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Nome Public Schools Considers New Program to Fight Principal Turnover

Nome-Beltz Jr/Sr High has had six principals in the last seven years. Photo: Laura Kraegel, KNOM.

With high local turnover and a statewide shortage of administrators, Nome Public Schools is looking take a new tack when it comes to attracting — and retaining — qualified principals and other school leaders. Superintendent Shawn Arnold broached the subject at a school board work session Tuesday night.

“Our turnover with our building leadership is something that we’ve dealt with for some time,” he said.

Nome-Beltz Jr/Sr High, for instance, has seen six principals in the last seven years. The school’s most recent principal — Edwin “Chip” Sharpe — resigned in December after just six months on the job.

That’s why Arnold wants to establish a cohort for aspiring leaders around the district. He said the program would facilitate and fund professional development for promising staff members who are already a part of Nome Public Schools, with the aim of “growing our own administrators.”

Not every member of the cohort would go on to become a principal or superintendent, but Arnold said the district would have a larger pool of local applicants when administrative positions do open up.

“Having administrators that have come up the ranks in the district they’ve worked and taught in — and if they’re from that community — they may stay for a longer time,” he said. “They’ll have some of that institutional knowledge that others from some Lower 48 state might come up without.”

The Lower Kuskokwim School District has done something similar in partnership with the University of Alaska Anchorage over the past five years. Arnold said most of their administrators now come from within their district, which has also seen less turnover.

If the cohort initiative moves forward in Nome, Arnold said members would have to commit to the district for a certain period of time — and they’d face financial penalties if they took their talents elsewhere too soon.

The school board isn’t attaching any funding to the program right now, but Arnold said backing could eventually come from the district’s title and professional development funds.

In that vein, board members also took their first look at the draft budget for fiscal year 2017, which is starting at $15.4 million. That’s a little less than this year’s budget, but district CFO Lucienne Smith said most revenues and expenses are expected to stay about even, apart from natural increases in salary and benefits.

Still, Smith emphasized that the budget is very much a work in progress. Joining the work session by phone from Anchorage, she said the draft will change over the next six months, depending on upcoming salary negotiations and contributions from the City of Nome.

“And then, of course, everyone knows the uncertainty of education funding from the Alaska legislature really is a cause for concern,” she said.

The district is required to submit its balanced budget to Alaska Department of Education by July 15. The school board’s next meeting is Feb. 9.