By Melinda Munson

Skagway City School has five vacancies for the 2021-2022 school year. The school will need a preschool director, a part-time Spanish teacher, a maintenance/technician worker and both a science and social studies instructor for junior high/high school. 

Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran said the number of staff departures is not necessarily unusual.  

“It’s in the ballpark,” he said.

According to Coughran, science teacher Tom Parker and social studies teacher Ryan Hickel, both in their first years in Skagway, didn’t see the town at its most exciting during the pandemic, with several shelter-in-place orders and a majority of Skagway businesses shuttered.

“It must have been hard being a single, new guy,” Coughran said.

Jeffrey Hewitt, Spanish teacher, said she accepted a job in Colorado. The town took a collective sigh of relief when she promised she would be back each summer to manage her Thai restaurant, Starfire.

Coughran said maintenance worker Paul Kowal accepted a different position in town.

“I don’t know how the school is going to operate without him,” said special education director Heidi Fairbanks. “He is phenomenal.”

The school is also losing Fairbanks. She was offered a principal position in Maine.

In 2020, the school welcomed their first students that required a self contained classroom, a classroom designed for children who require a special education teacher throughout the day. 

Fairbanks designed a program for the three new students and mentored Catera Gilmore, who was hired to oversee the inaugural classroom.

According to Coughran, it is surprisingly difficult to recruit teachers for his school, which has the highest test scores in the state.

“Sometimes it’s a place that people have never heard of before. That’s difficult,” Coughran said. He added that the number of qualified teachers across the state has dropped dramatically.

While Coughran is advertising the positions and checking in with teacher databases, he plans to focus on locals. 

“Anything we can do to support local talent, anyone who has an affinity for education. Those are the people who stick around,” he said.

So far, Skagway School is having success with this method. Preschool teacher Kourtney Rupprecht is teaching while simultaneously working on her bachelor’s in elementary education. She will student-teach in the kindergarten classroom starting in August. Gilmore will be the teacher of record, dividing her time between the special education room and the kindergarten.

Cody Burnham, currently the first grade teacher, will transfer to the special education department.

Position details for all of Skagway School’s vacancies can be found at resources.