Fairbanks Superintendent Adham Schirg said the district “turned a corner” Monday as schools welcomed teachers back into the buildings for the first time since March.
He said teachers will be going through trainings as well as a health and safety walk through of each building, “so we can get everyone comfortable as they prepare to welcome students back next week.”
Schirg told the board about the district’s annual teacher convocation.
“We are here,” Schirg said as part of the convocation video. “We made it through an experience none of us could have foreseen happening in our careers. Rejoining our staff, even in this virtual setting, feels like we are getting back on the track toward some normalcy. It gives me hope.”
He said that even with the video convocation, “the excitement, hope and possibility are almost palpable.”
“We are about to start a new adventure,” Schirg said. “Every year I feel like this. This year, maybe a little bit more.”
The superintendent told board members that he began working on convocation in January. He said he “felt really positive about the momentum we were gaining as a district.”
Schirg said that in March, the district was able to pivot “in a matter of days” to meet the educational, emotional and nutritional needs of district students.
He said that as he and other team members began talking about the changes that would be needed for the new normal, “one of the things we were talking about is hope.”
He said that gave rise to the district’s theme for the 2020-2021 school year: Hope Happens Here.
“We will be able to find new ways to look at our work and find new ways to grow,” Schirg said. “We will not be perfect. Nor will we have all of the answers. However, similar to what we did in the spring, our commitment to each other will allow Fairbanks to be a center for our community, an institution of service and a place of hope for all of our students.”
As part of the convocation, Lisa Keller-Cook, president of the Fairbanks Education Association, said her head was spinning when the governor announced in March that schools would close.
She said she drew great comfort from connecting with students and colleagues.
“It is those relationships that will be so important as we embark on the most uncertain school year we have ever had,” Keller-Cook said. “When our students walk into their classrooms this week, everything will be different and that is going to be scary for a lot of them as it has been strange for us too. Now, more than ever, our students are going to need our love and support and we need to be a source of hope in our students’ lives and I have every confidence we can rise to the occasion.”
Board president Mark Lippencott said he like the message of Hope happens Here “very much.”
“I especially like that we are all free to interpret that as we want,” Lippencott said. “There is no correct interpretation because I am pretty sure how I see that message differs from how most people see it.”
Schirg told teachers and district leaders that hope is powerful.
“The idea of a better future provides fuel for individuals,” Schirg said. “Hope is a fuel that can propel a person to what is next.”
The superintendent said public school officials are “in the most important position to provide hope across our society.
“It starts with every person in our district focused on students,” Schirg said.
Schirg said the district staff is in place “for the most part.”
He told the board it is a bit unsettling not having the staff set less than a week before the start of school, but he hopes to have everyone in place by today.
Students will return to the building Monday.
Treasurer Aaron Johnson reported that despite the pandemic, he does not believe he will need to make changes to the district’s financial forecast. He said income tax receipts are down about 30%, much of which was projected even before the pandemic. He said property tax revenue, however, is about 10% above expectations.
“That more than offsets our decrease in income tax,” Johnson said.
He said the district is in good shape financially, explaining that, “if anything it may be a little better than projected.”
The treasurer said the next income tax distribution will be in October.
“I think that will give us a little bit of an idea of the trend for the first half of the fiscal year,” Johnson said.
Schirg said he is looking forward to today’s press conference from Gov. Mike DeWine. He said the district is hoping for “pretty clear guidelines” for if and how high school sports can be played.
He said the biggest concern will be “how do you treat the spectators?”
Board member Brian Phelps said some teams are already competing without spectators.
He said the Union County Health Department “has done a very good job working with our athletic departments and with schools in general.”
“They have been reasonable,” Phelps said. “I think they have been pretty workable on what makes each school district work a little differently educationally and athletically.”
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