Snippets – General Update October 2014

This is a “General Update Edition” of the CRSD Snippets.

Kenny Lake Boiler

For the first time in history (at least since using barrel stoves), we are heating one of our school buildings using bio-mass.   A new wood-pellet boiler system is heating the Kenny Lake School since October 1st.     The Alaska Energy Authority, particularly Jim Vail, has been working on the project for several years.   We are grateful for the opportunity to test the bio-mass supplycrsd logo chain and calculate the actual cost of producing heat using bio-mass over the course of this winter.   We are still working out a few system issues, but look forward to sharing a comparison of the operational data next summer.   If you’re at Kenny Lake School, you can see the system out behind the hockey rinks.

Alert System

We have been quietly working on yet another method for communicating with our students and parents.   Within the next couple of weeks we hope to send a test message via voice and text messages to your phone.   Using the cell phone numbers you have provided to the school, the message will arrive by voice and text message.   If you have not given the school up-to-date contact information, including a cell phone number if applicable, please call or email the school secretary with your contact information.     The most obvious application of the system will be notifications of weather related school closures or delays.   For routine announcements and notifications, we will continue using our website, Facebook, and emails.

Board Action at October 7th Meeting

The Board of Education held its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, October 7th.   The Board took time during its work session to honor Cheryl Sparks who has served on the board for twenty years.   That’s over 240 board meetings for students in the Copper River Valley!   If you see Mrs. Sparks, please take time to say ‘thanks.’   The board also took the following action during their business meeting: Approved a computer and hardware purchase; Approved the surplus of the Swisher Estate land; Approved the 1st Reading of a Restraint and Seclusion Policy; Approved a revised Upstream Learning Handbook; and Approved a new CRSD Handbook for Coaches. You can read reports and more information about each agenda item by visiting www.crsd.us and clicking on the BoardDocs button.

Expanding Opportunities

On October 3rd Governor Parnell announced a new initiative to “get more Alaska students ready for the workforce with specialized skills or crafts.” In a speech before the Alaska Superintendents Association, the Governor explained that many technically skilled jobs will become available over the next ten years.   The press release stated that, “Governor Parnell will introduce legislation next session bringing more vocation training opportunities to Alaska’s schools.”   The Copper River School District is ready and eager to participate in initiatives that will expand vocational education opportunities for our students.   We are building partnerships with other districts to provide project-based learning opportunities in a variety of career related fields.

Please visit www.crsd.us for other Copper River School District news and information.

Winter Weather School Cancellations

IMG_1376My friends and family in the lower 48 are often bewildered when I tell them we canceled school because it warmed up!   Come to think of it, some people in the Copper Valley are confused when we cancel school and it is only 34 degrees ABOVE zero.   Whether it warms up or gets really cold, it is time for us all to start thinking about the possibility of weather related school closures.

The CRSD contracts with First Student, a national bus service company.   According to our contact, they are responsible for safely transporting students to and from school everyday.   Drivers and managers at First Student monitor road conditions and determine if they can safely transport students.   It is rarely an easy call.   One location in the district may seem fine, but another may be icy and dangerous.   Some of our bus routes are interconnected and canceling one route can impact the others.   DOT works diligently to keep roads cleared, often working hours before the rest of us are awake to clear roadways.   Even so, when the temperature is hovering around 32 degrees, conditions can change rapidly. You and I can second guess First Student, but if they are not confident in their ability to safely transport students, we will cancel school.   Forcing someone to drive a bus-load of students if they consider the roads unsafe is not wise.

Unlike road conditions, calling school off for cold weather is much more objective.   District policy calls for school to be canceled if temperatures are 50 degrees below zero or colder at 6:00AM.   KCAM provides the official temperature for school closures for the entire district.

When school is canceled, we contact local media, including KCAM and KCHU.   We also post cancellations on our Facebook page and through our mailing list, which you can sign up for at www.crsd.us.   Later this year, we hope to test a new text alert system that will allows us to send out text messages to your cell phone when school is cancelled.

School cancelations create a wide range of reactions. From some, it is inconvenient.   For others it is down right frustrating.   And then there are those who celebrate wildly. We can all agree, keeping our students safe is much more important than schedules or conveniences.

The last few years we’ve canceled school in November/December due to road conditions. As winter storms come through and temperatures vary, please be aware of road conditions and potential school closures.   If you haven’t signed up for our email list, please do so as one more way to stay informed.

Now, after reading about wintery travel, go make some spring break reservations for somewhere warm.

Statements from 2014 Copper River School District Board of Education Candidates

School Board elections often fly under the radar.   The ballots often arrive during the busy hunting season and must be mailed back by October 7th.   According to the Alaska Division of Elections website, turnout for the 2013 school board elections was 12.62% of the registered voters.

Late last week while thinking about the importance of school governance, it occurred to me that the Snippets would be a great venue for candidates to speak direction to our community.   So, without much notice (my fault), the three candidates running for school board answered the following question: “What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Copper River School District Board of Education?”   Here are their answers as submitted (in alphabetical order, ladies first):

Katrina Church-Chmielowski (Section II, Seat F) – As a member of the CRSD Board of Education, I would like to continue working towards securing more educational opportunities for our children. Innovation and creativity is imperative in today’s environment of shrinking enrollments and shrinking budgets. We can expand partnerships with the Digital Teaching Initiative grant and True North Academy. By partnering with other school districts like Chugach, we can expand career and technical (CTE) training through their academies and summer programs. Expanding dual credit with PWSCC in both academic and CTE offerings is another way to increase opportunities. Local agencies like Ahtna Heritage Foundation’s language classes are offering new opportunities. CRSD’s possible variable term residential program should also bring new opportunities.

Another thing that I want to accomplish is reviewing the strategic plan. Education has been changing at an incredibly fast pace, and we need a strong plan to keep us on track. We’re training our kids for jobs that don’t exist yet, plus current careers. We need to teach skills that help our kids compete globally, but also strengthen our economy for vital communities. We have to provide the best foundation possible, and we’re trying. Our kids deserve the very best we can give them.

Kenneth “Greg” Biddle (Section I, Seat A) – I look at my role on the Board of Education for the CRSD through two distinct lenses. As a parent of three children in the district, being a Board Member gives me a more hands-on role in their education. I look out for my kids by being an active parent and a hockey coach, and helping to direct their educational opportunities is another way to guide them towards a bright future. Through the other lens, I have to look out for the interests of ALL the kids in the school district, though unfortunately it is sometimes regardless of the benefits to any one child. With declining enrollment and corresponding declines in funding, it becomes all the more important to get the maximum benefit of every opportunity for the district as a whole.

Two other factors drive my decisions as a Board Member: maintaining the excellence of the traditional education the kids have gotten in the past, and balancing the coming opportunities and challenges available in the new digital age. As an avowed ‘technophobe,’ while some advances may intimidate me personally, I have to realize, understand, and appreciate their real-world applications in the future of our children. All the same, actual teachers and actual books will always belong in our schools.

Michael Rego (Section II, Seat F) – As a lifelong resident of the Basin, I aim to serve my community by actively working to increase public awareness and participation in the actions and direction of our school district. In order for the School Board to act in the best interest of the local residents it is important that they are informed and involved in good decisions. Actions of the Board should reflect our unique community interests, values, and cultures, not those of an urban area. I will stand up for local control of education, supporting teachers and staff who give students the experience, training, and discipline they will need to be competitive in the future, regardless where they journey. By acknowledging the traditions that made our small schools great while judiciously and responsibly incorporating new tools and technologies, we can provide outstanding educational opportunities for our kids and maintain jobs for local residents. In doing this we not only create a district unlike any other, but also ensure long term sustainability. There is a reason people live here, there is a reason people stay here—if we all work together we can leverage those reasons to our success. Thank you for your consideration, Michael Rego.

On behalf of our students and community, I offer a special “thank you” to each of the candidates for running for the CRSD Board of Education and for responding to the question on short notice.