When Haines School students start classes next week, they’re going to see a lot of new faces. There are 10 new full-time teachers and administrators this year.
Long-time employees say that’s the highest turnover that’s happened in decades at the school, which has about 30 staff. Seven of the new educators are taking over already-existing jobs, two are filling newly created positions, and one is the new interim superintendent.
“It’s very exciting to be in my classroom especially now that it’s all coming together, I can’t wait to get some more things on the walls and make it feel like my class is not just mine but my students’ classroom,” said Tracy Wirak, the new fourth grade teacher.
Wirak is taking over for Patty Brown, who is moving into a newly created elementary math and science teaching job at the school.
Wirak taught sixth grade in Montana. She moved to Haines in 2012 after coming here on a bike tour with her sister. Wirak says she’s there’s a lot to look forward to.
“I’m really excited about our new math curriculum, it’s Singapore Math, Math in Focus,” Wirak said. “It’s more math sense than algorithms. It’s really a great hands-on visual math and I think it’ll really improve students’ math skills.”
The other new elementary teacher is Sue Ackerman. She’s taught preschool in Sitka, Thailand and Washington. Now, she’ll teach a class of about 20 Kindergarteners.
“Coming from a preschool background, I really like to incorporate play, I like to incorporate individualization and really just being mindful,” Ackerman said.
Ackerman says she wants to bring community members into her teaching.
“You know, everyone in town kind of has these special hidden talents that it’ll be great to kind of harvest.”
If a student from Ackerman’s or Wirak’s class needs extra help with reading, they’ll probably spend some time with Janice Byerlee. She’s the new Title 1 teacher.
“Reading is the basis for all other learning,” Byerlee said. “So you’ve got to learn to read, especially by third grade. So to me, it’s the most important subject to learn.”
Byerlee came to Haines from the 200-person North Slope town of Atqasuk, where she taught Kindergarten and first grade.
A couple of the new staff members are coming to Haines from jobs at American Schools in the Middle East.
“My travels abroad have made me realize how much people love music everywhere,” said Jason Muccino, the new 5-12 grade music teacher.
Most recently, Muccino was in Egypt. He’s also taught in Malaysia, China, Thailand, and a little closer to Haines, in Klawock.
“Music is my greatest passion and what I like the most is sharing that passion and seeing how excited kids get about everything from listening to music to making music,” Muccino said.
The other new staff member who traveled from the Middle East to Haines is Kim Cunningham.
“[It was a] great experience for us, great experience for the kids,” Cunningham said. “We’ll never regret it. But right now, we needed a little more stability and stay in one place for a while.”
Cunningham worked in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi for the last four years. Now, she’s Director of Student Support Services at Haines School. That’s a new position that was created by former Superintendent Ginger Jewell.
“My job duties encompass all special education, Title programs, Federal programs, Migrant education, Indian education, testing coordinator.”
Before Cunningham’s job was created, a mix of staff oversaw those duties, including the superintendent and school counselor.
The other newly formed position this year went to Sara Hadad. She is the innovation coordinator and technology integration specialist. Hadad will be working with teachers to incorporate iPads, laptops and Smartboards into classrooms. Last year, the Haines School Board approved one-to-one technology in grades five and up.
“So it’s not like sit in a corner and play a game on your iPad. Instead to do something meaningful and something that they can create with and engineer with,” Hadad said.
Hadad has taught technology for 13 years, most recently in a Colorado prison.
School counselor Kristen Brumfield also came to Haines from Colorado. She says she had been keeping an eye out for a job in Alaska.
“Everything has just fallen into place and it feels like this is where I’m supposed to be right now,” Brumfield said. “And I feel full of joy at that.”
Brumfield says she’s excited to meet the students.
“Building that relationship one-on-one with kids, gosh, brings me more happiness than I ever dreamed that it would.”
Back in the high school wing is new science teacher, Ashley Hutton. She’s taking over temporarily for teacher Mark Fontenot during his one-year leave.
“Well for me, I’m going to treat it like this is a long-term position, ’cause that’s the only way I know how to teach and interact with the students,” Hutton said.
She grew up in Hoonah, and recently she taught science in Craig.
“One of the things that I most love when it comes to teaching science is that it such practical knowledge. I mean, you are learning how the world around you works,” Hutton said. “No matter what, science is everywhere around you and students are able to see that and so they see a lot of purpose in what they learn.”
The last new face we’ll meet in this story is Jason Eson, the new grades 5 through 8 special education teacher.
“I was in special ed. I’m what I like to call a special ed success story,” Eson said. “I was identified with a learning disability when I was in third grade. I had a lot of trouble reading and writing. It kind of gave me identiy in that aspect of education. So it’s always been interesting to see the differences in how those students are handled in the education system.”
Eson recently completed his Master’s in Education with a special education focus at University of Alaska Southeast. He says, at first, he wanted to teach English. But an experience he had working in a special education classroom in Juneau changed his mind.
“Man, it was just so much fun,” he said. “I was kind of scared when I started, but it was eye opening for me and it just changed my mind. I wanted to definitely work with a different population of students.”
Eson says he’s ready to get started except for one thing — he still needs a coffee machine. The first day of school is Tuesday, August 18th.
Note: We’ll hear from the interim superintendent in an upcoming story.