Education Report from the Bering Strait School District
The Bering Strait School District is comprised of 15 school communities located from the eastern end of Norton Sound in the south to Shishmaref on the northern Seward Peninsula in the north. The school district also includes island communities in the Bering Sea: Little Diomede, Gambell and Savoonga. Although Nome is part of the Bering Strait region, it maintains its own school district per state law requiring first-class cities in the Unorganized Borough to provide education functions within their city limits.
At an area around 80,000 square miles, BSSD covers a much larger area than the Nome Public School District. BSSD has an enrollment of approximately 1,800 students annually. The district office is located in Unalakleet.
In an attempt to present a more comprehensive picture of education news on the Seward Peninsula, The Nome Nugget will be regularly featuring articles on BSSD.
To begin, we will highlight some topics discussed at BSSD’s past board of education meeting. These topics are from the February 8, 2018 meeting, held in Stebbins. The minutes were approved at the most recent board meeting, held April 25 in Shishmaref. The minutes from the April meeting have yet to be approved and released to the public. Unlike Nome Public Schools, which holds regular board meetings each month, the BSSD Board of Education assembles four times per school year.
At the 215th regular session meeting of the BSSD board of education on Thursday, February 8, 2018, the FY19 district calendar was presented and approved. School will resume after summer break on August 28, a later start date than in previous years, designed to give students and their families more time for subsistence activities. The last day of school was May 23, 2019.
In a second quarter financial report, BSSD Business Manager Mark Vink presented the school’s operating budget to the board. As of December 31, 2017, the district had expended 37 percent of the projected amount. The FY2018 budget was projected to expend $64 million, while the actual number came in around $24 million. The district reported an excess of $16.4 million in revenues over expenditures.
That’s correct: an excess of $16.4 million. According to Business Manager Mark Vink, the district was audited for impact aid a couple of years ago. He said the audit was extensive and took about one and a half years to complete. After the audit, it was determined that BSSD did not received adequate funding in previous years. “Basically this year, we’re getting two years in one,” Vink told The Nome Nugget in a phone interview.
Vink said that BSSD has needs to meet for some of the money, and has plans for the rest. One of those plans is to increase the quantity and quality of housing for staff members, which the districts hopes will help with retention.
BSSD Director of Curriculum & Instruction presented to the board, reviewing highlights on various instruction topics, including the district’s reapplication for a three-year Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies Grant. The MACP grant’s purpose is to increase the number of BSSD paraprofessionals to become certified teachers.
The district expects to receive the MACP grant in August and asks for approval by the board at their September 2018 meeting. Among resources for BSSD paraprofessionals, the grant also helps pay for dual enrollment courses for students, artist in residence programs and helps to maintain the Future Educators of Alaska program at each school site.
In his report, BSSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Bolen presented highlights from the MACP partnership. He reported that over 30 BSSD paraprofessionals are taking teacher preparation course work, and over 40 BSSD high school students were enrolled in dual credit courses.
BSSD Future Educators of Alaska held monthly “Educators Rising” meetings via Google Meet video teleconference throughout the year. According to Superintendent Dr. Bolen, “Our students continue supporting instruction as student leaders, assisting with delivery content, co-teaching and practicing supervised lessons.”
In collaboration with Kawerak’s Eskimo Heritage Program and the Katirvik Cultural Center, BSSD supports the Language Revitalization Project. According to his report, Dr. Bolen stated that stakeholders would continue to develop a strategic plan for expanding, enhancing and revitalizing Heritage Language instruction across BSSD.
BSSD is also working to provide more technical programs and career education for students in their wood, metal, and small engine shops, as well as in their Fab Labs. “Fab Labs” are fabrication laboratories, which began as a trend in the early 2000’s started by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After MIT started the Fab Lab idea, Fab Labs have sprung up all across the world.
In Stebbins and St. Michael, 3D printing was introduced in their Fab Labs this past spring semester to help expand student’s skill sets and problem solving skills. Students are also creating products like t-shirts and sports awards to sell to their communities to raise funds for programs.
Also at the board meeting, BSSD’s Director of Facilities & Maintenance Gary Eckenweiler presented an update to the board regarding the renovation and addition to the Shishmaref K-12 School. It was reported that the plan is to break ground this summer.
In Wales and Golovin, teacher-housing duplex projects were completed with help from Alaska Housing Finance Corporation Teacher Housing Grants and the Rasmuson Foundation.
The BSSD Board of Education planned to meet on March 6, 2018 in Unalakleet. That meeting was cancelled and rescheduled to April 25, 2018 in Shishmaref.