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By Dan Rudy 

School charette sows seeds for scholastic strategy

 

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Kindergartners and K-1 students from Evergreen Elementary present on what they did to celebrate their first 100 days of the school year to the Wrangell School Board Tuesday evening. It was standing-room only as some proud parents crowded in at the back and in the halls while one by one, the kids described centenary activities involving reading, writing, Legos and food, among other things.

The two dining rooms at the Stikine Inn were abuzz with ideas Tuesday during Wrangell Public School District's first-ever charette, a planning session held to chart a course for the next five or more years.

"I think it went pretty good," said Superintendent Patrick Mayer, who devised the session. "I felt the feedback was very rich, the discussion very rich."

Twenty guests joined 24 planning committee members in the hour-and-a-half long session, discussing 16 points spread over four topics in 20-minute increments on a rotating basis.

The areas concerned focused on academic achievement, safety and facilities, career technical education, and technology. The questions were put together by six-person committees made up of various members of the faculty and community.

Visitors were of course free to offer suggestions and voice concerns, but committee members also threw in their own ideas as well. A record-keeper assigned to each committee collected the ideas germinating with each subsequent group of people.

In the area of academic achievement, people were asked to evaluate current school programs on offer and to point out what else ought to be offered, such as drivers education and consumer finances courses. There were comments about the school system as well, with praise offered for individual educators and some criticisms, such as a lack of personality or culture among the school's facilities.

In the area of technical education, there was support given for expanded on-the-job training. In particular, the idea that students shadow a variety of professionals at their workplace for two-week periods was a popular one.

"You've got a lot of kids that don't know what they want to do," said David Powell, sitting on the tech ed committee. He explained the shorter time sessions would allow students more opportunity to see a wider variety of occupations, and if they lost interest in one they could try another.

One idea offered to facilitate this would be to change the current daily school schedule from an alternate-day block back to a seven-period, five-day schedule. This would allow students more consistency in their OJT programs.

In the areas of safety and facilities improvements, there was consensus that making students more aware of potential health, social and environmental dangers should be made a priority. While some noted that alcohol- and drug-related problems were lately on the decline, an issue with continued bullying in and outside of schools was noted.

Better emergency preparedness for students, faculty and parents alike was also a point of concern, as well as improving the field of vision and addressing speeding vehicles on streets surrounding the secondary schools.

With technology, parents and students attending the charette would like to see greater emphasis put on practical concepts rather than learning specific programs, and on using different technologies to broaden educational opportunities for Wrangell's youth and adults alike. Further informing parents on what resources are available to their children at the schools and honing students' practical skill sets were mentioned as general avenues to that end.

"This is a pretty darned good turnout," Mayer told people afterward. "Your input has been really valuable."

As group talk does tend to do, there were some conversations which carried over the allotted time, throwing off the rotation tempo. Despite this, for the most part people were satisfied with the pace and thought the discussions were useful.

"It will help policy making for sure," said Aleisha Mollen, a member of the school board who also participated on the academic achievement committee.

Each committee will meet up again to boil down and prioritize the data it received during the evening. These streamlined lists will then be presented to the Wrangell School Board at next month's meeting.

In other board business, at its regular meeting on Monday members approved a few agenda items and minutes as presented, and accepted four policies on staff ethics and meeting conduct on their second readings. The board also approved offering Wallace Schmidt a teaching contract as long-term substitute teacher.

Three members of Wrangell High School's student government stopped in to inform the board of their trip to Juneau last week, where they participated in an Alaska Association of School Boards Legislative Fly-In.

Mayer, Rinda Howell and Kimberly Powell accompanied students Tabitha Hommel, Davis Dow and Maleah Wenzel, who got to meet an assortment of state senators, representatives and Gov. Bill Walker himself. While there, they learned about education-related bills currently on the Legislature's agenda this session, while pressing for legislative support as various cuts to the budget are considered.

"Thank you so much for going," board member Cyni Waddington told the students.

"Glad you guys got to go," commented member Tammy Groshong.

It wasn't all about fly-ins and capitol city hobnobbery; getting into the nitty-gritty of student affairs in Wrangell, Hommel, Dow and Wenzel also let the board know clocks at the high school are off by two minutes and should be readjusted.

 

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