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Nome School Board Approves Teacher Salary Increases, Revised Reading Lists

Nome Public Schools Board of Education President Barb Amarok, Treasurer Brandy Arrington, and members Nancy Mendenhall and Sandy Martinson (Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM, 2017)
Nome Public Schools Board of Education President Barb Amarok, Treasurer Brandy Arrington, and members Nancy Mendenhall and Sandy Martinson at a regular meeting (Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM, Oct. 2017)

The Nome Public Schools (NPS) Board of Education met for its last meeting of the school year Tuesday night, which meant a lot of business to tie up. That included approving salary increases negotiated with the teacher union, more contracts for new staff, and revised reading lists.

But before getting to approval items, Superintendent Shawn Arnold shared some good news from Juneau: the Legislature passed an additional one-year statewide school funding boost of $20 million and then $30 million for the year after that. Vice President of the Board Jennifer Reader says she has mixed feelings:

“Getting one-time funding doesn’t help us keep things going. But it is heartening to see that they’re looking to give us money so we can know what we’re having the next year.”

The district is still waiting to hear from the City of Nome about its funding contribution. That could be $500,000 or $600,000 more than last year, which would forestall the most serious cuts.

Another fiscal challenge for the school district will be higher teacher salaries in the next two years. Those are the result of negotiations with the Nome Educators’ Association. The school board approved that agreement Tuesday night.

In addition, the board approved teacher contracts for four new teachers. Superintendent Arnold says efforts to find the right people for remaining positions continue — with some caution.

“We don’t want to just hire the first person who pops up, and we don’t want to seem too desperate, because often times, when you just hire fast, you don’t get good results.”

Four positions are still unfilled for next year: an elementary teacher, the high school industrial education teacher, a middle school science and math teacher as well as the Nome-Beltz assistant principal.

The Beltz counselor position has been filled, which board members say they’re happy about. Here’s Board President Barb Amarok:

“This is a very critical position for the high school students, to have a person in this kind of position available. And also just as critical is making sure that the person who is the counselor is the right fit for both the students and the staff, and we’ve already seen this teacher in action, and it’s my opinion that she is very effective.”

That person is Misty Lecesse, currently an NPS social studies teacher. The board approved reimbursing her for a master’s program in counseling at UAF, which she is beginning this year, in return for a three-year commitment to the district.

The college and career guide position will also be funded, through a partnership with Kawerak and the Bering Strait School District (BSSD). Caroline Proulx will continue to serve Nome-Beltz students and also take on support for BSSD students.

Finally, the board approved revised junior-high and high-school reading lists for the 2018–2019 school year. The lists — prepared by the English department and reviewed by a committee of staff, parents and students — are an effort to make sure students are reading literature that most of their peers in college will have been exposed to.

In a written statement read at the meeting, Superintendent Arnold describes the process:

“This list was carefully evaluated to eliminate titles not related to the outcomes of our English department, or that have been unable to be taught because of time limitations … Parents receive this list at the beginning of the year, and alternative selections of books deemed inappropriate for their student is always allowed. However, previous discussions of rating scales and morality rubrics go against national standards and best educational practices and are forms of censorship.”

Last February, the board removed several books from the reading list after a group of parents expressed concern about sexually explicit and graphically violent content. This year’s lists return Alice Walker’s The Color Purple to the 12th-grade required reading list, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye to the 11th-grade alternative list, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner to the 12th-grade Diversity In American Literature elective reading list.

An amendment failed that would have approved the reading lists for one semester and request that additional novels by Alaska Native and Native American authors be added to the supplementary list before spring 2019.

English teacher Teriscovkya Smith says NPS’ list of texts that meet Alaska cultural standards is unique compared to other districts around the state.

“They don’t have this part of the reading list, so we’re really proud of it. And it does need to grow. Because this really is our sort of beacon on the reading list, is ensuring that every year students are analyzing and looking at texts that reflect their region and their culture and their identity.”

The Nome Public Schools Board of Education will meet for a work session on Tuesday, May 22nd at 5:30 pm and for its next regular meeting on Tuesday, June 12th at 5:30 pm, both in the Nome Elementary School Library.

Image at top: The Nome Public Schools Board of Education at a regular meeting (Photo: Gabe Colombo).

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the amendment to approve the reading lists for only one semester passed; it failed, and the lists were approved for the full 2018–2019 school year.

This story has been updated.

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