Senators Joe Paskvan, Dennis Egan, and Gary Stevens during the closeout hearing of the Senate Finance DEED Subcommittee, March 20, 2012
This blog contains highlights from the Alaska Education Update. The update is issued daily during session and contains detailed summaries of education issues under consideration by the Alaska State Legislature. If there is a hearing on a Monday, a report will, with few exceptions, be released by Tuesday morning. There is also a weekly edition of the update. During interim, reports are issued only when there has been action. Interim action may include hearings, bill signings, the release of the Governor's proposed budget for the next fiscal year, and other items that may be of interest to the education community.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

House Education Committee: Presentation by Saint Mary's School District Superintendent Dave Herbert

The House Education Committee has been hearing from superintendents from around the state at the beginning of every committee meeting.  On Wednesday they heard from Superintendent Dave Herbert of Saint Mary’s School District.  Saint Mary's is a remote, single site bush school district (http://www.smcsd.us/) with about 200 students in pre-school-12th grade. Their student population is 100 percent Yupik, and Mr. Herbert has been superintendent for six years.

The district made AYP for five of the last six years, and is currently at 0 AYP, which is the best level of AYP a school district can get. They have a 90 percent high school graduation rate. Superintendent Herbert said they have outstanding students, parents, community members, teachers, and support staff.

Superintendent Herbert said they’ve implemented a relevant instruction program that has helped engage the community and gain parental support. Instructional trips are a big incentive for students to perform. They use State of Alaska grade-level expectations in a relevant and meaningful manner. The trips have science, math, language arts, and Yupik language integrated into the activities. When students return from a trip, they are required to complete a project incorporating data collected on the trip. Students must.....
.....meet stringent criteria in order to go on the trips, including good attendance, good behavior, and passing all classes. The trips are a big incentive for student performance. Parents are required to attend meetings at the school and participate in order for their children to go on trips. It really helps to provide an outdoor experience that helps students and staff bond to draw on throughout the school year in an academic setting. They had a new math teacher who was able to participate in a trip. It allowed her to gain insight into student lifestyle and to allowed the students to become the teachers.

Superintendent Herbert said in October the district puts on a fall feed for the community with items harvested by the students. It’s helped the school district build support for their programs and build community support for the school. It values culture while teaching state grade-level expectations.

Chairman Dick said he’s spent hours and hours trying to tell people about the importance of relevance. Superintendent Herbert said an example of relevance is that he just gave the social studies teacher some current legislation, so students can use that to see what’s going on in their state and the legislature.

Rep. Wilson asked how many trips they do per year, and how many credits students need to graduate. Superintendent Herbert said they have a 6th grade weir trip to do fish studies, a 7th-8th grade trip for whitefish and clamming, and the 9th-12th grades have a coastal and moose hunting trip. They have a winter camping/trapping/caribou trip, and a spring ice fishing trip for Preschool-12th grade with all the families. So there are about seven trips a year. They have a traditional Carnegie unit credit system. Students need four credits in English, three credits in math, three credits in science, three credits of social studies, one credit in computer science, a half a P.E. credit, a half a credit in health, and seven elective credits, for a total of 22 credits.

Superintendent Herbert said the driving force for their instructional program is State of Alaska grade-level expectations. It is essential to incorporate the surrounding environment whenever possible. They haven’t used any university studies to develop their program. Their program has been developed by teachers and the community, and it all starts with grade-level expectations. They are there to educate students. The community expects their children to receive a quality education; they just do it in a manner that provides relevancy. The majority of their school days are not conducted outdoors. But the relevant instruction trips create bonds and incentives. They try to provide a very rigorous classroom setting, and most days you would see a pretty traditional classroom setting.

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