School is now back in session. Girls play on the monkey bars in the school yard on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016.
Photo – Jeff Brady, Skagway News

Ushering in the 2016-17 year, are more new hires than ever before and the re-introduction of favorite programs such at Music and Spanish.

With a student body of 125 and eight new hires, Skagway School District Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran said he is very excited about this up-coming year. “That’s really the optimal level. I see us working at our best when we are between 120 and 150 students,” Coughran said. “When I first came to the district back in 2000, that’s the number of students we had, and we had some rich programs like Music and Spanish and that is what we have worked for [and wanted] to get back to,” he added.
For the first time in more than 20 years, the district has a teacher for each grade between kindergarten and sixth, in seven-stand-alone classrooms. “I was looking back, and I couldn’t find an era when we weren’t combining some sort of classroom. I think we are going to see some incredible results because of that.” Coughran said. “It’s because not only the of the rise in enrollment, which is a big piece of it when it comes to state funding, but also the fact that the municipality supports us so well.”

Coughran cited specifically, his excitement in working with new hires such as Rebecca Sullivan, who teaches high school Social Studies classes, as well as Vocational classes and all grades of P.E. And there’s Danielle McManus, who teaches fourth grade. Also, Jennifer Hayes has returned to the district as a full-time Accelerated Learner Program (ALP) teacher and coordinator; she will also serve at test coordinator and college and career counselor and also “life skills” course for seniors.
Two programs that are back, Spanis h and Music, taught by Jeffery Hitt and Jon Baldwin, respectively. The music program is getting geared up for a fall musical and several concerts throughout the year. One idea is to get the Pep band going again to get out and support the teams, Coughran said.

The Accelerated Learner Program (ALP) is in full swing, Coughran said.  Student eligibility for the program is based on 2016 spring semester and fall MAP scores from last year that are in the 95th percentile.

The AMP-standardized testing, which did not take place last year, due to technical difficulties (it’s an online test), may be back. The State Department of Education will be looking at alternatives in standardized testing that will work for Alaska, Coughran said. The tests have to be based on Alaska standards for math and language arts.

“My hope is that sometime before Halloween, we will know, so we can prepare for that,” he said.  “Honestly, we have some of the best educators in the state, we have great kids, great families… and I’ve never felt a lot of pressure around those tests, because our kids excel so well. I’ve worked in schools that really count their worth by how the kids do on those state assessments, and not that we don’t have goals and we want to do well on those, but it’s certainly not our only marker of success.  I have a lot of confidence out kids our going to do well on those tests based on our standards.”
Sports this fall has the cross-country running team headed to Ketchikan this weekend.

Other sports and activities that include travel this year are volleyball, basketball, robotics, DDF, and track. There is also Wrestling Club that is garnering more support.

According to Coughran, there are a couple of families in the district with homeschool kids, and they are welcome to participate in sports through Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) if the homeschool programs meet the same standards as the state.

Just walking into the school, you’ll see some new changes. This summer brought several projects to fruition including bright blue and green carpet throughout the school replacing old carpet. And also bright blue school lockers from Utah that are big enough to fit in. “I told the kids, I didn’t want to see anyone stuffed in the lockers,” Coughran said. The new lockers replace thin small ones that required each student to have more than one.

There is also a new project still in the works at the entrance to the school. The sidewalk reconstruction isn’t quite finished yet, but will be soon, Coughran said.

The project has been a partnership between the school district and Skagway Traditional Council. The new sidewalk features cultural characteristics and will also feature a large medallion with insignia of an eagle and a raven cast in bronze. The project allowed for pipes, that are attached the boiler system, to be installed under the pavement to keep it warm, ice-free and safe for pedestrians.