PERFECT WEATHER – Surfers assess the waves at Sandy Beach this morning. Waves were between 14- and 20-feet today. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Hames, Twitchell Named to School Board

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,

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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August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:


On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

In appreciation for the willingness of our subscribers to pick up their daily paper at drop-off sites, the Sentinel was free to all readers, and subscriptions were extended without charge.

As of August 1 the Sentinel is once again charging for subscriptions, but the present method of having subscribers pick up their papers at designated sites will continue.

The expiration date of all subscriptions has been extended without charge for an additional four months.

We thank our readers for their support in these uncertain times, and especially those who paid for the paper despite the free offer.

We look forward to the time when we can safely resume home delivery.

To check on the expiration of your subscription or to make a payment please call 747-3219. The subscription email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We also will be mailing out reminder cards.

The single copy price is again 75 cents. The news racks do not require coins to open, but we ask that the 75 cents for a non-subscription single copy sale be paid with coins in the slot.

– The Sitka Sentinel Staff


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Alaska COVID-19 
At a Glance

(updated 11-24-20)

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 12:25 a.m. Tuesday.

New cases as of Monday: 578

Total statewide – 27,669

Total (cumulative) deaths – 115

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 619

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

The City of Sitka posted the following update on COVID-19 cases in Sitka as of 5 p.m. Monday.

Active cases in Sitka – 29

Hospitalizations in Sitka – 3

Cumulative Sitka cases – 176 (155 resident; 21 non-resident)

Cumulative recovered – 147 cumulative

The local case data are from the City of Sitka website.




November 2000

Photo caption: A painting by the late Dr. Walt Massey hangs on the wall of the Pioneers Home dining room,. bringing smiles from home administrator Julie Smith and Massey’s son Brian and daughter-in-law Amy, the home’s dietary manager. The painting of early-day Sitka was done in 1971, the year Dr. Massey, an optometrist and artist, died. It originally hung in the Canoe Club and was given by the restaurant’s owner, Frank Richards, to local historian Joe Ashby, who gave it to the Pioneers Home.

November 1970

Photo  caption: Sitka High School band director James Hope receives a check for $2,000 from American Legion Post 13 Commander Carroll Kohler. The Legion had voted to contribute $1,000 for uniforms and the Auxiliary voted to match that amount. The check was presented at the Legion’s Veterans Day banquet.