School Board takes summer break, but first talks money, food and new leadership
Earlier this month, Nome Public Schools Board of Education met for a regular meeting in the Nome Elementary School Library. The June 12 meeting was the last one for Superintendent Shawn Arnold, who will begin as Superintendent for Valdez City Schools this summer. Arnold spent the first part of June helping the new NPS Superintendent Bill Schildbach learn the ropes. As Schildbach comes into his new position in Nome while board and staff members prepare for the leadership transition, the district had a few things to wrap up before their summer break.
Earlier in June, the City of Nome approved the school district’s request for funds in the amount of $3,078,762. While the funds from the city will help the district keep several teaching positions and student activities, NPS is still operating a tight budget. During the regular meeting on June 12, the board approved a few revisions to the FY19 budget, including a transfer of over $86,000 from the general fund balance to cover the cost of a special education teacher, aide and associated resources.
Also on the topic of funds, the board approved a renewed food services contract with NMS (NANA Management Systems), at a 2 percent increase from last year.
Steering away from the costs of food services and more toward the “food” side of food services, board members and audience members had many comments about the selection of food offered. While overcooked broccoli was joked about, the problem of wasted food (both because of taste preferences and surplus) was less of a joke. The board also wanted to talk about nutritional choices, alternative options and how the food line actually works.
Superintendent Arnold pointed out that for most schools across the state and country, food services is an area that always operates in the red. There are a few districts around the state where the local fisheries donate seafood products to help them with their bottom line, not to mention being able to offer local, nutritious options, but that this wasn’t the norm.
“It’s a problem throughout the food services in our country, said Superintendent Arnold. “We don’t have enough local control over what we can serve our kids with the money we have or get allocated. It’s a larger problem.”
On the positive side of the food services discussion, Board President Dr. Barb Amarok weighed in that she was happy the district was able to offer free breakfast and lunch to every single student, every day of the school year. For many districts across the nation, that is just not possible.
In his report, Superintendent Arnold presented the results of a school safety survey that the district recently completed. All in all, NPS fell below the mark for most school safety categories. While the schools recently had security cameras installed to help with visibility, there just aren’t available funds to provide cameras at each entrance, buzzer entries, swipe cards, etc.
Arnold also made known his opinion on too many security systems in school, as well as over-training staff in security situations. He doesn’t want a school to feel like a prison – he said it should be a safe, fun and welcoming environment. He also is not in favor of arming teachers.
“Myself, speaking on my behalf, I’m not in support of arming our staff with firearms,” said Arnold. “I think that there’s training that can be provided to help with situations, but I’m not in support of providing firearms to our staff at this time.”
While the district doesn’t have the funds to up their security, they were able to get funding to put two certified teachers at the Head Start program. At the preschool, there’s only one more year left on the pre-K grant that funds just one teacher. As of right now, there are no grants from the state that support any pre-K operations.
The board also discussed ways that the district can help grow its own teachers by getting young people in the area interested in the teaching profession. The district applied for a grant from NSEDC to fund their college and career guide, but Superintendent Arnold said the application was denied because it wasn’t what the NSEDC board was looking for.
While NPS was surprised to not receive funds for their career guide, whom the district had planned would hopefully steer interested students in the direction of teaching, Kawerak and Bering Strait School District entered into a partnership with NPS to have a shared college and career guide. Caroline Proulx will split her time and services between the two school districts, and Kawerak will help fund the travel expenses.
In other action items, the board approved policies 6146.4 Reciprocity Graduation Requirements, 6178.1 Work Place Learning and 6180 Dual Credit Guidelines. Out of these approvals, students will be able to earn credit while doing job shadows or work experiences, and will get both college and high school credit when taking dual credit courses.
The board also approved three teacher contracts as well as an administrator contract for the new Assistant Principal at Nome-Beltz Junior/Senior High School. Superintendent Arnold said that after about 50 applications and 25 interviews, they finally found someone who he thinks will be a great fit. John Caen Dowell will be the new Assistant Principal at Nome-Beltz.
At the meeting, the board, administrators and various staff members took the time to thank Superintendent Arnold for his service to the district and community and wished him well on his next adventure. Through tears, Arnold thanked the board.
“This board that hired me gave me a tremendous opportunity,” said Arnold. “I didn’t plan on being a superintendent when I arrived, and I certainly was scared afterward, and it was the support of the board at the time and the continued support that made this job easy.”