2 Women wearing mask standing for a photo in the library. One is holding a book

A new reading program, a new response to COVID-19 and an old problem were the main topics at the April Nome Public School’s Board of Education meeting.

The Nome Elementary School E.L.A. Curriculum Committee presented on a potential new elementary school reading program, titled ‘Bookworms’, for the board to review. This program, according to the committee, exposes children to full literary and informative texts, rather than just excerpts, and gives students a chance to write responses to what they have read. The point of the program, is to turn students into kids who love reading and actually want to read.

The program really works, according to committee member and fourth grade teacher, Krista Marvin, who has been piloting one of the lessons with her class.

“I have never seen my students so engaged with books, and I don’t know if it is because they have an actual, entire book in their hands. But, out of eighteen kids, every single kid is excited about the book. They are reading. The written responses I am getting are really well thought out. Paragraphs of really high quality writing from my higher ed students, and the kids that have needed more support for writing, they are still coming up with some really great ideas,” Marvin said.

The program organizes the material into several blocks, allowing teachers to simplify their teaching process and to focus solely on teaching the texts.

The district is considering making masking at schools optional, in response to the significantly low COVID-19 cases in Nome, Superintendent of Schools Jamie Burgess said during her report. Burgess pointed out how such a policy would be in keeping with the City of Nome’s:

“A lot of our emergency declarations are being lifted by various municipalities. There is a conversation about how we are slowly moving from a pandemic towards an endemic,” Burgess said.

The Nome School District has since put this measure into effect and masks have been optional at Anvil City Science Academy and Nome-Beltz Middle High School since April 18. The Nome Elementary School will continue with a mask mandate through the end of the school year.

Burgess also mentioned the board will formally adopt the new budget on April 26 during a special meeting.

Lack of staff remains a recurring issue within the school district. The elementary school has a vacancy for a special education teacher, a behavior specialist and a music teacher, Nome Elementary School Principal Elizabeth Korenek-Johnson said.

“We were funded the current school year for a music teacher, you will remember that we left (it) vacant we weren’t able to fill that position, and it is still my understanding that that position has been cut for next year,” Korenek-Johnson said

In the meeting’s opportunity for public comment, High School Teacher Rebecca Albertson spoke to the board about a noticeable lack of maintenance observed at the middle/high school, and the strain it puts on teachers like herself.

“The problem is not just a dirty building. The problem is not having access to our administrators in the morning because they are cleaning the bathrooms and taking out the trash,” Albertson said.

Maintenance director Mark Casey responded that this lack of building maintenance is due to a lack of a full and dedicated maintenance staff.

“And, unfortunately, there is a lot of social stigma, I guess, with wanting people to work at night and be janitors. And we’re competing with the hospital paying ten dollars more per hour for those positions. Right now we have three guys that are in their fifties or sixties. Thank God, because they’re the guys that take it as a serious job,” Casey said

The Board of Education passed six action items this meeting. Besides approving the adoption and purchase of the Bookworm program, the Board approved a second revision to the FY22 Budget. They also approved the first and second reading of Board policies, the approval of an Inupiaq immersion teacher‘s contract for Nome Elementary School, and a decision to schedule their work sessions to every other month.

The Nome Public School’s Board of Education’s next regular meeting is on May 10. As usual, the public is invited to attend and comment.

Image at top: Members of the The Nome Elementary School E.L.A. Curriculum Committee after their ‘Bookworms’ presentation. Photo Credit Miriam Trujillo, KNOM Radio (2022).