GRAB AND GO - Library patron Tina Johnson, left, and Joanna Perensovich, information services librarian, wear masks in the Sitka Library this afternoon. The library no longer has couches for patrons, but does have computer desks widely spaced apart for people to access for one-hour periods. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Hames, Twitchell Named to School Board

By GARLAND KENNEDY
Sentinel Staff Writer

The Sitka School Board made appointments to two vacant board positions Wednesday night, and talked about how best to reopen the schools for the fall term.

The board met in person for the first time since March, but not in the Sitka High library, the usual meeting place before the pandemic started. Instead, the meeting was held in the high school commons, a spacious area with a 20-foot high ceiling. Physical distancing was observed.

In a unanimous vote, the board chose Blossom Twitchell and Andrew Hames to fill the vacancies left by the resignations of Elias Erickson and Dionne Brady-Howard this month.

The board met at 5 p.m. to interview the five applicants to fill the two board seats until the city election in October. After the vote approving Twitchell and Hames in the regular meeting that followed, the new board members took part in the remainder of the meeting.

Twitchell told the Sentinel that she has lived in Sitka for more than two decades, and all of her three children have gone through Sitka schools. She has worked with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

“My background is working with families and helping them achieve financial independence and self-sufficiency,” Twitchell said.

She added that in her time on the School Board, she will advocate for protecting the health of Sitkans.

“We’re all in the same boat when it comes to schools across the country. We don’t know how COVID will play out. We need to think about safety for our students as well as our teachers. For a lot of Alaska Native students, a lot of students live with their grandparents,” she said. Twitchell noted that these grandparents would be especially vulnerable if exposed to the coronavirus if exposed.

She said she plans to “think of all of Sitkans when we are planning school policies.”

Andrew Hames is manager of Sitka Sea Mart. A nearly lifelong Sitkan, he taught high school in Idaho after college before returning to Sitka several years ago to join the family business. He also taught music at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

Like Twitchell, Hames emphasized the need for the school district to have coronavirus precautions in place when regular classes resume.

“I would love to see students back in school under normal conditions as soon as possible,” he said. “I feel like students are missing out on a lot socially and mentally by not being around their peers. But of course we need to do it safely. We don’t just want to cross our fingers and hope for the best,” he said in an interview.

He noted that the board will have to work on long-term solutions.

“This is a marathon we’re running here, not a sprint,” he said.

With the new members taking part, the board discussed possible issues relating to the reopening of the schools in late summer.

“We are going to have to make arrangements to take care of our kids, take care of our staff,” said interim District Superintendent John Holst. He added that a likely scenario would involve schools having only half of the student body present in person on any given day.

“I am going to suggest at this point that there would be half of the students… We will be able to do synchronous and asynchronous education,” he said. Synchronous learning is traditional schooling face-to-face. Asynchronous learning is distance education.

The school district’s Smart Start Task Force, meets tonight at Harrigan Centennial Hall to discuss specifics for the reopening of schools. The task force, Holst said, will have until July 31 to develop a final plan.

The task force includes representatives from all five schools in the district, as well as the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and interested parents.

The School Board did not vote on any specific reopening measures at Wednesday’s meeting, but did approve a delay of school reopening from August 20 to August 27.

New board member Twitchell asked a number of questions regarding specifics for the reopening of schools.

“Would you possibly move to require it (masks) in the dress code for the schools?” she asked. “In the event that a teacher comes down with COVID-19 is there a policy that protects the amount of time that the teacher can be out? And do we have a policy on what will happen to the classes, or a plan?”

She also inquired about possible merits of home schooling.

Holst responded that these were issues for the task force to examine in the coming month.

“That is exactly what the task force’s job will be… we will have to develop policies,” he said.

The task force meeting will be partially open to the public, school district Learning Support Director Chris Voron said.

The meeting can only be viewed on Zoom teleconferencing service. The link will be posted to the district website, sitkaschools.org.

There is also a community survey live on the site, which asks questions regarding reopening.

The public may view interim superintendent Holst’s half-hour long presentation starting at 6 p.m.

“We intend to present a draft of our plan to the school board at their meeting on July 27,” Voron said.

The final plan should become public in the week prior to that meeting.

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-10-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of noon Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 51

Total statewide – 1,323

Total (cumulative) deaths – 17

Active cases in Sitka – 5 (2 resident; 3 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 13 (11 resident; 2 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 80.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

 

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

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TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

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