MAT- SU — The major new look at Mat-Su Borough School District Schools in 2019 isn’t the school buildings themselves, but what you’ll find on computers inside the schools. MSBSD is moving away from School Max, which had become static as a school information system. MSBSD was the only large district left with School Max in the nation, and moved onto a new school information system for this upcoming year.
“We’re really hoping this will just help students and parents keep track easier of how many credits they need,” said Superintendent Dr. Monica Goyette.
The new school information includes student and parent access to students record. Goyette is particularly excited about the graduation portfolio that will be prominently displayed throughout a students time in high school, giving a visual representation of how many additional credits the student requires and where.
Career Tech High School Principal Mark Okeson hopes that the first day of school at CTHS sets the stage to walk across the stage in May.
“We’re a place where we help young people figure out what they want to do after high school while they’re still in high school,” said Okeson.
Okeson’s first day of school routine at CTHS is to invite all of the invested community members that support the students to join them in front of CTHS the morning of the first day of school. Okeson calls this the ‘affirmation gauntlet’ and invites parents, neighbors, and friends of students to gather in front of CTHS to offer high fives and words of encouragement as they begin their 2019 school year.
“It’s one of the most powerful and most important days of the school year. How things begin has a lot to do with how they end,” said Okeson.
Okeson said that one of the main goals in helping students feel welcome back at school after a long, hot summer is to reduce the amount of stress they feel about the upcoming school year. Especially for the incoming freshmen, Okeson said that the biggest challenge for staff at CTHS is to continue to grow skillfully. CTHS will have a slightly increased enrollment of 730 students this year, up two dozen from 2018’s total. The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program moved it’s portable classroom from CTHS to Mat-Su College, freeing up some space. However, CTHS construction students will be building another portable to replace the ANSEP building. With the high degree of difficulty just to get into CTHS as on of the district’s highest performing schools, Okeson only hopes to be able to continue to grow the number of students within the halls of CTHS and decrease the size of the waiting list to get in. Okeson is acutely aware of the opportunity afforded MSBSD students at CTHS, where they can get career experience alongside their secondary education. Okeson says that his plan with the ‘affirmation gauntlet’ is all part of helping students to feel that they can graduate.
“If we can do that successfully, it’s no exaggeration in the school business, the rest of the year goes a lot more smooth if the first day is smooth,” said Okeson. “It’s a very high stakes day.”
The Colony Knights are starting the 2019 school year off with approximately 350 new faces, and one that arrived over the summer. Thanks to K&H Civil Constructors, the Colony High Tennis team has two brand new courts to compete on. The K in K&H is for Matt Ketchum, whose son Kaden also competes on the Colony tennis team.
“It wouldn’t have happened without him,” said Colony High Principal Brendon McMahon of Ketchum.
The repaired surface and paint on the tennis courts had McMahon asking his son Patrick if he wanted to pick up the rackets and take up another sport after the asphalt revitalization was completed over the summer. While McMahon hasn’t picked up a racket in decades, he is intricately familiar with delivering the support that students at Colony High need.
“Not just principals, but everybody, you really have to be present for the kids so you get to know them and only way you build relationships to get out the daughter and ask staff to be cognizant of the fact that for kids to perform and achieve, you have to have good relationships,” said McMahon.
McMahon said that many of the jitters of the first day of high school experienced by the approximately 350 freshman patrolling Colony High’s halls on Thursday can be calmed by a helpful relationship. McMahon is preparing staff to mitigate logistical concerns for new students like finding their lockers, their classrooms, and getting into the routine at Colony within the first few weeks. McMahon said that the relationships built with students are the foundation of their academic success. McMahon said that for the Colony Knights to be an outstanding high school community, the students require great relationships with those around them. McMahon said that Colony hosts their first Knight Pride assembly on the first Friday of school every year to get the incoming freshmen acclimated to what being a Knight is all about.
“You get the full gamut of emotions in a high school,” said McMahon. “You get to see kids that are just getting ready to launch into greatness.”
After the devastating earthquake on November 30, 2018 rocked the Mat-Su Borough as a whole, the Houston school community was particularly affected. Following stories of heroism from valiant teachers and students helping each other to reach safety, the two Houston schools combined into one with only a few weeks to prepare. Portable classrooms were relocated to Houston to better accommodate the 383 students moving from Houston Middle to Houston High. Now, with a full summer to prepare for a school year at Houston Junior/Senior High School, Principal Ben Howard feels the excitement in the air.
“Obviously there’s some anxiety to that because it’s so new, but my anxiety is really tempered with just the excitement of having some new staff members, we’re able to start off as one school whereas last year we were kind of forced together because of the earthquake,” said Howard.
Howard expects approximately 115 freshmen to join Houston Jr/Sr on Thursday in the 88,240 square foot building that used to be HHS which now houses students from grades 6-12. Student laborers also constructed two new portables at HJHS and repaired issues on the existing portable classrooms over the summer. A decision has not yet been handed down by MSBSD as to what will become of the HMS building constructed in 1975. Three options were presented to the school board, which will ultimately recommend their suggestion to the Mat-Su Borough, which owns all of the 47 school buildings within MSBSD. The cost estimate provided at a MSBSD work session was $28,884,817 to repair HMS. HJHS is also the newest school to receive a police presence inside the building, as the most recent participant in the district’s widely successful SRO program.
While Palmer’s Moose have been Blue for the entirety of the school’s history, the newest iteration of Palmer’s mascot has a different color. A bronze statue of a moose has made its way in front of Palmer High by way of a recommendation from football standout Duston Corbin. Corbin’s relative was selling the bronze moose, which is identical to the one that stands outside of Sportsman’s Warehouse in Wasilla. Corbin is not only a member of the football team, but a member of his classes student government, and brought the proposal to the governing students. Traditionally, graduating classes will leave a gift to the high school with the remaining funds they raised during their four years in student government. The class of 2019 decided to get an early jump on giving back and purchased the moose that looks to be eyeing vegetables in the Ag building garden from in front of the school building.
Palmer High Principal Paul Reid is proud of the Ag program that offers a variety of different ways to get involved. Palmer hosts the only Ag program in the district and added a second teacher for 2019. In 2017, when Reid first took over at Palmer High, he identified a funding source for additional equipment and education opportunities in the Ag building.
“We wanted to create alternative energy learning model for that ag building with the green house there, it’s sort of a personal interest of mine too, but there was some grant funding that was available that first started the ball rolling on it,” said Reid. “Ideally what it’s going to do is create a learning model for students to better understand and analyze that data and get that base knowledge for growing job opportunities.”
Reid said that they assembled a group of experts in alternative energy and solar power two years ago to set up a monitoring system to determine how much energy the Palmer High greenhouse was consuming. That monitor also adjusted the energy levels as needed and sent reports to the school district. As a result of hard work in acquiring grant funding, solar panels were installed over the summer. Reid says that the equipment provides an opportunity for an experimental learning model in an engaging way, something he is excited to offer at Palmer High. With tumultuous times around the state, the staff at Palmer High has remained steady, which Reid sees as an asset to the students and surrounding community to have so many home-grown teachers patrolling the halls of Palmer High.
“We have a veteran staff that pretty much all of them returned, we had two retirements and added one alumni teacher, Sean Niekamp got on board as a new science teacher,” said Reid.
Reid hopes to continue to incorporate more blended learning into the offerings at palmer High and keep 21st century students engaged in a positive way. Reid also said that he expected their enrollment to come in above the projection for new students. Reid is excited to start the new school year as his third at Palmer High, and also his third straight year of cutting budgets.
“Uncertainty with state budget seems to be a trend that’s going to continue. I know Governor Dunleavy has talked about next year he’s focusing on education,” said Reid.
The graduates that left Redington Jr./Sr. High School in 2018 will be a tough act to follow in 2019. As proud owners of one of the highest graduation rates in MSBSD above 95 percent, the students and staff at RJSH will have their work cut out for them if they are going to maintain such a high level of achievement.
“We’re obviously ecstatic about last year’s graduation rate,” said Assistant Principal Matt Swalling. “We do everything we can to get them across the stage.”
Swalling said that he hopes that setting such a high standard in 2018 will not be an easy task to replicate, but that the close-knit nature of the less than 300 student school community at RJSH helps staff identify students needs and help do what is necessary to get them graduated.
“We know with our current class that we’re going to really have to double down if we want to get near that number again,” said Swalling.
Along with figuring out the intricacies of the new school information system, Swalling and the staff at RJHS are excited to help their school community on Knik Goose-Bay Road continue to grow. With academic success in 2018, athletic success may be the result in 2019. The Redington Huskies football program had 41 players try out, which is already the most they’ve ever had come out for football in the school’s short history. Similarly, the Huskies Volleyball team had so many girls try out, they will host four teams this fall, and Redington will host it’s first Cross Country running race on Saturday at 10 a.m. When the Huskies football team takes on Nikiski on Friday night at 7:00 p.m., it will be the first Huskies game ever broadcast live on the radio.
Newly minted Wasilla Warrior Principal Jason Marvel is starting his time at the head of Warrior Nation by hitting the ground running. With approximately 300 incoming freshmen, WHS will see the largest incoming class in a long time, according to Marvel.
“I’m just excited to be at Wasilla High School,” said Marvel.
After a battle with the School Board, Marvel was confirmed as the new principal at WHS, where he taught and coached the Warriors to a state championship in basketball. Marvel has also taught and coached at Palmer High and Colony Middle, and served as the principal at Burchell High School in 2018. Marvel is assisted by fellow newcomers to the Warrior Nation administration Tyler Gilligan and Karen Bloxsom, who will serve as Assistant Principals. Marvel said that the bell schedule has been altered so that WHS could align it’s class periods with other district schools where WHS students take additional courses. Marvel is encouraged by the success at Wasilla High in it’s Career and Technical Education programs, band and choir, the tremendous amount of extracurriculars offered and sports teams that are poised for a positive 2019. The Warrior football team led by first-year head coach Ken Ottinger, who recently won a state title with the Warrior Baseball team and took second at state with the Post 35 American Legion team will take on West Valley on August 16 at 7 p.m.