Voices of Alaska Education
Our Mission: To advocate for children and youth by assisting school boards in providing
quality public education, focused on student achievement, through effective local governance.
Special Edition - April 6, 2020
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, statewide school closures, and the rapid transition to remote learning, Alaska school districts, teachers, and parents are making critical decisions amid a steady stream of information that is changing daily. 

To help keep you informed of new developments, special editions of Commentary will be published periodically through the end of the 2020 school year.
AASB Is Here for You!

To ensure the continuity of business operations during the pandemic, AASB has transitioned our operations online. Our staff is working remotely and available by email, phone, and Zoom during normal business hours. Don't hesitate to reach out to us!
Self Care
Konrad Frank,
AASB Community Engagement Educator

Sheltering in place during this uncertain time can have negative health consequences. Many parents are having to home-school their children for the first time, and those of us who recharge our energy by meeting with others are having to do without human interaction for public safety. It is more important than ever to make sure that we are on top of our mental health and practice diligent self-care while the "hunker down" order is in effect. Here are some valuable self-care tips and resources to help us stay resilient during these trying times.

Lisa Worl receives Carla Timpone Award for Activism
Alaska Women's Lobby 

AASB's very own Lisa Worl is one of this year's recipients of the Carla Timpone Award for Activism, which is presented annually by the Alaska Women's Lobby. 

Congratulations to Lisa!

The celebration event will be rescheduled to a later date.

New Resources
Overview of EFMLA and FFCRA
By John Sedor and Commissioner Michael Johnson

What districts need to know about the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLA) and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), plus Q&A around legal questions pertaining to COVID-19 and schools.
John Sedor

Upcoming Webinars
AASB WEBINAR: Working with the Board
Tuesday April 7th

This webinar will explore structures and procedures that help the board do its work. You will hear from experience how your perspective is important but your agenda can be obstructionist. Begin to understand the nuance of practicing good boardsmanship and working with your fellow board members in order to improve student achievement and opportunity. 

AASB WEBINAR: Policy for Governance
Thursday April 9th

Board policy is an essential governance tool used to operate your district in a legal, fair, consistent manner that is focused on student achievement. We will explore how boards can develop policy, work with their superintendents to implement policy and how policy has a direct affect on the education of your students.

DEED Launches Alaska Statewide Virtual School

The Alaska Statewide Virtual School (AKSVS) is a partnership between DEED, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) and the Alaska Telecom Association (ATA) to offer online courses that include the entire scope and sequence of content for a typical final quarter of the school year. The courses are offered free of charge to Alaska students affected by public school closures.

DHSS Launches Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub

The Alaska Department of Health and Social services has launched a new AK COVID-19 Dashboard that provides information, maps and resources about the coronavirus response in your local area. The dashboard provides more detailed information than had been previously shared, and the data are updated daily at noon.

Talking to Kids About Coronavirus Fear
We've been asked about resources for families to use to talk with their kids who are feeling fear right now about coronavirus. Here are some we like:
How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus

Daniel Tiger
Learns to De-stress

Discussion: Feeling Inside Out?

Age-Appropriate Coronavirus Resources

Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has been working with social emotional needs and is close to launching virtual school counseling in the district.
An age-appropriate coronavirus resources page is now available that provides guidance on how to talk and share information with your kids about coronavirus. Resources have been carefully curated by district school counselors.

Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus
Rachel Ehmke, Child Mind Institute

News of the coronavirus is everywhere, from the front page of all the papers to the playground at school. Many parents are wondering how to bring up the epidemic in a way that will be reassuring and not make kids more worried than they already may be.

The ultimate kids' guide to the new coronavirus
Live Science Staff

A new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 is spreading across the globe. Kids like you are likely wondering, "Will school be closed?" and, "Should I be worried about getting sick?" To help guide you through a confusing situation, here are answers from science to all the questions you may have.

Coronavirus Information and Resources
Coronavirus Resources for Districts
A compilation of board, teacher, and parent materials and tools for engaging young learners at home, free internet offers, best practices for online meetings, the latest Alaska COVID-19 information, news, and public health mandates.

Resources for Parents and Educators with Students at Home
Abundant ideas and materials to support teachers, parents, and caregivers in search of ways to deliver instruction and daily activities that are educational, creative and entertaining for students learning remotely at home.

Virtual Meetings and Instruction
AASB webinars for School Boards and Educators on conducting meetings and delivering instruction online, plus:
Internet Service Providers
Special offers for new or upgraded service for the remainder of the school year from ISPs, including ACS , ASTAC , GCI , KPU , MTA , and 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Window from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Alaska Coronavirus (COVID-19) Newsfeed
A summary of statewide Alaska media coverage
of the coronavirus pandemic impact. Updated daily.

Alaska COVID-19 Response Fund
Rapid Response Grants

The Alaska Community Foundation is now accepting applications from eligible charitable organizations (501(c)3 nonprofits, or equivalent, organizations located in the state of Alaska. May include tribes, churches, local government agencies, and programs) to support operational and programmatic efforts as they grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 on their organizations, team members, and the people they serve. Individual grant amounts will be awarded from $5,000 to $20,000.

District Dispatches

How is your district supporting students at home?
What have been your successes and challenges?

Anchorage School District
Starr Marsett, School Board President
ZOOM security: The District has implemented major security options including requiring passwords, alternate session numbers, and virtual waiting rooms that require students to be “let in” to the room. The Administration continues to work through the issues as they come along.
Device Distribution: Device distribution into the middle schools next week will begin next week. The Administration is researching business procedures for how elementary distribution could work should there be sufficient resources after distribution to secondary students is complete.

Paper/Pencil Distribution: Three weeks of ELA and Math assignments are being printed and will be mailed next week by the ASD print shop. This will kick off the schedule that will result in regular assignments to be mailed for the purpose of providing equity for families without internet or devices.

Door-to-door delivery, aptly named “STUBER” (think student Uber-style deliveries) will commence next week. This service is a joint effort between Special Education and Student Transportation. ASD drivers will be safely delivering items that cannot be bulk printed or mailed.

Annette Island School District
Tia Atkinson, School Board President

Our teachers are calling home once a week to check in with parents. Homework packets go home every week. Our school has drop offs for breakfast and lunch in the morning for kids of all ages 0-18, including our head start kids due to high demand and program's loss of funds so our district stepped in to help the community during this trying time. Teacher encourage parents to feel free to get creative with their kids education. Homework packets are being mailed home ever Monday for Elementary and classes are online for the middle and high school.

Dillingham School District
Heather Savo, School Board

Well I think one of the most important ways they are supporting kids is they are making sure kids are getting food by way of daily bus stops. I really hate to think that we have kids going hungry because that was the only place they got a meal. Education wise they have sent packets home with homework for 3 weeks worth and are calling and checking in with students, seeing if they need help with anything. They have set up cell phones for all teachers so they don’t have to give kids their personal number. Kids can call during working hours and get help with whatever they need.

Hydaburg School District
Bart Mwarey, Superintendent

Each teacher put enough work together for the next four weeks to each student. Some teachers are teaching through video conferencing platforms through cell phones. Most students do not have internet access. We are waiting for help from AP&T and AT&T.

Kuspuk School District
Paul White

They are not doing very much. Sent a packet home and no information about returning or the next packets. Teachers are calling home. One box of fresh fruit sent out per family. No options for families that don't have internet for additional access. Limited communication and I am based in Aniak so farther villages are having a hard time. DEED does not work for the rest of Alaska without internet.

Lower Kuskokwim School District
Bessie Weston, School Board

Sending home work packets. Providing breakfast and lunch. Teacher phone calls. Reading books on Facebook live. Parading past students homes. Delivering parent requested Language material (dual language school) to help parents teach a language that they do not know. Providing pencils. Texting next week's meal menus. Physical distancing.

Sitka School District
Mary Wegner, Superintendent
"The teachers are great and my kids are doing well" is a quote from a text message that a friend just sent me. It is also a common message I have heard this week from many people - all from virtual meetings or electronic communication, of course.
I am in awe of the creative ways you are dreaming up to reach out and connect with students and families during this time of remote learning. Academics, the arts, movement, social emotional support, and more are all part of what you are offering our learning community, and it is making a huge difference for our families. Already students are learning and engaging! Your professionalism has been highlighted during this time of disruption. Those of us who get to see you at work regularly already knew this; however, now everyone is noticing and appreciating it, too. 

I can't say it enough... Gunalchéesh hó hó!

Unalaska School District
John Conwell, Superintendent

During the extended spring break, teachers and administrators have been developing plans to transition to home-based education. The first priority has been to assemble instructional materials, such as textbooks, workbooks, and supplies, to be delivered to students' homes. This is a gradual transition. It's a totally new way of teaching and learning for our school district, but we're confident that it's going to go well and we're going to improve on it each week. I think I'm only seeing the tip of the iceberg with regard to teachers' innovation and creativity when it comes to providing this new model of education, so we are letting our teachers have as much academic freedom as they need or require. And all we ask from our teachers is that on a daily basis they submit a summary of their efforts in providing home-based learning to our students.
How is your district supporting students at home?

AASB would like your input on how your district is providing remote instruction and support to your students. What have been your successes and challenges ?
Alaska Education News
Please note - some news outlets may require registration or a paid subscription for link access. Others may grant free access to a limited number of articles before requiring a paid subscription.
Anchorage School District prepares to go live with distance learning
Patrick Enslow, KTUU
An Anchorage School District Board meeting on Monday outlined plans to go live with distant learning through specific online programs. The school board meeting also stressed the role parents will play in the at-home learning equation. Elementary students in the district will have the option of online learning, paper learning packets, and television-based learning via Alaska Public Media programming .
ASD Board conducts its March 30, 2020 meeting using the Zoom videoconference platform.
High school students will have a more narrowly focused online learning experience for the remainder of the school year, while junior high students will have paper and pencil options along with online learning.

The school district also announced its recent efforts with ACS, GCI, and MTA to provide free WiFi for students along with hotspots and Chromebook laptops for high school students to help bridge the digital divide for students, faculty, and staff.
ASD says the first phase of the distance learning program kicks off Tuesday. High school students will focus on core courses like English, Math, Science and Social Studies. ASD says it will introduce electives after two more weeks once students have had time to acclimate to the online learning platforms.

It was also announced at Monday's meeting that the summer school program will be converted into a four-week course to help students finish the school year.

FNSB School District utilizes tech for distance learning
Kyrie Long, Fairbanks Daily News Miner
The school district is making technology-driven changes in addressing student needs as it faces a mandatory school closure through May 1.
The district’s chief information technology officer, James Gentry, told the school board at it’s Monday night work session that over the last few days and the weekend he’s been very busy. Gentry has been working with a group of principals, as well as the Teaching and Learning Department, to develop a program to allow students who need them to check out devices, in this case Chromebooks.

How teachers taught teachers in ramp-up to return of lessons
Jay Barrett, KBBI, Homer
Monday marked the start of a new paradigm of teaching in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, as all schools remain closed to students and lessons are delivered largely electronically due to the coronavirus pandemic.
To prepare teachers for the change, the district had just a couple of weeks to develop plans to be delivered electronically, or failing that, by hard copy, and then many teachers had to learn a new way of conducting class.

Amanda Adams is the personalized learning specialist for the district, who worked with teachers on gaining the new skills needed."With this new shift, we wanted to make sure that we provided our staff with as rich of a learning experience as possible,” Adams said. “So we had over 260 sessions, nearly 50 presenters, and we utilize the skills of our amazing educators that we have.

NIEA Interview: The Impact of Covid-19 on Tribal Communities

Indianz.com presents an interview with Diana Cournoyer, Executive Director of the National Indian Education Association, hosted by Kevin Abourezk and Leo Yankton. They discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tribal schools and students.

GCI sees unprecedented demand for internet services amid COVID-19 outbreak
Liz Raines, KTVA
Alaska's largest telecommunications provider says it's seeing unprecedented demand for internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. GCI is offering Alaskans free internet or internet upgrades through May 31 to help communities stay connected.
The company is also working with school districts and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to help make online courses available to Alaska students.

Coronavirus for kids without internet: Quarantined worksheets, learning in parking lots
Erin Mansfield & Shelly Conlon, USA Today
Corey Shepherd teaches fifth graders in rural Alaska in a school district the size of Indiana. The terrain there is so rural that only airplanes and snowmobiles connect the district’s 11 tiny villages.
Shepherd is one of more than 7,000 teachers in his state trying to make the most of teaching his students since the governor closed schools to in-person learning to stop the spread of the coronavirus. One method he isn’t relying on: online learning.

“Around half of my students have access to the internet on some device at home,” Shepherd said. “Internet service is very expensive in rural Alaska and comes with data caps. Internet service is also prone to interruptions due to weather.”

State medical officer encourages Alaskans to wear homemade masks
Tegan Hanlon, Alaska Public Media
Alaska’s chief medical officer is encouraging Alaskans to wear homemade masks when they go out in public, as the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 continues to grow. Dr. Anne Zink said it’s one of several things Alaskans can do to help limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Dr. Anne Zink
“We’re encouraging people — if you’re going to go out in public, if you’re going to go to the grocery store — to consider wearing a tightly-woven homemade mask to be able to minimize the spread, in case you are asymptomatic or early symptomatic,” she said.

Sitka Mask Makers Rising to Challenge
Shannon Haugland, Sitka Sentinal
City, health care and emergency response leaders in Sitka issued a “call to action” today, asking residents to sew face masks to donate to SEARHC, to help prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19.

A number of Sitkans may have anticipated this request – for more than a week they have been hard at work, with dozens of seamstresses contributing hundreds of masks for use here and around Southeast, under the organization Southeast Alaska Mask Makers. They’re available to the public.

Sarah Jordan holds up one of the colorful fabric face masks she is making at home today.
Photo: James Poulson
How to Make Your own Face Covering
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams demonstrates how to make your own cloth facemask in just 45 seconds.

Hear how Alaskans are coping with coronavirus on new podcast, Alaska Interrupted
Nathaniel Hertz, Alaska Public Media
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended Alaskans’ lives in ways that would have seemed unthinkable a month ago.

Now we’re all trying to navigate a new normal of social distancing, canceled school and frenetic home offices.
At Alaska Public Media, we wanted to hear from people about how they’re handling the array of challenges — domestic, psychological, medical — that the coronavirus has thrown at them. So we’ve launched a new podcast: Alaska Interrupted.

Board Names Holst Interim School Chief
Garland Kennedy, Sitka Sentinel
The Sitka School Board has named former school superintendent John Holst to be interim superintendent after Mary Wegner steps down June 30.

The appointment of Holst was announced at the board’s Wednesday meeting, which was held by teleconference.

“With his extensive experience in various permanent and interim superintendent positions, we feel that he also clearly recognizes that he will be working for the board, and we as a board remain firmly committed to the goals we have established,” board president Elias Erickson said.

John Holst
Kuspuk School District selects four finalists in search for new Superintendent
The Delta Discovery
The Kuspuk Board of Education superintendent search committee is pleased to announce that four individuals have been selected to interview as finalists in the search for a new superintendent. The full Board will interview the finalists via teleconference and web meeting due to the Coronavirus mitigation measures on April 14 2020.
The Board and the Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB) search consultants will endeavor to host a town hall style online forum on April 13th for all stakeholders to observe and be able to provide the Board with feedback. Details will be forthcoming soon. The Board’s finalists are...

Superintendent Search Service
Looking for a New Superintendent?

The Association of Alaska School Boards has been conducting successful and economical superintendent searches for over twenty years.
Our Superintendent Search Service provides expert facilitation of the entire search process, including identifying the needs of the district, recruiting candidates, conducting background searches, facilitating interviews, and all the steps to help with the hiring process. Learn about our Search Service

If you would like AASB to conduct a superintendent search for your district, or have questions,  Contact Us

Your school district is a vital member of the Association of Alaska School Boards, our state’s leading advocate for public education. Together, we work to ensure equity by strengthening the connections between schools, families, tribes, communities, and government so that every Alaskan child has the opportunity to receive a quality public education.

The many services AASB offers are designed to provide maximum benefit to our members in meeting their district's goals. Check out our Membership Benefits brochure and let us know how we can assist you!

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