New school year brings changes for district
Breakfast program saved in 12th hour vote by school board
Students returning to classes this Monday will see many changes from last year.
Possibly the most obvious adjustment for the upcoming school year will be the fact that all sixth through eighth grade students from Gilson Middle School are moving into Hermon Hutchens Elementary School while construction continues on a new building for those students.
The carefully orchestrated move began on the last days of school last spring.
While the temporary quarters will make for a somewhat cozy learning environment for both staff and students, numerous changes were made during Monday night’s school board meeting that will avoid draconian cuts made to some programs district-wide, including the district’s breakfast program.
Dr. Lisa Stroh, the new superintendent for Valdez City Schools, presented the board of education a $9,000 fix to save the breakfast program, which was cut by the previous administration during the last round of budget cuts instituted for the new school year.
“We cut a $100,000 out of the food service budget last spring,” Stroh told the board, despite the fact the cut was made under the previous administration of Jacob Jensen.
Stroh spent the past month going over the district’s new budget in her first weeks on the job, looking for ways to save what she sees as vital programs.
“We believe we really need to serve breakfast to kids,” she told the board. “The whole thing is, we know kids learn better when they have a full stomach.”
Stroh noted that 28 percent of students enrolled in Valdez City Schools are on the free lunch program and another 26 percent qualify for reduce-priced meals. Without a breakfast program in place, it is likely a large number of students would be starting the school day without it.
There had been a plan to provide breakfast type snacks through the principal’s office of each school. Stroh figured the district could do better.
“We want to offer it in the cafeteria,” she said. “It would be similar to what we had in the past.”
Rod Morrison, principal of Gilson Middle School, spoke in favor of the program.
A few years ago, middle school students began taking what he calls a mid-morning break, where many students eat breakfast or a mid-morning snack.
“It’s built into our schedule,” he told the board.
Cost of the small meals was $2.50, but many students brought their own food. The concept of the mid-morning break was so successful, Morrison said he believes the middle school outsold breakfast at both the elementary and high schools.
The reallocation of budgeted funds passed unanimously.
Stroh also asked for – and got – a half-time teaching position for business/technology classes restored for Valdez High School.
The position will also oversee online learning courses at the high school.
Other reallocated funds made a formerly temporary position in the school’s technology department permanent, pays for a counseling intern at the elementary school and provided a stipend to pay for a special education teacher to also act as a special education coordinator for the district.
While the inside workings of the schools were hashed out, the outside effects of the middle school construction project also loomed large as the countdown to the first day of school begins.
Administrators over the middle school construction project said that sidewalks that have been damaged or removed during the summer will be in repaved in time for Monday’s first day of school. The flagpole in front of the high school will also be replaced.
To add another layer of change in the upcoming school year, Stroh gave the board an update on the district’s efforts to rekey the entire school district with a new master key.
Apparently, the rekeying project is giving some people in the community heartburn.
“It’s an emotional thing for people to give up keys,” Stroh told the board.
Tony Gorman photo
Students attending Gilson Middle School are not the only things on the move during the construction of the new building. The old bus barn used by the district was recently moved off the school’s site to the city’s new “community buildings” complex located between W Egan and Pioneer Dr.
The project to rekey the district began under Jensen’s administration and has continued under the leadership of Stroh.
“We need more security,” she told the board, noting that administrators in the district had long expressed concern about the large number of master keys unaccounted for that can open literally any door district-wide.
Apparently, some people that have had master keys in the past are unhappy that they will not be receiving new master keys when the rekeying project is finished or will not be given multiple copies.
“We don’t need a lot of master keys on people’s rings around town,” she told the board.
She said the district intends to keep close tabs on the number of master keys issued to whom they are issued.