Lake and Peninsula students went back to school at the beginning of the month, amid a range of safety and health precautions due to COVID-19. Among the staff, teachers and parents making that possible is the district’s superintendent. Just before the school year began, he was chosen as Alaska’s superintendent of the year.
Ty Mase has had a busy summer.
“I just hit my internet limit so I got booted off my 4 o'clock Zoom," he explained when we talked the week before school started. "This way I can be productive.”
Mase is the superintendent of the Lake and Peninsula School District, a position he’s held since 2008. He’s been in the throes of planning for schools in the district to open safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the end of the summer brought another surprise; the state superintendents association recognized Mase as Superintendent of the Year.
There are 12 schools in the Lake and Peninsula School District, and the job includes a wide variety of duties.
"You know, on one day you could be meeting with the commissioner, and on the next day you could be cleaning the toilets at the district office," Mase said. "So some days it’s glamorous, some days it’s not.”
Mase lives in King Salmon with his wife, Heather, who works as an air taxi pilot, and his daughter, Harley, who’s in seventh grade.
Mase is from Pennsylvania, and he was teaching at a school in the Navajo Nation when he got a job as athletic director at the Bristol Bay Borough High School in Naknek in 1995. He also coached wrestling. Five years later, he and his family moved to Anchorage, where he worked at the Chugach School District, which serves schools in Prince William Sound. But, he said, from the moment they left, they were trying to return.
“I think it is the place and the people. They called us back," he said. "And just the quality of our villages, and the people there, and Lake and Pen specifically, we’re so diverse, it always keeps it interesting. Every village is different, and every village just has amazing people, amazing students. We’ve really built a culture of quite an exceptional staff, too. Our teaching staff is really good.”
That is vital, he said. Many teachers from out of state don’t work for more than a couple years at schools in Alaska — especially in rural communities.
Along with building a supportive environment to counter that cycle, Mase also created the Lake and Peninsula Instructional Tutor Program. The district hires recent graduates to tutor in the spring semester,
“They spend the spring with us tutoring our kids. And then when we go to hire and our openings start popping up, you know, most of the time, 75 or 80% of those openings we can fill through our tutoring ranks,” he said.
Mase, along with the region’s three other superintendents, developed an experience-based Master’s program, where a teacher who has worked for three years in the Bristol Bay region gets credit towards a Master’s program.
Mase has also had to grapple with state budget cuts to K-12 education in recent years.
“Unfortunately we’ve been cut for so many years that the cuts we had left to look at — myself and our school board — were things like preschool and the hot lunch program and student activities," Mase said. "Our school board, they’re advocates for each of those, and they just said, ‘This isn’t going to work. We need something more innovative. We have to figure this out.’”
That’s where the idea of a subsistence calendar came in, in the fall of 2017. Under that schedule, schools in the Lake and Pen district start two weeks later, and end two weeks earlier. That means a month less of school, which in turn means fewer field trips and in-service days, and less flexibility with lesson plans. But it gives kids and families time to harvest, hunt and fish.
“I think it really fits nicely with our fishing culture and our subsistence culture in our region," Mase said. "And it’s working really well. Our villages have embraced it, and they’ve done everything that we’ve asked them to do, and they’ve made it a success.”
Overall, the change has saved the school district roughly half a million dollars a year.
Mase said he’s flattered to receive the Superintendent of the Year award. Still, he said, he’s just one part of the school district’s team.
“It’s the school board, and all the amazing teachers and administrators that pretty much prop me up from day to day," he said. "And we’re very fortunate in Lake and Pen with our school board and with our staff. So it’s… they make my job a lot easier.”
Heading into the fall, Mase said the district is focused on running school safely.
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