Local News

Pacific High: A (new) century of education in downtown Sitka

"The greatest iteration yet," is how Pacific High co-principal Phil Burdick describes the remodeled school, which has been an educational center for over a century. (KCAW photo/Emily Forman)

“The greatest iteration yet,” is how Pacific High co-principal Phil Burdick describes the remodeled school, which has been an educational center for over a century. (KCAW photo/Emily Forman)

Sitka’s Pacific High School students returned from winter break today (1-7-14), to find one last holiday gift: a new school. For the past two years, Pacific High has been housed in the Southeast Alaska Career Center, while the Lincoln Street building was remodeled from the ground up. KCAW’s Emily Forman visited the all-new Pacific High the day before students arrived and learned how this state-of-the-art facility has been over a century in the making.


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It’s the first week of the New Year. Resolutions are fresh, and we’re still optimistic that they’ll stick. It’s a time focused on new beginnings, and Sitka’s Pacific High School is honoring that sentiment in a big way – with a brand new building.

The central area of the school is filled with natural light. (KCAW photo/Emily Forman)

The central area of the school is filled with natural light. (KCAW photo/Emily Forman)

KCAW: So here I am this is the new building.
Burdick: Looks great doesn’t it? It’s hard to see on the radio but…
KCAW: Describe it
Burdick: Looking from office you get this great rotunda. Which has this light from the sky coming down in this scoop. So, we have this great space where everyone can meet and gather. That’s my favorite spot.

If it sounds quiet for 11:30am on a Monday, that’s because the students are still on break. When I ask Phil Burdick co-principal of Pacific High about how the renovation came to fruition, he starts from the beginning. The very beginning. All the way back to the late 1800s.

Education was segregated for a long time in Sitka and this place where we sit now was a part of that history. This site has gone through many many incarnations.

Tracking the history is a little murky, but the point is that for well over 100 years the Lincoln Street site has been dedicated to education. And today’s version is worlds away from the original: a one room, segregated, Native training school. Burdick is confident that the current iteration is the best.

KCAW: So are there way in which the curriculum will be able to be expanded because of this space?
Burdick: Yeah, if you look around every classroom has door to the outside, which ties into our model that learning happens out in the community. It doesn’t have to happen in the school. So, everyone has an opportunity to get out, everyone has an opportunity to get messy, everyone has an opportunity to find a quiet space, everyone has an opportunity to learn in the way that suits them best.

This building is all about options. For instance, Burdick loves the “flex” room – a room flanked on either side by large glass door that lead to two additional classrooms. The doors slide open – transforming what was three separate rooms into a large open space.

My name is Mandy Summer and I teach English and health.

Summer says the space is a huge luxury. It’s roomy compared to the career center where teachers had to share classrooms. Once Summer started listing the new perks, it was hard to stop.

Summer: It’s nice to have sinks in our rooms. The little things that you don’t realize. And it’s just new, I have only worked here with the ceiling dripping on me, and moldy tiles above my head. That’s the only Pacific High I’ve ever known. So, this is really nice.

Hillary Seeland teaches English, History and Government and really appreciates her large windows overlooking crescent harbor.

Seeland: And the windows are really lovely, I love all the light in here. I love the color pallet in here. I love the storage.
KCAW: Look at your view.
Seeland: I know right!
KCAW: How many teachers have this kind of view?
Seeland: No one.

Rest assured that the Pacific High crew is feeling pretty grateful, and optimistic about 2014.

Burdick: There’s a lot of history on this site and we’re just the latest and hopefully greatest iteration of what has gone on here.

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