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BSSD School Board Focuses on Safety, Missed School Days, and Cell Phone Limits in First Meeting of 2020

Debates over cell phone usage and how missed school days will be made up took priority at the most recent Bering Strait School District Board meeting in Elim last week.

Cell phone usage is a contentious issue in schools across the district, but as BSSD Superintendent Bob Bolen states, the negatives outweigh the positives.

“So there’s more and more research coming out that, although technology is great in the classroom, there seems to be a trend towards students abusing their cell phones in the educational setting. There’s also cyberbullying going on, which is more rampant these days. And then it’s just a matter of being able to keep our internet open and not bogging down the limited bandwidth we have here.”

– Bob Bolen

A limit on how much students can use their cell phones during the school day will go into effect at the start of the next school year for all BSSD schools. The board unanimously consented.

A quarter of all the Board’s action items during Thursday’s (Feb. 6th) meeting focused on school repairs, with upgrades to PA systems, roofing, and fire alarms all being approved in schools throughout the region. Safety concerns for BSSD students were cited, and so all of these items passed unanimously.

“[We] think about kids first, kids’ safety first. Just being a parent, from a personal perspective, I would want my kids to be safe at school.”

– Annie Weyiouanna

That’s BSSD Board President Annie Weyiouanna from Shishmaref. She says she considered the Board meeting overall a success.

The last action item up for discussion was the BSSD school year calendar. Opinions were split about the disbursement of the required attendance days for BSSD students. While the minimum number of required school days is 180 in the state of Alaska, there is some variance in how schools can get to that number.

An option on the table for BSSD is a number of Saturday sessions, however Superintendent Bolen spoke to some of the downsides that come with that.

We have a tough time in May getting students into school. Once the weather clears up and testing is over and all that, they tend to go to camp and they go out doing their things. So, we’re trying to help them by getting them out earlier, but there’s always a give and take. The state requires a certain number of days and we have to have those days and make sure the students are getting their academics in.”

– Bob Bolen

Board President Weyiouanna weighed in with her concerns about a six-day school week.

“A lot of the concern is if you have Saturday school, you are interfering with subsistence and also with family time. And when you have a six-day school, not only are the teachers getting burned out, but the kids are getting burned out too.”

– Annie Weyiouanna

No consensus was reached, and the issue was tabled until the next BSSD School Board meeting.

Board member Winfred Olanna speaks at BSSD board meeting with Aaron Iworrigan sitting next to him. Photo from Joe Coleman, KNOM (Feb. 2020)

After more than an hour spent in executive session for its superintendent review of Bolen and other business, the Board re-convened. At that point, board member Bob Dickens, who represents Unalakleet, Stebbins, and Saint Michael, made a motion:

“In consideration of his positive evaluation, I make a motion that the board approve Dr. Bolen’s registration to the National Superintendents’ Certification.”

– Bob Dickens

According to the Alaska Association of School Boards’ website, the purpose of this certification is to allow early-career superintendents to develop leadership skills that AASA believes will be beneficial long-term. The Board passed the motion unanimously.

The BSSD School Board’s next meeting will take place on April 23rd in Koyuk.

Image at top: Gary Eckenwiler gives financial presentation at BSSD School Board Meeting in Elim. Photo from Joe Coleman, KNOM (Feb. 2020)

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