FNSB luncheon

Karen Gaborik, superintendent for the Fairbanks school district, gives her 2019 State of the Schools address at the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce luncheon.  Gaborik used the time to discuss the district's new vision statement and strategic goals for 2020-2025.

The school district has an updated strategic plan for the next five years.

Superintendent Karen Gaborik unveiled the plan during her “State of the Schools” address at the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday.

“There are exciting new things in this new strategic plan, so I’m just going to give you a peek at some of what’s coming,” Gaborik said.

First, she read off a revised vision statement: “We envision each and every student achieving academic and life success by personalizing the learning process.”

Strategic goals have been reduced from five to four: student success, equity and inclusion, communication and engagement and finally, workforce and organizational excellence.

Gaborik walked luncheon guests through each of the goals, one-by-one.

“So our first goal is for student success,” she said. “We want to increase academic achievement and the social emotional well being for all students. That social emotional piece is definitely a new element of the strategic plan, definitely more explicit in the strategic plan.”

Under the social emotional needs of students, Gaborik said the district will be adding social service managers to its support network. The Department of Education was just awarded a $5 million trauma recovery grant, she explained, creating a partnership between the school district and Fairbanks Community Mental Health’s Alaska Child Trauma Center.

“So it has created five additional clinical social workers that will be hired by Fairbanks Community Mental Health with district coordination. The schedules of those folks will be split between Fairbanks Community Mental Health and participating schools,” Gaborik said.

Gaborik also noted she has been working with UAF Chancellor Dan White on opening up a middle college. They’re now hoping to start one next fall with 30 to 40 seniors who will be able to take classes on campus for high school and college credit.

Equity and Inclusion is a new addition to the district’s strategic goals.

“Specifically in this goal we want to close opportunity gaps while increasing student outcomes and achievement for all,” she said, “and we also want to create a culture of belonging and inclusion for all, where issues of intolerance are addressed through education, awareness and civic responsibility.”

This year the district has engaged in community listening sessions with the National Coalition Building Institute, the feedback from which Gaborik said will be included in planning as the district moves forward.

She said there will be a systematic analysis, a kind of audit, of their whole system, research best practices in the country then come up with recommendations for improving equity and access districtwide.

“I think that brand new goal around equity and inclusion is a direct result of, just again, some of these situations and challenges that we’ve seen sort of pop up in our schools and it’s maybe making sure that we have a framework to move through those experiences, talk about them, have a dialogue and decide how we’re going to respond,” Gaborik told the News-Miner, following her speech.

Gaborik used some of her time discussing workforce and organizational excellence to recognize Alaska Teacher of the Year Amy Gallaway, Education Support Professional of the Year Daryl Walker and Lathrop High School After the Bell Program Director Courtney Havrilek, who was recently recognized by the national Afterschool Alliance.

One aspect of communication and engagement is family engagement. While discussing this part of the district’s goals, Gaborik used the example of the school board’s recently updated graduation attire policy, which allows students to wear cultural ceremonial attire representing their heritage along with or in lieu of a traditional cap and gown during commencement ceremonies.

The change followed an upset earlier this year, when a Native student graduating from West Valley was asked to remove his attire or tuck it into his robe.

“This makes Fairbanks one of the most progressive urban school districts in terms of our graduation attire policy,” Gaborik said, “and so we welcome all of our Alaska Native students and any students with other ceremonial cultural heritage to wear their regalia to any graduation — not just to Effie Kokrine, not just to our small schools, but to West Valley and to Lathrop and all our schools.”

Gaborik also noted during her speech that graduation rates have risen to above 80% for the first time in nearly a decade, while the dropout rate continues to fall.

While discussing the F-35 jets arriving at Eielson, she mentioned that the district has not seen an increase in enrollment that the Department of Labor projected. Rather, enrollment has been steadily declining.

“I think one thing that’s important to note is sort of the reality of how this is playing out,” she said. “What we’re seeing in our projections right now attributable to the F-35s is about half of the students projects, about one year behind what we projected.”

She concluded by mentioning the recent appointment of new school board members Jennifer Luke and Matthew Sampson, and thanked people for supporting public schools and children.

Following her speech, Gaborik said to the News-Miner that she hopes people walked away knowing the different supports the district provides for kids and the different aspects of education.

“So there’s not just the academic pieces, there’s the social emotional pieces, conversations around when’s the best time for kids to start school, transportation,” she said. “Sometimes we focus on a test score and there’s just so much more to educating kids than a test score.”

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal

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