists, if at all possible, in order to avoid that very situation where all of a sudden the money’s all gone.”
Burgess did acknowledge, however, that costs are increasing for Nome Schools which would affect the district’s bottom line. For example, vendors that the school system is working with have raised their prices, and the costs of fuel and electricity have gone up.
At the November meeting, the board also welcomed its new student representative Dorothy Callahan, and alternate student representative Amy Nguyen.
Instead of honoring a student of the month, Anvil City Science Academy is now doing their own student shoutouts, and Principal Lisa Leeper honored two students who have been receiving several shoutouts. Eighth grader Blair Vaden was recognized not only by administrators but his peers. “You help students feel noticed and included and you offer help and welcome them to be part of a group,” Leeper said. “If a student needs something, you recognize that and you try to offer whatever you have to give, and that’s really awesome.” Leeper also honored fifth grader Denali Walrath. “You’re responsible and helpful towards everyone in school, you spent many hours, many hours outside of school to make signs and help prepare for events, you make sure to stay on top of your own work, and you always lend a helping hand.”
During the meeting NBHMS Principal Smith honored high school junior Iryna Kadatska as a student of the month: “You’re a good representation to other students that life is what you make it and it’s a series of choices and those are on you,” Smith said. “You continuously make the kinds of choices that make you shine bright in our den, I’m super proud of you.”