School schedule to shift for curriculum work
Haines Borough school board members on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that will end classroom instruction early on Wednesdays to provide time for school staff to write and align a new district curriculum.
The curriculum-planning project begins in January on a one-semester, trial basis. The board has been discussing the idea since June and approved it and a revised schedule at the urging of school administrators.
Individual students will see their schedule change two Wednesdays each month: Once when classes will be dismissed early districtwide, and one day when the final hour of class will be replaced with "enrichment programs" such as ukulele and motion work for younger students and career guidance for ones in high school.
The programs will be led by the district’s teacher aides and possibly by instructors from outside the school.
The planning time is necessary to meet a state requirement that the district have an articulated curriculum, principal Cheryl Stickler said in a recent interview. The current curriculum is more than 10 years old and is no longer meaningful, she said.
"Many pieces of it aren’t relevant for 21st-century learners," Stickler said. "Teachers aren’t following it" and other teachers follow a curriculum that’s in their heads, she said. An accreditation review of the district in May 2009 identified the need for the new curriculum.
The staff work will allow teachers to align a new curriculum with state standards and grade-level expectations, Stickler said. "So a fourth-grade teacher can go into a third-grade teacher’s document and see how far (students) got." It’s intended to eliminate gaps and redundancies, she said.
The district already is working on curriculum regarding mathematics and career and technical education. Re-writing curriculum for English is more complex and has yet to start, Stickler said.
"The work up front is huge because you have to write it all," Stickler said.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, assistant principal Michelle Byer called the curriculum project a "huge task." Board member Sean Cone characterized next semester’s work a "kick-off to a multi-year program."
Byer said the district might be able to adapt a curriculum model from elsewhere in Alaska, which would reduce the scope of the undertaking. "We don’t want to reinvent the wheel."
The districtwide early dismissal will be on the final Wednesday of each month January through April, except in February, when there will be no early dismissal.
GYM TIME SOUGHT
The board also directed superintendent Michael Byer to develop recommendations for more "open gym" time for adult recreation after an appeal by Joe Parnell, who said the town had seven bars, three carry-outs and a brewery but only three hours a week of gym time for basketball. He’s seeking expanded Sunday hours.
"This is our culture. The bars are open and the gym is closed. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can change it. I just want you to think about this a little bit," Parnell said. "Schools should encourage positive activities and positive interactions between adults."
Board member Sean Cone said scheduling gym time was "one of the most contentious" issues the district faces. Superintendent Michael Byer said a district had to have an employee on hand during gym openings. "To (open Sundays) we’ll need another person. That’s a budgetary decision, too."
DANCE TEAM OK’D
On a 4-3 vote, the board approved establishing the dance team as an official school activity. The five-year-old dance squad has been part of the cheerleading squad, but cheerleading coach Teri Bastable-Podsiki said the two activities are seen as separate by the Alaska School Activities Association.
Podsiki said she wasn’t seeking the change to secure more gym time for the dance squad, but to have it recognized as a legitimate school activity. The dance team competes separately from the cheer squad, she said.
Board member Sarah Swinton said she didn’t see why the two squads shouldn’t remain together. Swinton, Brian Clay and Carol Kelly voted against the change that was supported by Cone, Stacie Turner, Anne Marie Palmieri and Nelle Jurgeleit-Greene.
The meeting included presentation of a draft, 17-question survey of former Haines High School students, intended to track student success after school here and help critique the school’s performance in preparing students.
Superintendent Byer said school office staff would be charged with locating former students. Board chair Kelly said the survey should be sent annually.
The meeting included a highly positive report on the effectiveness of Fast ForWord, a computer-based program aimed at improving reading skills. The program purchased last year for about $20,000 has reversed trends for some students who previously had difficulty reading, teachers said.
The board also approved up to $28,000 for purchase of an all-wheel-drive passenger van. The van, which holds eight, is expected to cost about $10,000 less than a large SUV. The van is expected by April.
Superintendent Michael Byer reported that leaks in the ceiling above his office have resumed with recent snow, rain and wind events. "We’ve got to solve this thing. We need a massive fix," he said. He said he’d take the issue to borough leaders. The leaks have persisted for years and defied a repair attempt last summer.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 6.