Coordinator Barb Morse and recreation specialist Andrew Roseman are spearheading the new Community Recreation office. “We’ve always had parks,” said Morse. “Now we’re trying to pick up the recreation part that used to be Community Schools.” (KCAW/Woolsey)

City league basketball, open gym, and a lot of other possibilities for activities are on the horizon this fall, as Sitka’s new “Community Recreation” office kicks into gear.

The program is intended to pick up the slack from Sitka Community Schools, which was formerly a part of the school district.

KCAW’s Robert Woolsey reports on the new program, and the other major issues from Wednesday night’s Sitka School Board meeting.

Community Schools expired slowly over the last seven years, under pressure from budget cuts. In 2015, the school district outsourced it to a private contractor, but in 2019, the school board shrunk the contract down to $25,000. The Hames Center was game to take on the program for a year, but the pandemic eliminated any chance that it would thrive there. 

In the fall of 2021, the Sitka Community Health Summit selected reviving Community Schools as one of its two top goals (Homelessness was the other). This spring, the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee took up the issue, and what has emerged – while not quite the Community Schools of old – is a new Community Recreation office.

Coordinator Barb Morse described the progress for the Sitka School Board.

“We have the old Community Schools office back, which is a really good location to be able to supervise the facility at Blatchley,” said Morse. “And you know, do the programming. And just today, we managed to get our internet and phone set up with great coordination between the city IT and the school district IT. So we are in the process of really getting up and running with all the details you need to get things operating.”

Morse said a major goal was to have someone hired to run the program by October 1. Andrew Roseman, a former Jesuit Volunteer at the Sitka Conservation Society, has taken the job as recreation specialist. Next will come the revival of city league basketball by October 24, and not long after that should come the return of open gym.

Where Community Recreation lands in the city’s organization hasn’t been decided. Right now, Sitka’s facilities manager Michael Colliver is helping it get off the ground, but it could end up in another department, or becoming its own department. In the meantime, Sitkans can connect with Andrew Roseman in  the Community Recreation office at 747-4033.

Schools likely to meet enrollment targets

It will be nice for kids and adults to have someplace to play after school hours in Sitka, because enrollment numbers in the district are actually ticking up slightly this month. The 20 school days concluding on October 28 are the official count period, when the state determines a school district’s Average Daily Membership, which is tied directly to school funding. Superintendent Frank Hauser reminded the school board that Sitka had built its budget for the year on a projected enrollment of 1,125 students. It looks like the district will hit that mark during this month’s count.

“We are excited to say that at this point, we have 1,118 students enrolled,” Hauser said. “ We are up from 1,111 at the last board meeting, so it’s up seven students and we’re definitely going in the right direction. In addition we also get to count the students that are in the Raven’s Way program as well. And so those numbers will be going up.” 

Superintendent pushes back against test critics

Hauser also used his report to rebut criticism that Sitka students were testing near the bottom on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is also called the NAEP Test, or sometimes “The Nation’s Report Card.”

NAEP testing, with the exception of several large, urban school districts, only reports at the state level. Hauser argued that it was incorrect to draw any conclusions about Sitka from the results.

“So if you’ve ever heard anyone saying that ‘Sitka test scores are near the bottom of the US. And quote, you’ll note that this is not necessarily true. It’s kind of a false statement. Because this national test doesn’t even measure how Sitka does as a district it is as a state.

NAEP data is easily available online, and it does show Alaska as underperforming in several categories, but also showing strength in some areas. Hauser suggested that a more honest reflection of the Sitka School District’s performance was in comparison to other schools in Alaska.

“SSD (Sitka School District) does have data on how the district compares to other districts in the state,” Hauser explained, putting up a slide with bar graphs. “Laura Rogers (former BMS assistant principal) last year put this slide together for the board. This is PEAKS English language arts data from 2017 to 2021. SSD is in blue, the state average is in red. English language arts percentage proficiency in SSD is consistently above the state average at every grade level and by a  significant amount in some instances over 20 points.”

Farewell to “Mr. Ernie”

The school board recognized several individuals and groups Wednesday night, including the front office staff and school nurses for their exceptional work during the pandemic, and also the unsung building principals, for what is often a thankless job.

Superintendent Frank Hauser presents a plaque to Keet Gooshi Heen custodian Ernesto Uy, who is leaving the district after 26 years. Hauser said, “We’re happy for you, but also very sad to be losing you.” (KCAW/Woolsey)

Perhaps the most thankless job is that of building custodian, and special recognition was given to Ernesto “Ernie” Uy, who’s leaving after taking care of Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School for 26 years.

School principal Casey Demmert said that Uy’s departure was leaving a hole that would be hard to fill.

“And I think all of us know I could go on and on about the work that he does and how he anticipates everybody’s needs, students and staff, and just gets things done,” said Demmert. “But what we’re gonna miss most about Ernie is Ernie, the human being He’s amazing. He’s an example for all of us, how we should be, how we should treat others, and how we should act every day. So thank you, Ernie. We’re gonna miss you.”

Keet Gooshi Heen students prepared a short video in honor of “Mr. Ernie.” Afterwards, Superintendent Hauser offered the mic to Uy for a few words, and he complied, saying “Thank you so much.”