Nome school board debates new academic calendar

Nome School Board meeting

The Nome Public School’s Board of Education’s February meeting was the scene of a lively discussion concerning the adoption of a new school year calendar.

The calendar committee, comprised of multiple representatives including a student representative, classified staff representatives, certified staff representatives, administration staff, parents, Kawerak representatives, and Nome Eskimo Community representatives, have been meeting for months now to draft an academic calendar that the Nome School district could adopt for the coming years.

To create a practicable academic calendar, the calendar committee considered a variety of factors, such as peak subsistence times, the welfare of teachers and students and sports schedules. Taking three surveys to ask the opinion of the Nome community, the committee came up with three options. The first option has an earlier start to the school year than in previous academic years, the second is similar to the Nome school district’s current calendar and the third starts school after Labor Day and continues the academic year into June. At February’s meeting, the Nome Board of Education was to vote in one of the three options.

Superintendent of schools Jamie Burgess mentioned how the survey results were inconclusive. The participants in the survey, who voted on calendar options, were closely split on which options they considered to be best.

Nome Elementary School Principal Elizabeth Korenek-Johnson warned listeners against the third calendar option, the one with the start after Labor Day.

“As a parent and a principal, as a teacher, I think starting after Labor Day sounds awesome at the start of it, and really miserable when we get to May/June,” Korenek-Johnson said.

Student representative Lupe Callahan also had strong reservations about a later start.

“For the student survey I’m pretty sure it was like 170 students (who) submitted a survey, which is kinda crazy ‘cause I can’t get at least five kids to talk to me sometime in the morning, so it’s kinda crazy.  I just want to take into consideration that a lot of kids value their education here. Kids wanna go do summer programs, they want to work jobs. And if you are pushing it all the way into mid June, say bye bye to RAHI and ANSEP man, that starts the first day of June. If you’re are not out of school, you’ve got to find something else at this point,” Callahan said.

Others point out the third option’s ability to free up time in the fall for fall subsistence activities. Although, as Board Member Bob Metcalf pointed out, it would still bring students back to school in the middle of hunting season. Metcalf said that individuals, including teachers really care about their subsistence time, while Korenek-Johnson reminded those in attendance at the meeting that the school calendars have a larger say over teacher’s lives than they do over the lives of students, so the perspective of the teacher is something to keep in mind.

“There were some comments that the school calendar is a tool that school staff absolutely have to live by. They don’t have a choice whereas families have options to do things throughout the year if they choose to. Whether it’s subsistence in the fall or Hawaii in November or February, they can do those things. And we recognize that those things are enriching for their children, and those are family choices. Staff members live by this calendar,” Korenek-Johnson said.

On the other hand, Nome-Beltz Middle/High School Principal Jay Thomas voiced the belief that teachers are not as concerned with the minutiae of their schedules as much as they care about having their work schedule in a timely fashion. He pointed out that the opinions of the students regarding calendar choice should be the loudest voice of all.

“I would hope the voice that you hear really clearly is the voice of the kids from the high school who would have the most impact. And they’re pretty clearly saying: our early June, early summer opportunities are there because so much of rural Alaska starts in August,” Thomas said.

Eventually, the Nome Board of Education passed a motion to table the vote until Board member Nancy Mendenhall, who was absent, could participate in the vote. The Nome Board of Education unanimously passed the other three action items on its agenda. The board moved to approve the fiscal year 2023 teacher contracts, approve the fiscal year 2022 district legislative priorities and approve the updated six-year capital improvement plan.

The Nome Board of Education’s next regular meeting is on March 8. As always, the public are invited to attend and to comment.

Image at top: The Nome Public School’s Board of Education met Feb. 8, 2022. Photo by Miriam Trujillo. 2022