Skagway Recreation Center director Katherine Nelson, right, leads a spin class at the SRC. The city facility won a Alaska Municipal League Human Services award. See story in City Digest below. JB

Skagway has top scores in state?

Unofficial survey causes consternation elsewhere

Skagway students appear to have tested the best in the state based on preliminary results from the Annual Yearly Progress reports required by the No Child Left Behind Act.
It’s there in black and white on a chart faxed to the Skagway City School District last week from the Haines Borough School District, but the state Department of Education and Early Development stresses that it was not the source of the chart, and does not do district comparisons.
In an e-mail last Friday, Eric McCormick with DOEED stated: “This is not a document that was created by the (DOEED). It looks like they just simply ranked the districts according to the statistics included in the preliminary district AYP reports.”
The rankings are ordered “by summing the two percentages, Language Arts and Math,” McCormick continued. “This is not a statistic that we would ever produce or disseminate. We always separate results by subject.”
Haines Superintendent Woody Wilson was out of the state on a hunting trip until the end of the month and could not be reached to verify the source of the report, which apparently came from another superintendent, according to the Chilkat Valley News. The story broke in the CVN a couple weeks ago, and generated angry letters when it further compared Haines and Chatham (which includes Klukwan) district scores, as well as native and non-native children.
The chart shows the percentage of students proficient in language arts and math. Skagway’s AYP assessment report is on the DOEED website, showing 91 percent proficiency in language arts and 87 percent in math. Both numbers are the highest listed, resulting in the top combined score. Haines ranked fourth on the chart.
Skagway Superintendent Michael Dickens said the proficiency percentages are based on student test scores. “We have had the highest test scores in the state,” he said. “But normally they are not released like this.”
Still, it is good news for the local district, and he passed on the information to the Skagway Development Corp., which wanted it to help draw more families to the community, Dickens said.
But McCormick said the scores may not be an accurate reflection of total school performance. The percentages are based on student testing in grades 3-10, and only those who are considered in school for a full academic year, from Oct. 1 until the first day of testing (in February this year). He added later that Skagway does perform well, as do the other districts in the top 10 on the unofficial chart, but the final district and school reports are still being developed.

Not much input from community this year at annual school forum

With recent news that its students’ test scores appear to be the best in the state, Skagway City School Board members held a community forum last week that generated few complaints.
For starters, attendance at the third annual forum was low – two parents, one parent/city councilmember, one faculty member, and media were the only ones present. At the two previous forums, about 20 attended, including many parents and faculty.
Board members noted that those earlier forums helped shaped their goals – concerns about foreign language and nutrition led to grants for teachers in those areas. Board member Joanne Korsmo said it was hard for them to comeup with questions this year because things are “almost perfect” at the school. But they did come up with these four, and here’s how they were addressed:
1) Are there any specific areas in our curriculum or extra curricular program that need improving?
Science teacher Ryan Prnka led off by saying the new six period day in the high school is working well. There are longer periods in the day, which officially ends at 2:45 p.m., but many stay for after-school study and programs.
“I’ve enjoyed it and the kids seem to enjoy it,” Prnka said. “They are able to do more.”
One of the after-school clubs is band, and more and more students are joining up, added Superintendent Michael Dickens. Areas that still need work are improving the math program and finding a way to incorporate physics back into the science program.
Prnka said he may have found the solution at a recent conference – a program called Active Physics that “would work well with our kids.”
Traditional physics in the past has been difficult to teach because some students don’t have the math background for it, and Prnka said he ended up teaching as much math as physics. The new activity-based program with “multiple ways to solve problems,” could be taught to students who are math-challenged, as well as those who have already taken the higher level math courses, he added.
The textbooks are illustrated by an artist from the staff of Mad magazine, so kids have responded well to it and the program has been installed in curriculums in Boston and San Diego, Prnka said, adding Skagway could be a field test site in Alaska.
2) Are we addressing the needs of our graduating students by preparing them with study skills for college or other educational institutions? Is there enough information available through the school to help students apply for or enroll in those institutions?
When asked if they had ever surveyed high school graduates to see how they would respond to the above questions, Board President Chris Elllis said it had been tried a couple years ago and the district received little response.
While some kids see college as just an extension of high school, most are in for a shock.
Ellis said she did fine in college by just focusing on the school work, but there are so many other challenges for kids coming from small towns.
Kids in Skagway get a personalized education, Prnka said. With a small class (4-6 kids) he can “stop and go” based on how they are doing. That doesn’t happen at college in a lecture room with 200 other kids.
“The gifted kids go on and do pretty good,” said Mike Korsmo. “I’m concerned about the middle of the road kids.”
Parent Elda Neitzer added that each kid handles college differently, and most research the colleges themselves and make their own decisions about where to attend, with some help from parents.
Skagway has no full-time career counselor like many schools, Dickens noted, just a teacher who is able to make materials available to students. “Part of it is for them to do their own exploring,” he said.
Ellis noted that a high percentage of Skagway students attend college, and Dickens said the return to a more traditional public school grading scale should help them qualify for better scholarships.
“But making it easier here doesn’t make it easier for college,” Neitzer noted. Her comment segued into discussion on the next question.
3) Do you feel the grades given accurately reflect your child’s skill level? Should only core subjects be counted for the honor roll?
Prnka said the more traditional grading scale (where an A is 90-100) hasn’t really changed the competition level at the school. “The ones who are shooting for an A are still shooting for it,” he said. “They want to know the number.”
Joanne Korsmo said the question was generated by some members of the faculty and in the community after seeing so many kids on the honor roll. But the same people said it could be a true reflection of their abilities.
Dickens said Skagway test scores have been the best in the state for the past couple years.
“If they weren’t doing that, then I would question (the high numbers on the honor roll),” Ellis added.
Nan Saldi said the question should be whether the bar is high enough for the kids, but added, “my kids are getting an excellent education.”
As for the suggestion to take out non-core courses in the Grade Point Average computation, most disagreed with the concept.
“If you take those numbers out for computers, wordworking, graphic arts, etc., it devalues what we teach,” said Prnka, adding that most of the non-core courses are geared toward career preparation.
4) We have been awarded a new grant aimed at nutritional education. In what ways would you like to see it implemented?
Dickens, who had just returned from a training seminar on the recently awarded federal Physical Education Program grant ($572,000 over three years), outlined how the program can work. It starts with a teacher position that will be advertised soon, and development of a program beginning in the second semester.
Along with P.E., nutrition and health courses to improve student eating habits, he floated the idea of kayak and water safety courses to address the issue of drown-proofing in a town without a pool. The district would purchase kayaks and dry/survival suits with the grant money. Most at the meeting liked the idea.
Other activities suggested at the meeting included tying into the existing Ski/Snowshoe Club, Soccer Club and various Rec. Center activities. A committee would be set up for both the hiring process and guiding the program, Dickens said.
“The whole idea is to give kids more physical activity,” Dickens said, “so the issue of obesity in American children is alleviated to some extent.”
Dickens said physical activity also generates brain activity, and he brought back some exercises to show to the staff to alleviate stress.
The board compiled the comments at the meeting for a goals work session a couple days later, and a first look at them will be at the next board meeting on Nov. 30.

Thomas posts gains for District 5 House seat
June still awaiting final tally, analysis

For updated results see: http://www.state.ak.us/local/04generalelectionlinks.html

It looks fairly certain Bill Thomas will be Skagway’s representative in the Alaska Legislature when the next session opens in January.
After counting of absentee and questioned ballots Nov. 12-16, Thomas (R-Haines) had widened his lead over opponent Tim June (D-Haines) to represent the region’s small communities from Metlakatla to Cordova.
Official results were due to be certified later this week.
The District 5 race was one of the closest in the state. At the end of election day, Nov. 2, Thomas led by 89 votes. But June held out hope that a large number of absentee ballots this year would go his way. As it turned out, Thomas made gains in the post-election counting of absentee and questioned ballots. After counting on Nov. 12, Thomas led by 105 votes, and as of Nov. 16 the Republican held a 93 vote lead: 3,426 to 3,333.
June won a few more absentee ballots than Thomas (816 to 791), but Thomas won more of the questioned ballots that were counted (45 to 31).
Reached on Monday, June said he was awaiting final counting of any remaining overseas ballots and an analysis of disqualified ballots before making a decision on whether he would request a recount. If the result is within .5 percent, the state would pay; if greater, then his campaign would have to pay the $750 cost.
June, who won Skagway by a 216 to 173 margin, said he was “thrilled with the Skagway support. I want to thank the people of Skagway for it.”
Thomas was part of the Republican majority meetings after the election which selected John Harris (R-Valdez) as Speaker of the House. After those meetings, it was announced Thomas would co-chair the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee and the House Special Committee on Fisheries.
Thomas told KTOO last week that he was never part of the recent attempt by some Republicans to join with Democrats for a cross-party majority coalition under current House Speaker Pete Kott (R-Eagle River). The so-called “majority coup” of Nov. 13 was apparently quelled Nov. 15 with an announcement that Republicans had re-grouped under their party banner. – JB

UPDATE: After all counting was completed and the election was certified, Thomas had a 76-vote lead. June did agree to pay for a recount, which commenced Dec. 13 and could take five days.

CITY: AML awards SRC, Bourcy elected v.p., issues PERS/TRS alert

The Skagway Health, Fitness, and Family Recreation Center received a Human Services award from the Alaska Municipal League at the annual AML convention in Fairbanks earlier this month.
The award was presented to Recreation Board chair John L. O’Daniel by Mayor Tim Bourcy at the opening of the Nov. 18 City Council meeting.
In an AML press release, the Skagway facility was recognized for being funded by local sales tax and cruise ship industry grants, and operating with two paid staff and a host of volunteers. It generates about 40 percent of its operating budget in user fees. Activities include yoga, rock climbing, arts and crafts, exercise equipment, and classes.
Bourcy read a long list of names of people (see letters) over the past few years who have helped transform the SRC from an unused old school gym to a busy community center.
“I want to thank everyone for all their help over the years,” added O’Daniel. “It has turned into a great thing for the city and helped the spice of life around here.”
The award plaque will hang at the SRC, and a copy will be mailed to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which helped fund the rock wall and skatepark.
The SRC wasn’t the only winner at AML. Mayor Bourcy led a successful campaign to serve as the Alaska Municipal League’s incoming Second Vice President, which gives him a leadership role on the AML Board of Directors as part of the executive committee. Bourcy will serve with First Vice President, David Talerico, Mayor, Denali Borough and President Pete Sprague, Assemblyman, Kenai Peninsula Borough. Bourcy served for one year as the Director at Large and then as the Southeast representative on the AML Board of Directors before being elected to a leadership seat.
“Bourcy is known for his willingness to take on tough problems and his no-nonsense approach to local government issues,” AML said in a press release.
Besides the award, Bourcy brought some “bad news” back from the meeting, something all municipalities in Alaska are facing: a huge increase in contributions to the public and teacher employee retirement systems, otherwise known as PERS and TRS.
The unfunded liability for both programs totals $5 billion, according to a Nov. 2 briefing for AML.
Because of less-than-anticipated contributions statewide to the programs, the cities and school districts are being asked to kick in a lot more over the next three years. “It’s fairly staggering the amount of money we have to put into the system,” Bourcy said.
According to a PERS and TRS chart, Skagway’s fiscal year contributions must increase to:
• 2006 - school, $75,111; city, $284,729.
• 2007 - school, $97,084; city, $370,650.
• 2008 - school, $120,599; city, $462,615.
By 2009, increases level off somewhat to $129,259 for the school, and $496,201 for the city.
Bourcy stressed that “this is a serious problem created by the state, not this community.” He has alerted the Finance Committee because it will be “a significant hit on the budget.”
One way to deal with it, he suggested, would be to invest $1 million and put the interest annually into the system. – JB


MOMS & BABIES - Barb Brodersen holds Benjamin Burnham as mother Willeke and expectant mother Jaime Bricker perform CPR on infant models during a class presented last week at the Skagway Fire Hall. Jeff Brady


• SKAGWAY TRIBAL COUNCIL: Building "eternal bridges", open house at new building Dec. 5

• YULETIDE 2004: School play "A Christmas Carol" opens festivities on Dec. 3-4, full weekend planned for Dec. 9-12

• SPORTS ROUNDUP: Worley J-Hi Tournament and Wrestling & Volleyball updates

To read all the stories in the News, including complete city and school digests, letters and commentary, police and court reports, and view our many advertisers for Skagway products and services, you must subscribe to the real thing. Out of town subscriptions cost $35 per year for second class mail, $45 for first class mail. Send a check to Skagway News, Box 498, Skagway, AK 99840 or call us at 907-983-2354 with a credit card number.