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Bristol Bay Borough principal on what the school has planned for the 2022 year

Shannon Harvilla
Bristol Bay Borough School District
The Bristol Bay Borough school opened for the first day of the 2022 year on Aug. 22, 2022.

Monday was the first day of school for the Bristol Bay Borough, which welcomed 110 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Principal and Assistant Superintendent Shannon Harvilla spoke to KDLG's Izzy Ross about what the district has planned for this year.

Izzy Ross: School is starting back up in classrooms around Bristol Bay. What is the Bristol Bay borough school district looking forward to at the start of this year? Are there any things that parents, students or community members should be aware of or keeping in mind?

Shannon Harvilla: We're looking forward to just welcoming the kids back to a more normal filling school year. We're going to be focusing on positive behavior interventions and trying to get all kids reading on grade level. We also have a strong focus on social emotional learning due to a partnership with Camai Community Health Center.

Ross: What is social emotional learning, for folks who don't know or are not familiar with that term?

Harvilla: Social emotional learning could be summarized as teaching kids to be in tune with their feelings and positively expressing those feelings. The partnership entails Camai providing us with two individuals who are trained in social emotional learning skills. They come in and do group work with our students, or they train our teachers to do the social emotional learning work themselves.

Ross: How did that partnership start out?

Harvilla: Through a lot of discussion and being on the same page about helping kids overcome trauma. And the more we help support the kids to work through their trauma, the better off the kids will be.

Ross: You mentioned a more normal school year ahead for the Bristol Bay Borough schools. What does that mean?

Harvilla: Right now we have optional masking, optional testing. We're still doing extended cleaning of our facilities, we're running extra air cleaners, etc. But the feel of the school year being in person, being in groups, should feel a little more normal this year.

Ross: Staffing is generally a challenge for entities and organizations around Bristol Bay, and that includes the schools. How is Bristol Bay Borough school doing in terms of filling their open positions this year? And are there any positions that you are still looking to fill in the school?

Harvilla: We did have two openings in elementary, we filled them. Mikayla Karls came in from Reno, Nevada to teach first and second grade. We also brought in Rachel Panamarioff originally from New Stuyahok — she's teaching third and fourth grade. As far as recruiting, we do still need a full time CTE and shop teacher to teach our kids welding and woodworking and utilize our beautiful shop over here in Naknek. We are also looking for some classified helpers, teachers aides, possible kitchen staff.

Ross: With those hires that you mentioned —someone from Nevada and then someone from New Stuyahok, it seems like it really runs the gamut in terms of where you're recruiting from: someone from a local community, and then someone from across the country. How did Bristol Bay Borough schools approach hiring and recruiting this year?

Harvilla: We started earlier than we've ever done before we started recruiting for positions we knew that would be open in January. We have utilized a platform called Handshake which connects you with a lot of universities. And that's how we found Ms. Karls. As far as Ms. Panamarioff, she was actually referred to us through BBNC asking us if we had any openings. So it's a little bit of local partnerships and it's a little bit of just being out there online. Our superintendent also traveled to a job fair in New Mexico. He and I went to the Anchorage job fair. And unfortunately, there just aren't many candidates anymore in in-person job fairs.

Ross: Interesting. So recruiting strategies seem to have changed a bit. Because a lot of in person events have also shifted over the past two years very rapidly. So it makes sense that some of those events that were in person are now more hybrid, or even if they're back in person, they might not be as well attended as they have been in the past. Are there any curricular changes that teachers are implementing?

Harvilla: We have no new curriculum that we've adopted for this year. We had adopted new reading curriculum right before the pandemic; we're still in the process of implementing that new curriculum. We are actually trying to focus more on reading interventions and math interventions. So some of those items will be new to some people. But our goal is to treat every kid as an individual, meet them where they are and help them grow as students and as people throughout the year.

Ross: What has teacher retention and staff retention looked like in the Bristol Bay borough school district over the past couple of years?

Harvilla: We are very lucky to have a lot of long term teachers here we have several local teachers that have been here for 10 plus years that grew up here graduated here. We actually have three members of our teaching staff that actually graduated from Bristol Bay. We also have several other teachers that have been here 10 years. It does seem that you know certain grade levels turn over more than others. We have been filling this third and fourth [grade] position each year. But other than that, we're pretty stable compared to In a lot of other rural school districts.

Ross: Shannon thank you so much for taking a couple minutes to talk, I really appreciate it.

Harvilla: Thank you.

Get in touch with the author at izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.