This year, Talkeetna Elementary School has a new principal. Lisa Shelby has spent the last three years on Lopez Island in Washington. Before that, she lived in Alaska for thirteen years, where she taught in Galena and the Mat-Su Valley. I sat down with her on the second day of school to talk about her plans for Talkeetna’s students.
Lisa Shelby says that one thing that’s important is being willing to embrace new ideas.
“…Really looking at how we can be a little bit more creative, looking at where our students are, making sure that we are meeting them where they are ready to learn, and to have a year’s worth of growth, and doing that–looking at the curriculum that is provided by the district and then also getting creative and pulling from other places to make sure we’re meeting the standards.”
One way that Lisa Shelby plans to get creative is to have more time during the school week for students to be active.
“[We’re] taking a look at more movement in the students’ day. So, doing P.E. four days a week is one thing we’re shifting and changing. [We] really all believe in getting energy to their brains so they can learn best.”
In addition, Lisa Shelby says that the school is working on a new student conduct model that focuses on positive intervention. Additionally, Principal Shelby says the idea of a student leadership council is being considered. She says that would give students more of a voice within the building, and could even provide input on some decisions within the school.
In addition to new programs and ideas, Lisa Shelby says that she believes there is already a good foundation for some programs, such as healthy snacks and farm to school. She plans to continue and expand many of those.
“Part of what I’m doing this first year as the principal here is getting to know the staff and the community, and getting to know what is most important to the staff and community. Where are we looking to grow and what’s possible? I’m definitely someone who likes to look at the picture and say, ‘What’s possible and how can we get there?'”
Academically, Talkeetna Elementary is a highly-rated school, and Lisa Shelby says that contributed to an increase in the state’s rating for the school. There is still room for improvement, though.
“We did move from a three-star school to a four star school. The schools get rated, and Talkeetna Elementary, across the board, we beat statewide average and district averages, academically, and the only reason we’re not a five-star school is our attendance, which is hard.”
Lisa Shelby says that one reason attendance is “hard” because of the nature of Talkeetna’s economy. Many parents make a lot of their income in the summer, which means family vacations are left for the winter. Principal Shelby says she and the school staff are working on ways to improve attendance and foster education without cutting into family trips. The method she is exploring is turning a vacation into an educational experience.
“Talking with families, having them communicate with us when they’re going to be gone for a long trip, and what they might want their students to get out of that trip. You know, ‘Why are you going beyond vacation? Where are you going? What might your students get out of that?’ and then work backwards to see if we can create some sort of a plan so we can keep them enrolled and have them do some sort of educational work while they’re gone.”
Lisa Shelby says that parents and community members should feel welcome to discuss ideas for Talkeetna Elementary with her, either through informal group meetings at the school, or in her office. The first school open house of the year will be held on September 4th.