By Aly De Angelus  

Four options are under consideration for next year’s school calendar, including one with a September start date and another with a five-week winter break. 

The school board and superintendent reviewed the four options at a community forum Jan. 28. No action was taken and the issue will again come before the board at its Feb. 25 meeting. 

Superintendent Joshua Coughran explained the four options: 

Option 1: A carbon copy of this year’s schedule, which started mid-August and will end mid-May. 

Option 2: Starting classes a week later than the existing schedule. 

Option 3: A September start-up, with school ending before the Memorial Day weekend. This option is in response to the shifting tourism season. 

Option 4: A five-week vacation in January to account for student absences due to winter sports team travel. 

“We control our own destiny,” Coughran said of the schedule options. 

Board Vice President Jaime Bricker had concerns that Option 4 would not give students a long enough summer to land seasonal jobs, and Board President John Hischer said the five-week closure could be burdensome on families that need child care. 

“Five weeks for sports is not a strong justification,” Cory Thole said at the community forum. 

“Sports are educational experiences,” Coughran responded. “I don’t think we can discount those.” 

A handful of teachers also spoke at the community forum, including special education teacher Heidi Fairbanks and fifth grade teacher Mary Thole. They said participation in programs could be hurt and testing scores could drop with a five-week classroom break. 

“I think (option) one incorporates everyone’s concerns,” Hischer said. The school board is leaning toward Option 1 at this time. 

Following the community forum, the school board held its regular monthly meeting and approved a travel request for the junior high wrestling team to go to Haines on Feb. 22, and approved the new hire of first grade teacher Cody Burnham.  

The board also passed a budget amendment totaling $175,000 for purchases and curriculum support. Some of the anticipated expenses this year include purchase of a 24-passenger bus, music equipment, resurfacing the gym floor, and a new scoreboard — Treasurer Heather Rodig said the old one is “on its last leg”. 

The board heard updated plans for the new kitchen and bathroom addition, which includes turning the existing kitchen into a classroom. 

The plan will be revised to include a bullet-proof rectangular window above the classroom, to help the space feel less confined. Coughran foresees preschool and kindgergarten students using space. Borough Manager Brad Ryan said the classroom may potentially be ready for the next school year. 

The community forum also included discussion of the school’s new mission and vision statements. Hischer explained that a vision statement is one sentence that expresses goals for the future, while a mission statement presents a more in-depth understanding of what the education system wants to teach students on a daily basis. 

“Our vision statement is actually a mission statement,” Hischer said. “It should be different.” 

Coughran had conducted a series of exercises with teachers and parents to draft words that embody Skagway’s mission. He coded hundreds of responses and displayed the results at the forum, indicating which words came up more frequently in community input by large to small font in his presentation. One of those was “rigor.”  

“Rigor is a buzzword in education. It means to push people beyond baseline,” teacher Mary Thole said. 

Other words included were “safe and supportive environment” and “instilling confidence.” 

“The students are missing from this exercise, Bricker said. “I would be interested to know, what do they want? What do they believe?” 

Board members unanimously agreed and will plan a work session or special meeting to hear from students before voting on the statements.