Six new staff to join Haines School
March 23, 2023
The Haines Borough School District recently hired six new teachers and an assistant principal but superintendent Roy Getchell said this week the hires don’t mean the district won’t face hiring difficulties in the future.
Getchell told the school board in January that seven years without increases in the state’s base student allocation would make it difficult for the district to land qualified teachers.
“The problem is that with flat funding, we’re not as competitive as we need to be for available teachers in Alaska and around the country, and as we go into recruiting, we really have to start thinking differently about that,” Getchell said, referring to a statewide “crisis” in hiring.
In an interview this week, Getchell described success during the most recent hiring round as “fortunate,” but said he doesn’t expect it will become a pattern. He said he’s still very concerned. “There’s just not enough of a supply.”
The district posted recent vacancies in January, a few months earlier than in previous years, Getchell said. That may have helped, he said. Also, the district made a concerted recruiting effort involving outreach to candidates by the school principal, office staff and current teachers.
“This year we seemed to land people who were our first choices, people who in the past we struggled to land,” Getchell said.
A relatively rosy budget picture in Haines, at least as compared to some larger districts facing deep cuts to staff and programs, may have been to the district’s advantage, he said. “It helped that the Haines budget isn’t as precarious as it is in some of the other districts in the state,” he said.
Getchell said his concerns include how long his hires will last. “It’s one thing to land a good fish and another thing to keep it,” he said.
The district’s starting pay of $45,000 is not competitive in Alaska or the Lower 48, especially when the cost of living in Alaska and recent spikes in inflation are considered. “Living in Alaska is attractive, the beauty of the place and the quality of our kids go a long way, but sometimes that’s not enough.” People still have to buy groceries and pay rent, he said.
Haines skipped a teachers’ job fair in Anchorage two weeks ago because of a dearth of candidates, Getchell said. Recent fairs attract only 30-40 candidates, with as many as 54 Alaska school districts vying for them. “I think there are better ways to spend our time (recruiting),” he said.
The district’s recent hires include:
Jens Jacobsen, hired as the district’s new assistant principal. Before moving to the Lower 48 two years ago, Jacobsen spent 11 years in Nenana, including as math teacher, curriculum and grant writer, STEM director and K-12 principal. Jacobsen holds master’s degrees in education leadership and curriculum and instruction. He has three elementary-age sons and says he has previously considered Haines as a place to raise a family.
Jacobsen’s wife Mindy Jacobsen, hired as an elementary teacher to fill in for Jordan Baumgartner, who is taking one year’s leave. Jacobsen has 17 years’ experience teaching grades 5-8 and holds a master’s degree in integrated curriculum and has experience developing cross-curricular, standards-based, learning in Title I schools. In her current school, she created and implemented a STEM program and after school robotics program.
Rosana Prio of Spain, hired to fill in for fifth-grade teacher Ramie Carlson, who is also taking one year’s leave. Prio is an English teacher for grades 1-6 in Spain, and previously taught in Colorado for 7 years. Her experience spans K-5 as a classroom teacher covering all subjects in dual language and immersion schools. According to Getchell, “Her principals and colleagues describe her as warm, unflappable, caring, and highly skilled.”
Katie Polcyn of Shaktoolik, hired as high school math teacher. She has taught math in Shaktoolik for 11 years, with experience in grades 6-12. Getchell said Polcyn understands the demands of teaching in a small school and has experience teaching many other subjects. Her husband is a popular para-educator and interested in helping out the wrestling program in Haines, Getchell said.
Zak Tourville of Fairbanks, hired as high school science teacher. Tourville works at the University of Alaska physics department lab manager but has 20 years of experience teaching high school math, science and photography. Getchell said Tourville’s references describe him as hard-working, flexible and popular with students and colleagues.
Ashley Pillsbury of Maine, hired as the new school art teacher. Her experience includes elementary, middle school, high school and adult education. Getchell said Pillsbury has been looking to teach art in Alaska and that references describe her as reflective, strong on classroom management and curriculum design, and “great” at empowering students.
Stojanka Lynch of Haines, hired as elementary music teacher. Lynch holds a degree in early childhood development and culturally responsive teaching. Formerly a substitute teacher in Haines, Lynch completed her student teaching last year. She has operated a private music studio, teaching piano and ukulele since 2015. She’s a dance instructor and a coach of the Haines Dance Team.