Ketchikan School Superintendent Robert Boyle introduced 10 new teachers and spoke about the health of the school district during Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce lunch.
At the start of the luncheon, Superintendent Boyle had 10 new teachers and counselors introduce themselves. Several were born and raised in Ketchikan. Some were new to teaching. Others had been teaching for years but were moving into new positions or changing schools.
Boyle then discussed the budget, district accomplishments and future opportunities. With an overall budget of approximately $42 million, Boyle says the district employs about 365 people; 165 are certified employees, which include teachers, counselors, librarians and administrators. He says the district serves approximately 2,200 students. Boyle says the district is experiencing growth this year, with 62 more students than last year. He says this was surprising.
“We make our projections, and it looked like it was going to be pretty much status quo. Then we looked at economy factors, the price of oil, and some of those things suggested that we would not maintain our population. We kept in mind that we knew that the Coast Guard is coming along, the hospital is coming along, Vigor’s coming along, but it just didn’t look like we had any concrete information to expand our numbers.”
Boyle says they projected 20 fewer students than last year when preparing the FY2016-2017 budget. Because of the higher student count this year, the district will receive an additional $625,000 from the state. He says one teaching position was added.
“We ended up with a larger population of kindergarten students at Houghtaling than we could accommodate. We put another teacher in there. The rest of the students were spread out across the district.”
Boyle says Schoenbar Middle School has 25 more students than projected. With five elementary schools, the framework used by the district allows the additional students to be absorbed without negatively affecting the pupil-teacher ratio, but Boyle says it’s uneven in a few classes.
“In a couple of the classes in Houghtaling, we have 24 and 25 (students). I think there’s 24 and 25 in a couple of the classes out at Point Higgins as well. But it’s difficult to change that when you have two teachers in a grade level. If you try to add a third, you get really, really small classes so you have to do a multi-age type of grouping, and that’s sometimes uncomfortable for students and teachers.”
He anticipates there will be even more students this year as new Coast Guard families move to Ketchikan.
Boyle spoke about the successes of last year’s senior class, with graduates offered more than $8 million in competitive scholarships to institutions such as West Point, Harvard and Stanford. One student received the Gates Millennium Scholarship, providing full education funding for 10 years.
Chamber Executive Director Bill Swift noted not every student will head to college. He asked if the school district is doing anything to improve vocational and technical training. Boyle says one of his goals, and a goal of the school board, is to make sure the district offers training the community wants.
“We have a strong culinary arts program. We have a good maritime program. We have a good welding program. We have a good construction technology program. We’re weak on business office occupation programs at the current time. That’s something that we definitely need to look at and probably do some expansions.”
Despite the state budget crisis, Boyle says the Ketchikan School District has been able to weather some of the challenges affecting other districts. He says this was done by keeping costs-per-student low, and focusing on funding direct instruction, with teachers in the classroom, presenting information and interacting face-to-face with students.