District bids farewell to IT director Robin Johnson, celebrates School Board recognition month
After 26 years with Nome Public Schools, Information Technologies director Robin Johnson will retire from the district next month. Johnson has been with the district since 1990 as both a teacher and, for the last several years, the computer and technology guru. Johnson’s family moved to Nome in 1970 and she graduated from Nome-Beltz in 1982. Following high school, she attended Western Washington University and earned a degree in Education. While teaching at the elementary school, Johnson pursued her interest in technology and earned a masters degree in Technology Education. In 2005 she was awarded Technology teacher of the year and was later recognized as an Apple Distinguished Educator for her work bringing technology to the classroom. At last week’s school board meeting, superintendent Shawn Arnold recognized Johnson and thanked her for her years of service. Among her many contributions to the district and, literally, bringing Nome’s schools into the twenty-first century, Johnson is responsible for securing several grants which provided computers and tablets for students and teachers as well as increasing the schools’ bandwidth to speedy, by rural standards, proportions. “I have loved working for Nome Public Schools; we have incredible students. I know that my years with the district have been happy and productive because of the people and support around me,” Johnson said. “I am so proud to be able to say I am part of this community. The staff are dedicated and talented, making it a great place to spend 26 years.”
Arnold also recognized current and past members of the school board. “Governor Walker has declared February to be School Board recognition month,” Arnold announced. “Nome Public Schools is joining with other districts throughout Alaska to recognize the important contributions board members make to their communities. With no compensation, they contribute their time and talents for the advancement of public education. We appreciate everything they do.” Arnold presented each board member with a spray of flowers. Arnold then took a few minutes to recognize some past board members with service plaques for their dedication to the students of Nome. The acknowledgements, Arnold explained, were to thank those board members who hadn’t yet received a plaque upon completing their terms. Gloria Karmun was present to accept recognition for fifteen years on the school board. Arnold also awarded plaques to Wilma Osborne, Heather Peyanna and Marie Tozier.
Nome-Beltz assistant principal Beth Sandefur presented January Students of the Month to eighth grader Ethan Seeganna, recognizing him for his personal and academic growth, and to Clay Jones Outwater for the senior high. “Clay has had perfect attendance this semester and works hard to maintain his grades so he can support his teammates,” Sandefur said, “and he has a high respect for elders in his community.” January’s Teacher of the Month was awarded to sixth grade teacher Leonard Lastine. “He communicates with parents on issues to address what can be done for success,” Arnold said, “and he goes above and beyond, behind the scenes, including gathering students to go to the beach to see a beluga in the net.”
Chief Financial Officer Lucienne Smith attended the meeting to review the second draft of the 2016-2017 budget revision with the board. Smith explained how the budget is created, using enrollment projections and funding formulas, to project a reasonable and balanced budget from which to work. Projections for next year’s budget include a salary increase of three percent and a conservative estimate of 700 students. At this point, the 15.3 million revenue matches the 15.3 expenditures. In the event the state legislature cuts education by ten percent across the state, which has been rumored, the district is also working on a “Plan B” budget to address a potential crunch. “We’re expecting minimal cuts, at the least,” Arnold said. “The advice the state has given us is to make sure we’re drafting contingency plans.” Arnold also told the board that the district has submitted a funding request to NSEDC to assist with operation costs for the JROTC program. For several years the program has been supported in part with funding from Sitnasuak Native Corporation, and the district has had to subsidize the program from their fund budget which, according to Arnold, may not even be an option next year.
In an effort to foster more local teachers and administrators, superintendent Arnold prepared a slide show which illuminated key points about the revival of Future Teachers of Alaska. Bering Strait School District, Northwest Arctic Borough School District, and University of Alaska Fairbanks are also part of the continuing effort for growing our own local teachers and educators. “We were approached last spring about partnering in the project,” Arnold told the board. “Future Educators of Alaska is a project that will help with the gap of new teachers hired in rural Alaska, particularly Alaska Native Teachers.” The partnership will also focus on better preparing students as they enter college following high school and providing ongoing support throughout the education preparation career pathway.
“Sixty percent of our students across Alaska entering the UA campus usually have to do a remedial reading or remedial math class, and we’re hoping to reduce those rates,” Arnold explained. The numbers of educators and administrators are shrinking, and a disproportionate number are new and from outside of Alaska, resulting in inexperienced teachers, a cultural disconnect in the classroom, and a turnover of about 20 percent. In Alaska, 22 percent of students are Alaska Native, and only five percent of their teachers are Alaska Native. 24 of 204 recent graduates from the University of Alaska were Alaska Native. “Alaska’s teaching force doesn’t reflect the diversity of the state’s population,” Arnold said. “The goal is to address critical shortage of Alaska Natives in education. Students who come from the local region are more likely to stay, they know the area, and they are close to home.” The school board will next meet for their work session on Thursday, February 25.