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By Dan Rudy 

Schools to update phones, cut faculty position


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

School librarian Jennifer Gerald and several students at Evergreen Elementary School show a video project to the Public School Board at its Monday meeting. The students each created a video in the style of a movie trailer highlighting a favorite book. Copies of these books at the library will each be outfitted with a personalized QR code, which other students can then scan with their iPads to preview their book. Six videos have been made so far, with more to come.

At its regular monthly meeting, the Wrangell Public School Board approved the purchase of a new phone system for its two campuses.

Board members approved a $65,000 contract with AP&T to install the new system, which replaces the district's 71 phones with IP-based handsets and will include a one-year service agreement for parts and equipment.

"The current system that we have right now, they say they can't support them," explained Matt Gore, technology director for the school district.

The new phones use an internet connection to transmit and receive calls, and the handsets will allow teachers some mobility within the building. Installation of the system's infrastructure will be made ahead of spring break in March, when the school will make its transition.

"The initial configuration is really the biggest part," Gore explained. The installation will be done in a way to minimize class disruption and the old analog system will be available during the change-over.

In the event of a power failure, Gore explained the analog system would still be available, but that the generators could also be fed into the schools' main routing rooms to ensure the system stays on.

"No matter what happens, we should still have the service we have now," he said.

The project will replace the schools' aging communications system, which is at least three decades old. The maintenance contract will be comparable to what the district had previously, though it has had to go without one for the past two years due to its archaic system. The item had been included in this year's budget, and the proposal put forward by AP&T on Jan. 11 came in at a lower price than expected.

In other business, board members were informed Cyni Waddington has stepped down as technology coordinator to return to the Chamber of Commerce, and that Michele Galla will be retiring at the end of the academic year.

Since 1993, Galla has been a government and language arts teacher for the middle and high schools.

"It's generated a lot of discussion," said art teacher Anne Luetkemeyer of the planned retirement, speaking at Monday's meeting. "My concern is that people, as a district and the community, that we're confronted with the loss of a very good teacher."

Luetkemeyer urged the board to consider ways to find a replacement for Galla, which at the moment seems unlikely. Due to budget expectations, the school district does not intend to refill the vacancy left by her retirement. In his monthly report, secondary schools principal Kendall Benson mentioned he had been asked to reduce certified faculty by not replacing her when she departs.

"We won't be filling that position next year," school superintendent Patrick Mayer confirmed. Administration will build next year's schedule minus one faculty position, in part due to the secondary schools' low student-teacher ratio, which stands at around 11-1.

Mayer explained the reason for the cut mainly is due to probable reductions to state education funding as the Legislature tackles a $3.6 billion deficit. The faculty cut would save the district $102,000 – though Mayer pointed out this will go toward covering the annual increases in benefits and salaries for other staff.

Mayer said the board has the option to add money for a replacement position during the budget process, if it chooses. The district needs to have a budget in to the city by May 1, and a preliminary draft may be ready to review by next month's meeting on Feb. 15.

Board member Aleisha Mollen presented a draft communications survey, which will be put out to the public through the school's SurveyMonkay account. The schools' lawyer tweaked some of the language, but the board approved the draft for circulation.

Questions aim at gauging how people prefer to keep up-to-date with school activities, and how often. Queries can be answered anonymously, and links to the survey will be posted through the school bulletin, Facebook page, and new website. A PDF draft can be reviewed through the board website, or by visiting http://goo.gl/5f5PuJ. At the board's request, hard copies will be kept on hand at the office as well.

Monday's meeting was prefaced by a presentation by Kim Szczatko, regional coordinator for the University of Alaska Southeast tech prep program.

The career education program has been around since 2006, but has really taken off since 2008. Last spring the Wrangell school system arranged to base Szczatko's office on site, which the administration felt would be a boon to Wrangell's own program. She works within the statewide university system, coordinating with the departments of Education and Labor, Southeast Conference and the private sector.

The program currently offers 62 credits worth of different classes to local students, and Szczatko explained additional courses are being considered for next year. These would add among other things salmon culture, fisheries oceanography, medical terminology and health occupations.

"Health science is a real need for our community," Szczatko said.

Other options include adult education and postgraduate studies, such as coursework in anatomy, welding, woodworking and other trades. The issue of developing a local workforce in the maritime, health and other sectors has been discussed with some seriousness by the city, most recently at its Port Commission meeting earlier this month. Labor development also remains an ongoing goal regionally through Southeast Conference, the Alaska Department of Commerce, and the state's Division of Economic Development.

The tech prep program contributes to this end, by allowing students to earn college credit at a reduced cost while encouraging them to take on trades important to the local economy.

"It kind of gives students that leg-up," Szczatko said. She estimated 85 percent of job openings in Southeast Alaska require more than a high school education.

In other board business, Mayer presented board president Susan Eagle with a certificate showing she had achieved a Basic Boardmanship Award from Carl Rose, for attending Association of Alaska School Board events. The distinction comes in three levels, of which Eagle has earned the first.

The board also accepted a $1,000 gift from Alaskan Dream Cruises, which wanted to express its thanks to Wrangell's community for its continued support. The donation is to be used at the school district's discretion.


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