Superintendent’s Corner

October 17, 2019

Dear GCSD Families and Community Members:

“Octo” means eight in Latin. The former history teacher geek that I am compels me to share the fun fact that October got its name from being the 8th month in the calendar. What? That’s right … the 8th month in the early lunar-based Roman calendar, which surfaced around 750B.C. When the 12-month solar-based calendar was adopted hundreds of years later during the reign of Julius Caesar, “octo” stuck.

October is an important month for school districts across Alaska because it is the foundational period for determining each school district’s state funding for the school year. The student count period this year runs from September 30 to October 25. As our enrollment currently stands, GCSD is anticipating our largest enrollment district-wide since the district’s inception in 1974. I believe our continued increased enrollment is a direct result of the choices we have proudly provided our families, the partnerships we have developed with our families, and the high quality staff that GCSD has been fortunate to attract to serve our families and students. Because of GCSD’s robust enrollment, we thankfully are able to continue providing the school choice programs of excellence for which we are renowned.

Stakeholder satisfaction with GCSD programs is extremely important, especially given the state’s current fiscal situation. One of the results of the extended and contentious last legislative session is a current lawsuit filed in June by the legislature challenging the Governor’s assertion that the legislature cannot forward fund education. The superior court judge deciding the case said that he plans to rule in early November. If the legislature wins the lawsuit, that august body already forward flat-funded K-12 public education for the 2020-2021 school year. Flat funding is a cut because it does not keep up with inflationary costs for salaries, benefits, utilities, insurance, etc. Because of the Governor’s 444million in vetoes last legislative session, K-12 education worries that 2020-2021 K-12 funding will take a cut-cut (worse than flat-funding) if the Governor wins the lawsuit.

On a more positive fiscal note … GCSD learned that we have received a three-year Alaska Native Education Program (ANEP) grant for SHS & GILA. This $570,000 per year Literacy-focused grant has the following three main objectives:

  1. Improve student Literacy, through intensive teacher training and district capacity-building.
  • As you probably know, research is clear that there is a direct correlation between high quality teacher and administrator professional development (PD) and student achievement. To this end, I have strategized since January 2018 to secure the highest quality PD provider possible. Harvard University, for the first time in its long and illustrious history, is excited to provide K-12 professional development in Alaska (spontaneous applause by staff/faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education when announced that they, indeed, are going to be working with us). Initial discussions are such that this Literacy PD initiative should launch for SHS/GILA teachers during our January 2020 in-service (live video streaming with grant-enhanced internet) and earlier for SHS/GILA administrators. Eight teacher leaders (selection process TBD) and six administrators will travel to Harvard during June (14-20, 2020) for five full days (& two travel days) of targeted PD in preparation for the next year’s PD effort. Harvard faculty then arrives in Galena during our August All-Instructional Staff In-service to launch that year’s PD focus.
  1. Build cultural connections for student success, by greater presence in the classroom of the Koyukon Athabascan culture through Elder and Cultural Knowledge Bearer talks and demonstrations, and the inclusion of Athabascan art and artifacts into the district’s Alaska Native Arts program.
  • Grant application pages 13-15 of “Part 4 – GCSD Project LEAP Narrative” has details (let me know if you would like this information).
  1. Increase student understanding of the importance of Literacy in the workplace, by using written industry materials in high school assignments and classes and having students conduct work site literacy assessments.
  • Grant application pages 15-17 of “Part 4 – GCSD Project LEAP Narrative” has details (let me know if you would like this information).

I named this project the Literacy Education and Advancement Partnership (or Project LEAP for short) to highlight the focus on Literacy and on our many formal partnerships with industry/workplace and higher education organizations. I hope that you are as excited as I am regarding Team Galena’s opportunities for professional and student growth over the next few years.

October is also an important month because of local elections. America’s public education system is founded on the belief that the best decisions are made at the local level. During the October elections, GCSD welcomed new Board member Karin Bodony (Seat D) and re-elected Board member Fred Huntington (Seat E). GCSD is pleased that they have both stepped up to represent all of our stakeholders as they provide the governance and policy leadership to shape the growth of the district. The October Board meeting is also the month that the GCSD Board reorganizes its leadership positions. The GCSD Board reorganized in the following manner:

  • Jenny “Boomer” Bryant – GCSD Board President
  • Charlie Green – GCSD Board Vice President
  • Shirley Cleaver – GCSD Board Treasurer
  • Fred Huntington – GCSD Board Secretary
  • Karin Bodony – Board Member
  • Daniel Kopp – GCSD Student Board Representative
  • Tara Kirk – GCSD Student Board Representative

In closing, GCSD delights to serve all of our new and returning families and students. Please contact me at the phone number above or the email address below if you would like to discuss any aspect of this letter in greater detail or if you would like more information on any district initiative.

Respectfully yours,

Jim Merriner, GCSD Superintendent