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Board of Ed Work Session Focuses on District Data

A handout at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting.

The theme at last night’s Nome Board of Education work session was assessment, with board members briefed on topics ranging from parking lot safety to algebra textbooks.

With the State of Alaska planning to change its education assessment standards in July, the district is planning to adopting new curricula. As states across the nation reject federal Common Core standards, school districts are looking to national retailers for course materials—even though standards are still being negotiated.

At the meeting, teachers and working groups gave their recommendations. “Now, it’s pretty urgent that we’r getting a new program because we have new standards,” said elementary school teacher Mary Jo Hazel. She told the board the decisions educators make now could last for years.

“It’s a deeper type of teaching.”

One group of elementary school teachers had a straightforward recommendation about which curriculum to chose: none, at least not yet. They want to wait until research funded by the Bering Strait School District comes back, which could lead to a partnership that benefits both Nome and BSSD students.

High school math teacher Andre van Delden said Nome-Beltz has been using the same trigonometry textbooks since 1989. Because, he says, they work. But state-level education reforms prompted him and another teacher to recommend a new suite of math materials be purchased ASAP—since they can get a deal the further in advance they order.

Amid the debate on course materials, the board got an update on student achievement. While results aren’t final, so far there are sizable gaps in proficiency across subjects and grade levels in Nome Schools.

For example, while 76% of 10th graders aren’t proficient in science, 91% of 7th graders are below grade-level in math.

Board member Barb Nickels believes the issue needs to be a serious concern for the district.

“I mean if we’re looking at 91% below and 80% below, we’re looking at 75% of them are gonna drop out by the time they get to 10th grade,” Nickels said.

The Safe Routes to School program updated the board on a months-long study of how students and traffic move around the elementary school. Though design solutions to the parking-lot and signs were offered, the emphasis was on education, safety tips, and better driving practices. Nome Eskimo Community has led efforts around the Safe Routes to School program, but says now decisions are in the hands of school officials to pick a course of action.

Finally, the board voted for a pay bump for Superintendent Steve Gast, after he absorbed some duties of a Human Resources position over the last few months. One board member was opposed to the raise, though two said they thought Gast deserved a little more given his work.