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Nome Public School Board discusses new measures and staff shortages – KNOM Radio Mission

A new reading program, a new response to COVID-19 and an old problem were the main topics of the April Nome Public School Board meeting.

The Nome Elementary School ELA Curriculum Committee presented a potential new elementary school reading curriculum, titled “Bookworms,” for the board to consider. This program, according to the committee, exposes children to full literary and informational texts, rather than just excerpts, and gives students the opportunity to write responses to what they have read. The goal of the program is to transform students into children who love to read and really want to read.

The program really works, according to committee member and fourth-grade teacher Krista Marvin, who piloted one of the lessons with her class.

“I’ve never seen my students take so much interest in books, and I don’t know if it’s because they have a whole book in their hands. But, out of eighteen children, every child is enthusiastic about the book. They are reading. The written responses I receive are really well thought out. Very high quality writing paragraphs from my college students and kids who needed more writing support, they always come up with really great ideas,” Marvin said.

The program organizes the material into several blocks, allowing teachers to simplify their teaching process and focus only on teaching the texts.

The district is considering making masking in schools optional, in response to significantly low COVID-19 cases in Nome, Superintendent of Schools Jamie Burgess said during her report. Burgess pointed out how such a policy would be consistent with that of the city of Nome:

“Many of our emergency declarations are being lifted by various municipalities. There’s a conversation about how we’re slowly going from pandemic to endemic,” Burgess said.

The Nome School District has since put the measure into effect, and masks have been optional at Anvil City Science Academy and Nome-Beltz Middle High School since April 18. Nome Elementary School will continue with a mask mandate until the end of the school year.

Burgess also mentioned that the board will officially adopt the new budget on April 26 at a special meeting.

Staffing shortages remain a recurring problem within the school district. The elementary school has a vacancy for a special education teacher, a behavioral specialist and a music teacher, Nome Elementary School Principal Elizabeth Korenek-Johnson said.

“We have been funded for the current school year for a music teacher, you will recall we left it vacant, we were unable to fill that position, and I still believe that position was terminated for next year,” Korenek-Johnson said

At the public comment meeting, high school teacher Rebecca Albertson spoke to the board about a noticeable lack of nurturing seen in middle school/high school and the pressure this puts on teachers like her.

“The problem is not just a dirty building. The problem is not having access to our administrators in the morning as they clean the bathrooms and take out the trash,” Albertson said.

Maintenance Manager Mark Casey responded that this lack of maintenance of the building is due to the lack of a full and dedicated maintenance staff.

“And, unfortunately, there is a lot of social stigma, I guess, about wanting people to work nights and be janitors. And we are in competition with the hospital, which pays ten dollars more per hour for these positions. Right now we have three guys who are in their 50s or 60s. Thank goodness because these are the guys who take it as serious work,” Casey said.

The school board adopted six action points at this meeting. In addition to approving the adoption and purchase of the Bookworm program, the Board approved a second revision to the FY22 budget. They also approved the first and second reading of council policies, approval of the contract for an Inupiaq immersion teacher for Nome Elementary School, and the decision to schedule their work sessions every two months.

The next regular meeting of the Nome Public School Board will be on May 10. As usual, the public is invited to participate and comment.

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