Sitka’s Drama, Debate, and Forensics (aka “DDF”) team has one of the longest-running seasons in the school year, and typically involves a lot of travel. The district wants input on how to distribute up to $300,000 in annual revenues from a dedicated tax on cannabis products, to make the cost of participating in extracurricular programs and sports more equitable for all students. (Sitka DDF photo)

The passage of Prop. 1 by Sitka voters last month will bring a significant amount of cash into the school district for student activities – but it’s not clear yet how it will be allocated.

KCAW’s Robert Woolsey attended Tuesday’s school board meeting, and reports on this issue, and several others from the evening.

Student Activities Fund

Superintendent Frank Hauser told the Sitka School Board that there were many possibilities for using the money, which could top $300,000 in a couple of years, including establishing an activities scholarship fund for students already eligible for the free and reduced meals program, and limiting the activity fee paid by students to one single fee paid once-per-year, rather than paying separately for every activity.

Hauser said a survey posted on the district’s homepage was generating results.

“Our preliminary survey responses include a strong preference for students for the use of the fund directly for students,” Hauser said, “which is exactly in line with what the assembly talked about. And the district’s initial ideas are focusing on.”

Take the School Activities Fund Community Input survey. There will be a district Listening Session 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 10, 2022, in the Keet Gooshi Heen multi-purpose room.

Cultural Education alive and well

The Sitka School Board heard a major update from the district’s Cultural Education Program. Director Jule LeBlanc described the grants she manages, and the projects they support – everything from the Cradle to Career Grant  to Box of Treasures, culture class, and summer camps. After two years of remote participation, many of the programs are reintegrating into the district’s curriculum. LeBlanc said that one parent found the Sitka district’s approach to be especially empowering.

“I feel like oftentimes, I’ve been told I’m not Native enough to learn the culture, or I don’t look Native enough,” LeBlanc said. “And so knowing that that’s something that I have heard, it’s something our students are still hearing, it was really neat to hear this quote come from this parent that it’s just shares how much it means to them that this the culture is accessible within the school day, not just where they have to be Native enough or after school.”

LeBlanc herself is a graduate of Sitka High. She explained that although cultural education was offered in her day, it was more universal now throughout the schools. She was playing catch-up.

“As a district alumni, I didn’t get a chance to learn the language in the school,” said LeBlanc. “I was very into sports, and so I never had the opportunity to even opt into SNEP (Sitka Native Education Program) classes. So I didn’t learn the language. And so now as an adult, I get to learn it. And so I’m going to say this to you… but I also invite you all to try saying these words. If I can do it, you can do it. And it’s okay to not say it right. So gunalchéesh… thank you for listening.”

Board president Blossom Teal-Olsen could relate to LeBlanc’s experience, growing up Inupiaq in Fairbanks.

“I had a very similar experience growing up, there was hardly any cultural education within the schools,” said Teal-Olsen. “Actually, my experience was very crude. They’d say, ‘Are you Native?’ and if you were you stood up. And then they’d say,  ‘Okay, now go learn about yourself.’  And we leave the room and spend 15 minutes learning something that someone read in a book.”

School Enrollment below projections

In other business, the Sitka School Board heard an enrollment update from Superintendent Hauser, who reported that the average daily membership – or ADM– during the official count period in October fell below the 1,125 students the board had budgeted for – by around 9 students. Nevertheless, the district has an available balance of CARES Act funding, and was still in the market for additional Americorps staff in the elementary schools.

Blatchley heat pump replacement

Hauser also said that a contractor had begun work removing the defective heat pumps at Blatchley Middle School, which has been without reliable heat for a full year. Hauser said two new heat pumps have arrived in Sitka, and two more are on the way.

“Our contractor is pulling out the old heat pumps today (Tuesday 11/1/22) in preparation for installing the new ones,” said Hauser. “As I said in my update last month, he was able to band-aid one of the units and get some heat going in the building. So the building has had some heat in the interim.”

The Sitka Assembly in August set aside $600,000 to replace the Blatchley heat pumps, which are only eleven years old, but may have been improperly installed.

Student board member Felix Myers to join state board

And finally, the board’s student representative Felix Myers shared some good news: He’ll soon  be lending his voice to school policy at the state level, and next year will have a voting role.

“I was selected to be the junior student representative to the state board of Education and Early Development,” said Myers. “In that position, I will be one of the students representing all students of Alaska, to that board. And next year, I’ll be sitting as the senior representative and be a full voting member* of the Board of Education for the State of Alaska.”

As the current representative for Sitka High, Myers lent his strong support for adding a student member to the school board from Pacific High. The board agreed, and approved the proposal on first reading, and will consider the matter again on second reading in December.

*Note: The student member on the Alaska State Board of Education casts votes, however those votes are advisory only.