The superintendent of the Chatham School District, which includes Angoon, has resigned. Bernie Grieve announced his decision to leave during a contentious school board meeting this week, where his dismissal of two administrators was sharply criticized by both parents and teachers.
Every morning at 9:05 students at Angoon Elementary School start their day reciting days of the week, months of the year and numbers. They do it in English and then in Tlingit.
For the most part, they’re focused, not fidgeting too much. They listen to their classmates and count in Tlingit by heart.
“The Elementary [school] is critical,” said Jim Parkin. He’s been the elementary school principal for three years and worked as Angoon’s high school science teacher for 23 years before that.
“If you want kids to do well in high school, you better build a foundation in elementary,” Parkin said.
Now, though, his job is up in the air.
“I was not recommended for the principal position for next year,” Parkin explained. “I am tenured in the district, so I am entitled to a position in the district, but I don’t know what that will be as of yet. I haven’t been told.”
Anne Connelly teaches kindergarten and first grade at Angoon Elementary.
“My kids– every single day they go, ‘Can I show Parkin, can I show Parkin?’ Anytime they do a math problem that they haven’t done before. They always want to go see Mr. Parkin,” Connelly said at the recent regional school board
Teachers and staff, parents and even past students all showed up to show their support.
“I know that he cares for the kids,” Connelly said. “I’ve had kids go to the office quite often for behavioral issues, but he works with them, he just doesn’t have them sit there. I mean, he cares for the kids and the progress they make.”
And that progress is clear. According to Parkin, 75 percent of students have improved on their test scores just in the last year.
That’s, in part, thanks to Tracey Thomas.
“I’ve been in the district for five years and I’ve worked side by side with [Parkin] and he is one of the most hardworking individuals I know.”
Thomas choked up at the meeting partly because her own job, as director of Special Education, which may be eliminated and outsourced to SERRC, the Southeast Regional Resource Center, though according to SERRC, there is not contract to do so for the upcoming school year.
“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like next year going to SERRC,” said Marcie Kookesh. “That scares me and it makes me not want to be here.”
Kookesh is on the Angoon School board. She said she’s frustrated that she and the other local board members weren’t involved in the decision
Kookesh also spoke as a parent. Her daughter, who’s now in fourth grade needed special education services before Tracey Thomas started in Angoon, but she said, the benefit to her youngest son is clear.
“My youngest son is two years younger than my fourth grader he’s been receiving [Special education] services while Tracey [Thomas] has been here these last two years and the improvement is incredible,” Kookesh attested.
The decisions to not recommend Jim Parkin and Tracey Thomas’s job were made by superintendent Bernie Grieve.
Grieve declined to comment about that decision. After public testimonies, Grieve resigned from the school district, which he said over email was for personal reasons.
Bernie Grieve will start as superintendent for the Kuspuk School District on the upper Kuskokwim River in July. The future for Tracey Thomas and Jim Parkin is less clear, but Parkin says he’s hopeful for his students in Angoon.
“For students who graduate from Angoon school I guess my vision would be knowledge and understanding of the world and of their culture, that they would be fluent speakers of their own language,” Parkin choked up a bit, adding “that they would know their history, their art, and trade skills. That they would be a whole person.”
The final decision on these two positions is expected later this Spring.