Monica Goyette

Mat-Su Borough School District superintendent Monica Goyette.

PALMER — The Mat-Su Borough School District met for the first time in 2018 with a variety of topics from student safety to new classes and a new contract for the superintendent.

Dr. Monica Goyette's contract as superintendent was unanimously approved by the Mat-Su School Board to keep her on until June 30, 2021.

"I want to thank the board for the unanimous faith in me. I will do my best to lead this district under your direction in, always, what we think is best for kids first," said Goyette.

An excited Assistant Superintendent Amy Spargo spoke on new course offerings for students.

"We have not celebrated our own primary career choice of education. If the last one was housekeeping this is far more exciting. Alaska is one of three states piloting curriculum that has come through... that lead them to a career in education," said Spargo.

Students at Redington currently have one semester of the course completed and are doing practicums at Dena'ina.

"There's a chance to grow leadership," said Spargo.

Burchell High School principal Jason Marvel and assistant Shelly Lincoln presented on Summit Learning, which has helped to double graduation rate in mere months.

"A high school diploma is simply not enough anymore. We imagine that every student not only walks out with a diploma, but walks out more committed to his or her community with the habits that will empower them be successful," said Marvel.

Summit learning has changed the way educators interact with students at Burchell for the better, school officials said. Staff focus on four student outcomes of cognitive skills, content knowledge, habits of success, and instilling a sense of purpose. The seven-period school day has also been a casualty of the change. Students spend weekly one-on-one mentoring time with a teacher, setting and tracking goals, and focus more on group projects than classroom style learning. The teacher's job, in this case, is to facilitate discussion.

The program came free to the school and has online features that allow parents and educators to track student progress at any time.

"When you look at their change: summit learning philosophy really holds kids individually accountable. They're constantly meeting with their teachers, 8 percent were on track in October and now 63 percent in December are on track. And when I walked around that school, you can feel the difference. Kids are moving around with a purpose. It's difficult to staff, for students who have been there for a long time to have that shift but I'm proud of you guys," said Goyette.

The board watched two public service announcements on school bus safety: 'see and be seen' and 'bus means kids'. The board is scheduled to bring a resolution to the board next month on safe routes to school.

The board also praised the work of the GIS team that took old school boundary maps and updated them to be interactive. With thousands of interactive clicks on the map within days of its posting, the board praised the work of the team who helped put the map together which helps add clarity to one of the largest school districts in the nation by area.

Eric Campbell detailed the financial report for fiscal year 2016 and FY2017. Campbell works for BDO, who conducted the audit and were very pleased with the consistency and transparency of the district's budget process.

Campbell detailed various trends and changes in district spending over the last two years, from free and reduced lunch percentages to population increase. The only inconsistency he found was the frequent change in the superintendent position, which was later remedied with the vote to extend Dr. Goyette's contract.

Ole Larson made sure to ask about the transparency of the budget process, and detailed that the entire budget is available online.

Director of Human Resources Katie Gardner gave her report on the proposed schedule for the next three years.

"Decisions we make are aligned with educational program offerings and the calendar is convenient and friendly to families in the community," said Gardner.

The juggle of when to start school was the most difficult piece of the process, according to Gardner. There is a push to start school later, but wanting to end the semester before winter break and keep in line with schedules of the University of Alaska and students that may have courses at the Middle College.

"Long weekends in the late August and early September time frame are certainly not an equal compromise, but long weekends allow for that soft roll in but provide additional time for families who want to take a hunting trip," said Gardner.

The board will hold a series of budget open houses. At Academy Charter on Feb. 6, Wasilla High on Feb. 8, and Dena'ina Elementary on Feb. 13. All open houses will be held at 5:30 p.m. On the Feb. 15, the board will hold a budget open house Facebook Live event from the district office, also at 5:30. The Board's next regularly scheduled meeting is at the district office at 6 p.m. on Feb. 7.

Contact Frontiersman reporter Tim Rockey at timothy.rockey@frontiersman.com.

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