Skagway student increase could fund 3 new teachers

Music teacher James Baldwin sings with first and second graders. (Emily Files/KHNS)
Music teacher James Baldwin sings with first and second graders. (Emily Files/KHNS)

Skagway School grew this year and could continue to grow in future years, according to administrators. The school board held a forum Tuesday night to talk about what that means for the school.

At Skagway School, elementary grades are taught in combined classrooms. But now, with student numbers increasing, especially in the elementary grades, that set-up could change.

“This is a really exciting time to be in education, particularly in Skagway,” said Superintendent Josh Coughran.

He’s excited that enrollment at the school rose above 100 this year. It means the district is in for a $280,000 spike in state funds. So, what should they use the extra money for? The district put out an online survey asking that question, and 42 people responded.

“The most consistent themes were number one, single grade classrooms in the elementary – one grade, one teacher —  K-6.Nnumber two, an enhanced music and band program K-12, the creation of a foreign language program K-12, the creation of a gifted and talented program for accelerated learners and an enhanced focus on college and career readiness.”

Coughran came up with a proposal that would meet most of those requests. The first step: hire two new full time elementary teachers to create single-grade classrooms.

“If a teacher were able to concentrate just on say, just on first grade or just on fifth grade, just on that set of grade level standards, I believe it would do a lot towards raising the achievement of our kids — toward creating that optimal learning environment,” Coughran said.

Another piece of the plan is to increase the hours of the current part-time music teacher and part-time Spanish teacher. That would allow for expansion of the music and foreign language programs. Music teacher Johnathon Baldwin said when he was first hired, the program was full-time.

“You know a lot more kids were involved in the music program because those classes were scheduled and I was here all the time for them,” he said. “So that would be my ideal situation to eventually push for that full time position.”

As for having a full-time foreign language teacher, high school student Kiara Selmer said that sounded good to her.

“I personally had to take online foreign language and that was not a success,” Selmer said. “So I do not have full foreign language, it was quite difficult to keep up without a teacher there.”

The final part of Coughran’s proposal is to hire a new staff member to create a gifted and talented program. In total, that’s three new hires and two expanded positions.

School board member Mary Tidlow said she was on board, but what about housing for the new staff?

“If you are to bring in a family or two families you run into the potential of them not having housing,” Tidlow said. “So any community involvement or getting the word out that we might be hiring these teachers and saving some kind of housing.”

Coughran said he also thought finding housing could be a challenge, and that he was planning to talk about it at the next school board meeting.

Board president John Hischer said the boost in enrollment, and in turn, funding, makes him optimistic.

“I see students staying. And I see our enrollment continuing to increase,” Hischer said. “And so I think that by this staffing plan we’re going to encourage more people to stay and make Skagway their home. I’m just so happy about this plan and everything we can offer our students. I think it’s huge.”

The board will need to formally approve the additional staff as part of the district budget.

They’ll also consider whether to alter the school calendar to deal with the high number of student absences that tend to happen in December and January around holidays. At the forum, some members of the public favored increasing the current two-week break to three weeks, extending through the first week of January.