Skagway School is going to look different next year. There will be new lockers, carpeting and sidewalks — but more importantly, more teachers and programs. An increase in student enrollment led to an influx in state funding and has prompted the district to expand its staff.
“There’s gonna be a whole new look and feel to Skagway School District next year, but I think it’s gonna be overwhelmingly positive,” said Superintendent Josh Coughran.
Coughran is hopeful about the changes coming to the school next year, which are supported by a $280,000 increase in state funding.
One of the big changes is switching to single-grade classrooms in the elementary school. Coughran says elementary students have been taught in combined-grade classrooms for at least 15 years.
To facilitate that change, the school approved the hire of a new fourth grade teacher at a meeting this week. Danielle McManus is familiar with Skagway School — she’s worked as a classroom aide with Kindergarten through second grade for a few months this year.
Fourth grade wasn’t the only classroom in need of a new teacher next year. The existing elementary teachers only cover four out of seven grades. So, the school district hired current preschool teacher/college counselor Michaela Stidham to teach Kindergarten. And Aaron Schmidt, who currently teaches social studies, vocational classes, and physical education, will instruct sixth grade next year.
“I’m hoping that we were able to focus the roles of our staff and that that’ll translate into student achievement, to really streamlining some of the things we do in the building,” Coughran said.
But it’s still a small school, so there are some jobs in which staff wear multiple hats. The school board approved a contract for Rebecca Sullivan, who will take Schmidt’s soon-to-be-former job as social studies/P.E./vocational education teacher. Sullivan has spent two years in the small village of Kivalina in a similar job.
“I think her skills she’s been able to hone in the Northwest Arctic are gonna translate really well to Skagway,” Coughran said.
Finally, the school board approved the hire of Jennifer Hayes in the new position of accelerated learning leader/college and career counselor/district test coordinator. Hayes is another familiar face in Skagway School. She’s worked as a special education aide this year.
Coughran says hiring Skagway aides or substitutes to full-time jobs is happening more in the district.
“I think there’s a definite benefit to that,” he said. “I think Skagway is a special place and it takes a special kind of educator to fit into our school district.”
The school district also wants to enhance its music and foreign language programs. So, it’s also using the extra state funds to boost hours for music teacher Johnathan Baldwin and Spanish teacher Jeffrey Hitt.
So, single grade elementary classrooms, an accelerated learning program, and more music and foreign language classes are all on the horizon for Skagway School. But the extra money that made those things possible is based on a student threshold of 101, which Skagway just barely made this year.
Superintendent Coughran says that doesn’t concern him much. He sees a trend of more young children coming into the school. And he thinks state and municipal funding will stay strong.
“I feel confident moving forward in the next three to five years that we’re gonna see level funding from the state, and what the municipality is able to do for us is unparalleled in the state,” Coughran said. “So as long as we have the community support that we’ve always had, we can continue to do great things here.”