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By Dan Rudy 

Upcoming school year brings some changes, new faces


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Theresa Allen collects materials for senior registration on Monday at Wrangell High School, helped by office aide Jessica Rooney. Eighty-eight students were signed up to begin the 2015-16 school year, with a further five anticipated to register by its start next Thursday.

Wrangell's teachers, parents and students are schools are gearing up for a new year, with registration currently ongoing. While some programs have already started up, classes will begin on Aug 27.

A number of changes will greet students when they walk through those doors, some more noticeable than others.

Mondays will be a bit shorter for starters, at least for students. School will let out at 2 p.m. once a week to allow teachers time to develop "professional learning communities," which are intended to support and increase collaboration among teachers and staff.

The overarching goal is to change the way the school district approaches education, looking at the experience less as being split into individual grades than its encompassing a broader K-12 continuum. With the recent re-siting of the University of Alaska Southeast technical preparation program office to Wrangell High School, that view will be further expanded to include a post-graduation context as well.

There will also be some new faces on Wrangell campuses. New secondary schools principal Kendall Benson began earlier this month, coming most recently from Cedar City, Utah as its middle school principal.

High and middle school faculty will be returning, and along with some schedule adjustments, a new elective course will be offered this year, called "A History of Freedom."

Lisa Nikodym will be taking the position of activities director. Previously, she has served as a volleyball and softball coach. Middle school office aide Jessica Rooney will assist her in making travel arrangements.

"Things are getting started with a bang," Nikodym said, with cross-country already underway. "We have quite a few kids turning out."

The cross-country season took off on July 29, and the team's first meet will be in Sitka on Aug. 29. Volleyball begins Sept. 16, with wrestling to follow on Sept. 30. Students interested in participating in any athletics programs are reminded to get physicals.

Megan Talburt will be the new high school secretary, and Matt Gore will helm the schools' new information technology position.

Evergreen Elementary School principal Diedre Jensen will be starting her second full year. Returning with her are all of last year's teaching staff, which she points out is a rarity.

"In Alaska that's not a common thing," Jenson said, adding that speaks positively to the Wrangell community.

There will be two new faces joining them. Matt Nore will be the school's new Title I teacher, help students catch up with their peers in reading and mathematics, while also helping to reduce the overall workload for other faculty. The position is funded through a consolidated Elementary and Secondary Education Act grant, which is noncompetitve and renewed on an annual basis.

"It's just more one-on-one instruction," Jenson explained.

Jenna Turner will be coming aboard as the new full-time counselor, a position funded through a three-year Elementary and Secondary School Counseling grant from the Federal Department of Education. She will be focusing on conflict resolution, team building and cooperative learning for elementary and Stikine Middle School students.

Jenson said she is working on starting a designated project room for teachers at the school, providing them with an opportunity for more hands-on projects. A new math curriculum is being implemented this year, and several teachers have been asked to pilot language arts programs which may replace the current curriculum.

"It would be in the next couple of years, I'm sure," Jenson said of the latter change.

The iPads acquired for elementary school students last year will be seeing more use as classes begin to incorporate greater online components and programming. Parents of all Wrangell students can expect to use more tech as well.

Beginning this year, parents will be able to check all of their students' online gradebook accounts under a single PowerSchool sign-in. While the program has been used in previous years, an individual account was required for each child. However, access to the upgraded interface requires creation of a new user sign-in.

"Everybody has to create one in order for this to work," yearbook adviser Barb Neyman explained.

Parents can log on to wrangellschools.org and click on the PowerSchool button, following this to the "Create Account" tab. Each child's user name and password is needed to complete registration, and a parent will need to give their name and email information.


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