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Looking Ahead to 2021-22

New Houston School

Peparing for a Healthy Year

Traini Reflects on First Year





o t k c a B l o o h c S J U LY 3 0 , 2 0 2 1


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inside: 4 Frontera continues tradition 5 Trani looks ahead 6

New school in Houston


Have a healthy school year


School supply drives

10 Q&A with Mat-Su Central’s new principal Stacey McIntosh 11 Trani reflect on first year 12 Calendar

JULY 2021

The Mat-Su welcomes students back to school


n just a couple of short weeks, thousands of students across the Mat-Su will flood the hallways of local schools and return to the classroom for the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

It’s been about 18 months since the start of the COVID0-19 pandemic in Alaska. During the final months of the 2019-20 school year, sporting events were cancelled, students were kept out of classrooms and graduations were converted to virtual. The Mat-Su Borough School District was able to move forward in 2020-21. The MSBSD was among the largest districts in the western region of the United States to remain open during the pandemic. Mitigation plans were in place. Masks were required.

13 Benefits of extracurricular activities

The district is working to take another step forward. As of publication of this section, the district has the wearing of masks optional.

13 How volunteering benefits students

As a parent of two children in the district, I appreciate the option. I also applaud the district’s ability to adapt last year and offer a blended learning model for students who may not be able to attend school in person full-time during the pandemic.

14 Great reasons to participate in scholastic sports 14 Supporting students interested in the arts 14 Creating a well-rounded school résumé

Frontiersman reporter Tim Rockey had the opportunity to chat with MSBSD Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani, who is set to start his second school year at the helm of the district. Trani reflected on his first year in his position and looked ahead to the future of the district. Our special publication also includes more on the new school in Houston, and a timeline that outlines the work between the devastation of Houston Middle during the massive earthquake in November of 2018 and the recent groundbreaking for the new school. The state of Houston Middle is arguably the biggest non-COVID story in the district. We also have tips from a local school nurse on how to keep your kids healthy, and a Q&A with Stacey McIntosh, the new principal at Mat-Su Central.

DENNIS ANDERSON Group Publisher, Wick Communications Alaska

JEREMIAH BARTZ Managing Editor, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman

TAWNI DAVIS General Manager, Regional Marketing Director Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman

PETRA ALBECKER Regional Multimedia Marketing Consultant

We are looking forward to covering students and staff, and their stories for another school year. Thank you for reading. Jeremiah Bartz, Managing editor

Any child, ages 3-21, residing in the Mat-Su Borough is entitled to a free and appropriate public education.This may include special education services for students with identified needs.Types of needs that may qualify for special education services include: speech impairment, orthopedic impairment, vision impairment, developmental delays, emotional disturbance, cognitive delay, deafness, health impairment, traumatic brain injury & autism. In order to receive these special education services, it is necessary that these disabilities cause a child to have adverse educational impact. Special education services are provided at each of our public schools at no cost to parents, and include support in reading, writing, math, employment, self-help, and behavioral skills. In addition, if required, related services are provided in the areas of vision, hearing, motor skills, speech and language, and transportation. Other students may qualify to receive services under a Section 504 accommodation plan. Section 504 defines disabled as “any person who has a physical or mental disability which substantially limits a major life activity or has record of such a disability or is regarded as having such a disability.” If you suspect that your child has a disability and requires special education services and your child is enrolled in a MSBSD school, please contact your child’s teacher.

If your child is between the ages of 3-5 years old and you are interested in having them screened visit and fill out the appointment request form.

JULY 2021


Learning happens eerywhere!!




JULY 2021

Fronteras to continue newfound tradition BY TIM ROCKEY


he Fronteras Charter School Phoenix will open for the first day of school on Aug 18 for students first grade and above, and kindergarteners will join them at school on Aug. 25.

Kindergarten through eighth grade students attending classes at the Spanish immersion charter school were also subject to COVID-19 mitigation and prevention protocols that were enacted throughout the Mat-Su Borough School District last year. SchmidtHutchins said that the large number of students whose families opted out of in-person learning changed the way that instruction was delivered.


A practice that began last year, on the first day of school for students will continue as a tradition with members of Fronteras staff at each and every entrance to the school awaiting students. “I’m looking the most forward to that, getting all the faces back in person,” said Fronteras Principal Jennifer Schmidt-Hutchins. “The staff enjoyed it so much. It was one of the best things that came out of the mitigation plan from last year’s school year was every staff every single morning greeted every student that came.” MSBSD schools will begin classes in August without a mask mandate for the first time since the spring of 2019. Instead, students will have the option to wear masks if they so choose. Voluntary on-site rapid testing will be provided to any staff members and students who experience symptoms of

“We were able to do it because we had the cooperation of our families, the understanding of our families. We had great protocols in place. I fortunately have the most incredible staff who were ready to completely change how we arrive, how we dismissed students and how we walked through the halls to get to each class, how every class was handled, seating arrangements, all of it. That’s how we were able to do it. Truly was just a massive undertaking of just cooperation and understanding,” said Schmidt-Hutchins. As the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the shared spaces in which educators and students interact for in-

struction, Fronteras staff came together to ensure that the Spanish-language based educational experience would be provided for students, regardless of whether they attended in person or virtually.

“Regardless of the position at the school, every single staff member was a problem solver and a positive problem solver, so we know we’ve got it. We can do this. It was great to see them in action.” n



“Getting kiddos back that were at home learners, having them in person with us, making that an option I think is brilliant. I think it’s going to be a huge plus for all the schools. We’re just excited to get back,” said Schmidt-

Hutchins. “Regardless of the position at the school, every single staff member was a problem solver and a positive problem solver, so we know we’ve got it. We can do this. It was great to see them in action.” Through the trials and tribulations of educating youth during a global pandemic, Schmidt-Hutchins and the staff at Fronteras are preparing students for success around the world with the spanish language. “I sit in the kindergarten classroom on the first day and our kindergarten teachers with these 5-year-olds are already speaking Spanish giving directions. Go turn on the lights, take your seats, stand up, let’s practice getting in line and these five-year-olds are doing it. It’s incredible and then when they are eighth graders and they promoting out, listening to them speak, giving presentations in full Spanish it’s amazing, it’s just exciting,” said SchmidtHutchins. “I’m so proud to be part of that giving kiddos something that in the traditional setting they may not get.”

Fronteras will continue a tradition with members of Fronteras staff at each and every entrance to the school awaiting students. Jacob Mann/Frontiersman



JULY 2021

Looking ahead to the 2021-2022 school year BY TIM ROCKEY


t the end of the 2020 school year, Mat-Su Borough School District teachers had recently been offered the opportunity to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. After Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that vaccinations would be available to everyone ages 16 and up, hundreds of thousands of Alaskans have since received inoculations. As one of the largest school districts on the west coast of the United States that remained open to in-person instruction during last year, the MSBSD will open the 2021 school year without a mask requirement for the first time since the pandemic closed schools in the spring of 2020.

“...this next year with that same mindset that we’re going to make our best educated guesses and then monitor and see what happens and then adjust as needed,” said Trani. n



“We just hope that that’s a way for us to monitor the actual spread in the schools, see if it’s happening and we think that’s going to be like a big tool that we didn’t have last year. Before we had to send them to one of the clinics and now we’re going to be able to do it in house,” said Trani. “If a student comes in and they have the sniffles, last year they had to be sent home and then they had to get a test if they wanted to come back before the quarantine period was over. Because we’re

going to have on site testing, we’ll be able to call the parent and say hey your kid has a cough or the sniffles or the fever, we can test them if you want us to and then a half hour from now we can tell you whether or not they need a more advanced test because this will be a rapid screening test and we really think that’s going to be obviously be good for parents and it’ll obviously be good for staff too.” Trani said that the school district itself did not keep any specific data on the number of teachers who received vaccinations, but that he is hopeful the number will be high. While each school will start at a ‘green’ level, Trani said that a return to masked classrooms or schools could be employed if positive cases are discovered within that school.

during this semester. “Hopefully now that I’m vaccinated and hopefully most of our other adults are vaccinated, we can, all of us in the district office can spend more time in

schools than we got to last year,” said Trani. “I got to go to a couple games last year but I’m really looking forward to being able to go out and see more athletic competitions this year.”

DOWNLOAD APP More than 6,000 locally written stories, columns, letters to editor, and photos in the past year.

“We planned for things that weren’t necessary and we didn’t plan for things that were because no one has done this before. So we’re just going to go into this yext year with that same mindset that we’re going to make our best educated guesses and then monitor and see what happens and then adjust as needed,” said Trani. “We’re ready. It feels so much different. Most of our conversations now get to be about K12 education and not COVID.” For the superintendent of one of the largest school districts by area in the country, Trani is looking forward to getting to interact with students and teachers in the classroom setting more

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Trani said that rapid tests would be optional and available to anyone within MSBSD schools experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Staff and students are not required to be tested, but it is a shift away from requiring students to be tested off-site before returning to class last year.

Dr. Randy Trani is set to start his second year as Mat-Su Borough School District Superintendent.


“What we’re hoping to do is we do want to open without masks so everybody will open on green and similar to last year where we had the green yellow red and we would close schools individually, we saw each school as a community rather than treat the whole district as one giant community. We’re going to continue that and just more nuanced specifically with regard to masks,” said MSBSD Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani. “When we talk about going mask optional, so people can still wear masks because that is a good mitigator but we still have all the other mitigation in tact and additionally we’re going to have testing in the schools this year and it’s going to be voluntary, but that’s a feature that we’ve added that we didn’t have last year.”



JULY 2021

District ready for new school in Houston Houston School Timeline 2018 NOVEMBER 30 - Magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Students evacuated from schools. DECEMBER 7 - JANUARY 6, portable classrooms set up at now Houston Jr. Sr. High.

2019 FEBRUARY 20 - An assessment report of Houston Middle School damage presented to the Assembly, School Board, Houston City Council and school community. SEPTEMBER 17 - A team of architects and engineers are selected to design repairs to the administrative wing and gymnasium while the academic wing is scheduled to be completely replaced.

2020 JANUARY 21 - Assembly contract awarded to design team JANUARY THROUGH MAY - Design team meetings with school staff and community task force to discuss facility and program needs for the school. JUNE 17 - School Board 95 % design approval for replacement of academic wing, repairs of gym and administrative wing. AUGUST 18 - Recommendation from structural engineer that HMS be condemned in anticipation that repairs would be more expensive than replacement. Renovation of the gym was set at over half of the cost of replacement. SEPTEMBER 15 - Assembly votes to condemn HMS

Houston students throw dirt at the Houston High School groundbreaking. Tim Rockey/Frontiersman BY TIM ROCKEY


hen the magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck southcentral Alaska in November of 2018, then Mat-Su Borough School District Executive Director of Operations Mike Brown put out an order for all of the particle board that the school district could acquire, well aware of the massive amounts of repair work needed in Valley schools. When ground was broken on the new Houston High School site on June 15, now Mat-Su Borough Manager Mike Brown marveled at the process that allowed the Borough, school district and Houston School community to arrive at that point. “From the day of the earthquake

in 2018 it has been a process and it’s taken time to get here, I’ll say a long time, maybe too much time, but if you look at the outcome there’s really two key things to the process and what it led us to. Number one is you’re going to get a brand new school. so the Houston community is going to get a new school not a repaired school from 1985. The second piece is we’re fortunate in that the borough at large is not taking on any new debt as a product of this construction,” said Brown. Throughout the timeline of working to provide students of Houston with a new school, the Borough and School District had to determine how to navigate the funding. At the groundbreaking, Brown thanked members of the

Assembly, School Board, staff from the Governor’s office and from the Federal delegation. Originally, the plan to entirely replace the academic wing of the school and simply repair the gymnasium and academic wing was put into place. The plan was altered midway through 2020 when a recommendation was made to entirely demolish the school and build a new structure, due to an expectation that the repairs to a building first built in 1985 may end up being more expensive than an entirely new structure. “We had a community task force I want to say years ago now, I guess well over a year ago when we were going through the design process and a lot of you probably standing out here in

SEPTEMBER THROUGH DECEMBER - Redesign required to demolish and replace gymnasium and administrative wings. DECEMBER - Demolition begins DECEMBER 16 - School Board approves 95 % design for a complete rebuild.

2021 MARCH 31 - School Board approves $6 million transfer to close funding gap on new construction and get project out for bid. APRIL 2 - New school bid is advertised for construction JUNE 1 - Assembly approves contract to Roger Hickel Contracting for $33,270,169. JULY THROUGH AUGUST 2022 - Construction

2022 AUGUST - School opens to Houston High School students.

The Houston Middle School building was demolished in 2020. Frontiersman file photo



JULY 2021

“...we’re fortunate in that the borough at large is not taking on any new debt as a product of this construction,” said Brown. the community participated in that in one way or another. So it is important to understand that the design that’s before you and you can take a look at the boards back here and kind of look at what you’re going to see here in a year, but the community had a lot of input into the development of this school and the process and what educational programs would be represented and how the facilities and the classrooms would be aligned and arrayed and so I appreciate those folks that participated in that process some time ago. Your input made a difference,” said Brown. The Mat-Su Borough Assembly approved a contract to Roger Hickel construction on June 1 and work had already begun on moving dirt when state, borough and school district officials gathered for the groundbreaking on July 15. The new building will serve as Houston High School and the old Houston High School will begin to be used as Houston Middle School. The construction is expected to be complete in time for students to attend for the fall semester of 2022. “That is an amazing thing that the eighth graders that were in the school when it was damaged and that entire school community that went through that disaster, the eighth graders are going to realize the benefit of that as the first graduating class in 2023,” said Brown.

Damaged is assessed at Houston Middle School following the Nov. 30, 2018, 7.1 magnitude earthquake. Courtesy of Tim Leach

Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District National School Breakfast & Lunch Program

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District is pleased to announce its policy of providing free and reduced price meals to eligible children under the National School Lunch Program, After School Snacks, School Breakfast Program. Each School and the District/Central Office has a copy of the policy, which may be reviewed by an interested party.

001 Palmer High 002 Su Valley Jr/Sr High 003 Wasilla High 005 Colony High 006 Burchell High* 004 Houston Jr/ Sr* 010 Palmer Middle 011 Wasilla Middle 012 Colony Middle 013 Teeland Middle 030 Big Lake Elementary*

031 Glacier View School 032 Iditarod Elementary* 033 Sherrod Elementary 034 Swanson Elementary 035 Talkeetna Elementary 036 Trapper Creek Elementary* 038 Willow Elementary* 039 Snowshoe Elementary 041 Butte Elementary 042 Sutton Elementary* 043 Cottonwood Elementary 044 Tanaina Elementary*

* CEP (Community Eligible Provision); no application is required at this site for this school year.

Meals meet nutritional standard established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The above sites will participate in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program (and some schools participate in the Supper and the After School Snack Program). Households with incomes less than or equal to the following effective guidelines are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. These guidelines are effective July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. If you have children who approved for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly known as Food Stamps, Temporary

045 Pioneer Peak Elementary 046 Larson Elementary 047 Finger Lake Elem 048 Goosebay Elementary 050 Shaw Elementary 051 Meadow Lake Elementary* 053 Machetanz Elementary 054 Dena’ina Elementary* 071 Valley Pathways* 073 Career Tech High 077 Mat-Su Day School 080 Redington Sr. Jr/Sr High*

Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Native Family Assistance Program (NFAP), they are automatically able to receive free meals by filling an application that includes their assistance number from one of those programs. Students who are migrant, homeless, or runaways are automatically eligible and do not need to fill out an application. Foster children receive free meals regardless of the income of the household with which they reside. Note: Medicaid and Denali Kid Care case numbers do not qualify for eligibility. For more information or to get an application form for free or reduced-price school meals, contact:

Reduced Price Meals – 185% of Federal Poverty Guidelines Household Annual Monthly Size 1 29,767 2,481 2 40,275 3,357 3 50,783 4,232 4 61,291 5,108 5 71,799 5,984 6 82,307 6,859 7 92,815 7,735 8 103,323 8,611

Twice Per Month

Every Two Weeks

1,241 1,679 2,116 2,554 2,992 3,430 3,868 4,306

1,145 1,550 1,954 2,358 2,762 3,166 3,570 3,974 405

For each additional family member add: 10,508 876 438

Diane Russo; Nutrition Services Department 690 E Cope Industrial Way, Palmer, AK 99645 Phone: (907) 861-5100 Applications cannot be approved unless they contain complete information. Information provided on an application may be verified at any time. Households may apply for school meal benefits at any time during the school year if circumstances change. Children whose parents or guardians become unemployed may be eligible for school meal benefits based on their household income during the period of unemployment. A household whose application for school meal

Applications can be completed online at:

Free Meals – 130 % of Federal Poverty Guidelines Annual


Twice Per Month

Every Two Weeks


573 775 977 1,179 1,381 1,583 1,785 1,987

20,917 28,301 35,685 43,069 50,453 57,837 65,221 72,605

1,744 2,359 2,974 3,590 4,205 4,820 5,436 6,051

872 1,180 1,487 1,795 2,103 2,410 2,718 3,026

805 1,089 1,373 1,657 1,941 2,225 2,509 2,793

403 545 687 829 971 1,113 1,255 1,397








benefits is denied will be provided an opportunity to appeal the decision. Families may reapply as many times as needed during the school year if income or family size should change. In accordance with Federal law and U.S. Department of Agriculture policy, this institution is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.



JULY 2021

Preparing for a healthy school year BY JACOB MANN


ouseholds across the Mat-Su Valley are checking off back-toschool to-do lists in preparation for the 2021-2022 school year. Families preparing their children for the return to the classrooms have many things to get in order, whether it’s school supplies, clothes, or filling out enrollment forms.

Another important item on the backto-school list is preparing for the annual cold and flu season with health and wellness practices, particularly for parents and caregivers with students who have special health care needs. “School nurses are looking forward to the new school year as we greet returning students and welcome our new students. Be sure to connect with your school nurse before or when school starts, particularly if your child has a special health care need,” National Association of School Nurses President Beth Mattey stated in a back-to-school press release. “NASN encourages families to work with school nurses throughout the year to prevent missed school days and to enable best performance. School nurses safeguard the physical and mental health of students, helping them to achieve academic success. We wish all students a healthy, safe, and productive school year.” Mat-Su Central School nurse Wendy DeGraffenried said there are a number of simple but important health and wellness practices families can incorporate as they prepare for the coming school year.

School nurses are key resources families can utilize in the back-to-school process, working to ensure students stay healthy, safe, and ready to learn. DeGraffenried said the go-to practice is frequent handwashing and keeping their children at home if they’re symptomatic. She said that a good breakfast with plenty of water throughout the day is also important since adequate meal and sleep schedules play essential roles in overall health and immunity. “Knowing that children are coming together into classrooms where they can share germs, the number one way we can prevent illnesses to be spread is to wash hands,” DeGraffenried said. The pandemic has heightened the need to ensure healthy habits throughout the school year. DeGraffenried said there’s a number of resources for families to pull information, whether it’s policy updates from the Matanuska Susitna Borough School District or national COVID-19 mitigation resources.

Online references for back-toschool efforts for parents: • NASN Back-to-school interactive toolkit - • MSBSD summer 2021 Mitigation Plan -

NASN developed a back-toschool checklist of topics to

Mat-Su Central School nurse Wendy DeGraffenried said there are a number of simple but important health and wellness practices families can incorporate as they prepare for the coming school year.

assist parents/caregivers about how to best prepare their children for a safe and healthy school year: • Make sure required and recommended immunizations are up-todate. • Review hygiene tips to prevent the spread of infections. • Establish a bedtime and wake-up time to ensure adequate and consistent sleep. • Develop a routine for homework and after-school activities. • Eat breakfast each day at home or at school. • Help make appropriate clothing choices, e.g., wear comfortable and safe shoes. • Keep an open line of communication with your child to ensure that he/she remains safe at school. If a concern arises, e.g., bullying, contact the appropriate school officials immediately. • Get involved! Sign up for the parent organization (PTA/PTO), school Wellness Committee, and mark events such as back-to-school night and parent/teacher meetings on your calendar. • Ask about the school or district’s wellness policy, e.g., how are nutrition, activity, stress and/or mental health concerns addressed? • Know the specialized instructional support personnel available to your child including the school nurse and school counselor. • Know your school’s policy regarding when to keep a sick child home.

If Your Student Has A Health Concern: • Make your child’s health concern known to the school and school nurse. • Bring current, signed healthcare provider orders for treatments and all medications to be given at school. • Bring the medication in the original pharmacy container. Together with the school nurse and other appropriate school officials, develop an individualized healthcare plan or other educational plan as needed, e.g., 504 and IEP. • Give permission for the school nurse to communicate with your family’s healthcare provider. • Provide parent/caregiver contact information and update the school with any changes. • Ask if non-nurses will be providing care and how these authorized individuals will be supervised, e.g., verify who will administer medication. • Confirm the school’s disaster and/ or emergency plan. Make sure your child’s medication and/or medical devices, e.g., epinephrine auto-injectors, asthma inhalers, and insulin, will be readily available in an emergency. • Let the school know how important it is to have a full-time registered school nurse in the building all day, every day. • Introduce yourself and your child to the school nurse.

JULY 2021



Local organizations support school supply drives BY JACOB MANN


chool supplies are an essential part of the back-to-school process. Local organizations such as the MatSu Salvation Army and United Way of Mat-Su put on donation drives to gather materials for students in need across the Mat-Su Valley.

The Salvation Army is hosting their annual Stuff the Bus school supply drive Aug. 6 through Aug. 8 at the Wasilla Walmart. There will be unmanned bins for socially distant donation drop-offs. Shoppers can pick out their own supplies to donate or put together packages based on lists designed for an easy selection process. “The need never goes away,” Mat-Su Valley Corps Officer Major Kevin Bottjen said. “Every child loves the feeling of a new backpack… We want the kids to be on equal grounds with one another.” Bottjen noted that those interested in supporting local students can also bring donations to the Mat-Su Salvation Army corps office in Palmer before or after the Stuff the Bus drive. For more information about donations or volunteering, visit United Way is hosting the 2021 Stuff the Bus Back to School Fair Tuesday, Aug. 10 at the Menard Sports Center. Local families can stop by between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to pick up backpacks, school supplies, and other resources for their children. Those interested in volunteering for this event can register online at

United Way is hosting the 2021 Stuff the Bus Back to School Fair Tuesday, Aug. 10 at the Menard Sports Center. Local families can stop by between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to pick up backpacks, school supplies, and other resources for their children.

The Salvation Army is hosting their annual Stuff the Bus school supply drive Aug. 6 through Aug. 8 at the Wasilla Walmart.



JULY 2021

Q&A with Mat-Su Central’s new principal Stacey McIntosh BY JACOB MANN


tacey McIntosh is the new principal of Mat-Su Central School, replacing John Brown who’s since retired from the Matanuska Susitna Borough School District.

McIntosh recently participated in a question and answer interview to discuss her new position and her experience teaching across the Valley.

Q: How long have you been teaching in the district? “I came here [the Valley] in 2003… Brian and I, we taught in the village… He’s from Montana and I’m North Dakota. We moved up to have an adventure in Alaska and I thought, ‘we could do anything for a year, let’s try it.’ We’ve been here 21 years now,” she said with a laugh.

Q: What’s it been like teaching in the Valley? “I love the Valley. Teeland was great. I love middle schoolers. That was always fun. I didn’t think I’d ever leave there, then I got this opportunity to be an advisor at Mat-Su Central.”

Q: How did that develop to becoming the principal? “I did advising for five years, and then John Brown decided I would be a good leader. I’ve been told that lot throughout my life… So I was like, ‘fine, I’ll get my Masters.’ I did that three years ago. I was a half-time advisor then a halftime assistant principal and last year I was a full-time assistant principal… No other principal at Mat-Su Central has ever been an advisor. So, it’s kind of cool to have that background and know what they’re going through and what their job is. I feel like I kinda know how to help them with what they need. I feel like I look at this role differently because I did that.”

Q: What’s it like being an advisor compared to a regular public school teacher? “They don’t have a classroom full time every day. They’re more of a consultant… They work with like, 120 kids every year, coaching those families through how to teach, helping them

pick curriculum… Every journey’s different. There’s no two stories alike... It’s cool to see what kids can do.”

Q: What motivated you to pursue a career in education in the first place? “I grew up with 13 siblings in North Dakota… I was one of the oldest kids, so I always had a bunch of brothers and sisters to be assertive with,” she said with a laugh. “I always had a classroom. They were always sitting in little desks and I was handing them papers. I think I was born to be a teacher. I think I’ve been doing that my whole life… helping them with homework and different things. I think it was in my blood.”

Q: What are some of the things students taught you over the years? “Just to be open-minded and dream big. It’s so fun to see a kid accomplish their goals. I really admire them when they work at something really young… Kids, they’re just resilient. It’s neat to see. Nothing gets them down sometimes. Even with COVID and all this junk going on, they just keep a smile on their face.”

Q: After seeing various styles and approaches throughout your career, what traits do you think a person needs to be an effective teacher? “Patience is very important. I believe that teachers need to know that every kid’s coming from somewhere different… All kids are going through something. If we could just walk in their shoes, people would be so much more compassionate and we wouldn’t care about the little things that don’t really matter… Obviously, teachers need to be educated and we need to know our content too, but I feel like that comes second. I feel like caring about the kids is what should happen first. When you care about them, that’s how they learn.”

Q: What qualities do you like best about Mat-Su Central’s model? “We really are the epitome of hy-

NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS Head Start and Early Head Start childhood education programs for children ages 0-5 years Chugiak, Meadow Lakes, Palmer, & Wasilla

Stacey McIntosh is the new principal of Mat-Su Central School. Courtesy photo brid… We’ve been doing this a long time… The big thing we talk about is choice… We already develop it from what the parents want, what students want… I think flexibility is a big thing… One of our mottos is, ‘learning happens everywhere.’”

Q: Is there a lot of community integration? “Yeah, integrating with the community, it’s so neat… We’ll find them tutors in the community. We have over 300 community partners that we work with. Every student gets a $2,200 allotment and millions of that goes back into our community, which I love. They can use that allotment to take a sewing class in Palmer or they can go to karate in Wasilla… We need to learn to work together and live together.”

Q: Anything else going on with Mat-Su Central you’d like to mention? “We have a Fair day. This is very exciting. We are one of the main sponsors of the Fair. Aug. 30 is Mat-Su Central Day at the Fair… We’re gonna have booths at every entrance. Anybody who comes into the Fair is gonna get a Mat-Su Central stamp on their hand, which I think is awesome… It should be a fun day… We’ll do an open house too. We don’t really have that scheduled yet… I’ll give a tour to anybody. Whoever wants to come in, I’ll tour them around. I love it.” For more information about Mat-Su Central School, visit

JULY 2021



Superintendent reflects on his first year at the helm BY TIM ROCKEY


r. Randy Trani was hired as the Superintendent of the Mat-Su Borough School District in May of 2020 and spent the last year leading the largest school district on the west coast that remained open to in-person instruction. Trani reflected on what he and others at MSBSD learned during the last year of providing education.

“It was a great year last year, you know. The people that I got to work with here in Mat-Su are an amazing group of people. We did something that not very many school districts pulled off. We kept the place open so it was a great challenge and then personally just getting back to Alaska I’m super happy,” said Trani. Trani and MSBSD administration dealt with creative solutions to problems that had not been encountered before, providing food to students and families with deliveries of meals, as well as adapting to the educational needs of each student. “October, November when it started ramping up, they were still having staff meetings with everybody in the same room all sitting like the old staff meetings, and we were like well wait a minute we had never thought of that. It had just never occurred to us oh yeah that’s a problem,” said Trani. “Probably the biggest thing we’ve learned is our bottleneck, our limiting reagent to go

back to my chemistry speak are staff and staffing. We never had a situation where we had so many kids out that we couldn’t hold school, it was always staff that were the issue and getting substitutes. So when we did the big closure for the two and a half days before Thanksgiving, that was driven because we couldn’t get enough substitutes into the building.” During the end of last school year, vaccinations were just being distributed to school staff and educators prior to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s announcement that vaccinations for COVID-19 would be provided to all Alaskans 16 and older. “We’re hopeful that now that adults can have taken advantage of the vaccine, that that bottleneck will be reduced,” said Trani. During last school year, MSBSD suffered two major unforeseen closures prior to Thanksgiving and again in January. Nurses from schools were trained as contact tracers to help reduce the wait time for those in quarantine as close contacts. “Contact tracing is going to happen right, that’s not a MSBSD thing. We helped out with it because it was a bottleneck last year like during those peak events when there was lots of virus in the Valley. Public health just couldn’t manage. tThey couldn’t go through all the close contacts fast enough so some

Dr. Randy Trani is entering his second school year as superintendent. Courtesy photo of our nurses we volunteered them, they were trained and then they would help with it but really contact tracing is really ultimately public health’s decision like whether or not you’re a close contact,” said Trani. Trani took time during his Superintendent’s report at each School Board meeting to thank nurses, custodial staff, teachers, administrators and support staff for working together. “There are so many different groups,”

Dr. Randy Trani takes notes during a school board meeting during the 2020-21 school year.

said Trani. “Without everybody willing to say let’s give this a go, without the teachers saying yep we’re going to try, without the administrators, without the custodians, without the bus drivers it wouldn’t ‘have happened. And I just know it was better for kids. It was better for kids and it was better for families to be able to have that option to have that choice to have in person learning, so it was a huge accomplishment and it was a group accomplishment.”



JULY 2021

Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District School Calendar 2021 - 2022

2021-2022 School Calendar








JULY 1 2 3 4 H 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

1 2 8 9 15 PD 22 23 29 30

AUGUST 3 4 5 6 7 10 WD PD PD 14 WD SO 19 20 21 24 25 26 27 28 31

5 H 12 13 19 20 26 27

SEPTEMBER 1 2 3 4 7 8 9 10 11 14 15 16 17 18 21 22 23 24 25 28 29 30

OCTOBER PD 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Q1 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 PC PD 30 31 NOVEMBER 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 PD 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 H H 27 28 29 30

DECEMBER 1 2 5 6 7 8 9 12 13 14 15 Q2 19 V V V V 26 V V V V

3 10 WD H H

4 11 18 25

S August 11 Work Day for Teachers (WD)* 12-16 Professional Development Days (PD)* 17 Work Day for Teachers (WD)* 18 School Opens for Grades 1-12 (SO) 25 First Day for Kindergarten September 6 Labor Day Holiday (H)* October 1 Professional Development Day (PD)* 15 Quarter 1 Ends (41 Days) 28 Parent Conference Day (PC)* 29 Professional Development Day (PD)* November 11 Professional Development Day (PD)* 25-26 Thanksgiving Holiday (H)* December 16 Quarter 2 Ends (39 Days) 17 Work Day for Teachers (WD)* 20-30 Winter Vacation (V)* 24 Christmas Holiday (H)* 31 New Years Day (H)* January 17 Martin Luther King Jr. Day (H)* February 24 Parent Conference Day (PC)* 25 Professional Development Day (PD)* March 3 Quarter 3 Ends (41 Days) 4 Work Day for Teachers (WD)* 7-11 Spring Vacation (V)* May 6 20 23

Professional Development Day (PD)* School Closes (SC)/Quarter 4 Ends (49 Days) Work Day for Teachers (WD)*

*Indicates no school for students







JANUARY 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 H 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 FEBRUARY 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 PC PD 26 27 28

MARCH 1 2 Q3 6 V V V V 13 14 15 16 17 20 21 22 23 24 27 28 29 30 31

WD V 18 25

5 12 19 26

APRIL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

1 2 3 8 9 10 15 16 17 22 WD 24 29 H 31

5 6 7 12 13 14 19 20 21 26 27 28

MAY 4 11 18 25

5 12 19 26

JUNE 1 8 15 22 29

2 3 4 9 10 11 16 17 18 23 24 25 30

PD 7 13 14 SC 21 27 28

JULY 2021



Many benefits of extracurricular activities


ment, improved academic success, good time-management techniques and leadership skills, and greater interest in community involvement.

nection between students and their schools, which can reduce the likelihood of school failures and dropout rates.

Participation in extracurricular activities should be a consideration for every student because of the vast array of benefits such pursuits provide. Information published in the Brandon University Journal of Graduate Studies in Education indicates that participation in extracurricular activities positively correlates with students’ development both academically and personally. Research shows being involved in afterschool clubs and sports promotes greater character develop-

Every school offers some type of extracurricular activity — from school bands to academic clubs to volunteer groups to sports. The National Center for Education Statistics says these activities offer students opportunities to learn many valuable lessons, including group responsibility and the value of competition. Students who participate in extracurricular activities also can be exposed to a diverse array of people and cultures. Some activities also help students develop their mental and physical strength. The NCES notes that participation in extracurricular activities can foster a strong sense of con-

Extracurricular activities also are the gifts that keep on giving, particularly as they relate to future academic success. Crimson, an admissions support company specializing in increasing acceptance to highly regarded institutions, says extracurriculars are a critical part of a student’s university application. Involvement in clubs and more provides a clearer picture of who a student is outside of the classroom and offers an opportunity to showcase various skills and interests. Furthermore, diversifying one’s interests through extracurricular activities broadens a person’s world view and improves self-esteem.

chool offers much more than a top-notch education. Being an engaged student involves learning lessons in the classroom but also participating in the myriad activities that begin once the dismissal bell has rung.

These are benefits that can ultimately help students become well-rounded persons and successful professionals.

While people are quick to view extracurriculars for the academic advantages they provide, one often overlooked benefit is the social benefits of these pursuits. One of the best and easiest ways to make friends is through extracurricular activities. Fellow participants share the same interests and that can lay a solid foundation for lasting friendships. Students who view extracurriculars as vital components of their school experiences can reap the rewards of being active members of their campus communities.

The National Center for Education Statistics says these activities offer students opportunities to learn many valuable lessons, including group responsibility and the value of competition. Courtesy photo

How volunteering benefits students


olunteering is often seen through the lens of how volunteers help to improve their communities. Though there’s no denying the valuable role volunteers play in strengthening their communities, it’s worth noting just how much volunteers can benefit from donating their time and effort to worthy causes. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Happiness asked 70,000 participants about their volunteering habits and mental health. The study found that, when compared to those who did not volunteer, people who had volunteered in the previous 12 months were more satisfied with their lives and gave their overall health higher ratings. Volunteering can benefit anyone, and can be especially valuable to students, benefitting their overall health

and helping in myriad other ways as well.

• Volunteering can get a foot in the door. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that employers expect to hire 7.2 percent more new college graduates from the class of 2021 than they did from the class of 2020. That’s encouraging news, but recent graduates will still face stiff competition as they look for their first job. Volunteering with an organization in their field can be a great way for current students and recent graduates to get their foot in the door. Even if a volunteering opportunity does not ultimately lead to a job offer, the experience students gain can help them stand out in a crowded pool of job applicants down the road.

• Volunteering can help students find a career path. A 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Education found that about 30 percent of undergraduates in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs who had declared majors changed their majors at least once within three years of their initial enrollment. The same report noted that roughly one in 10 changed majors more than once. Those statistics suggest that many students are uncertain about what they want to study at the onset of their college careers. Volunteering before and during college can help students explore their interests and see where their skills are applicable. They can then rely on that experience as they choose a major.

• Volunteering expands students’ social horizons. Volunteers serve and

work alongside people from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. That’s a great way to see the world through a new perspective, and it also can positively affect students’ eventual careers. Professionals who have worked with people of various backgrounds are in better position to effectively communicate with a wider array of people, which can help them build a more diverse set of business relationships. Organizations recognize that value and often prioritize hiring candidates with the kind of strong interpersonal skills students develop through volunteering. Volunteering can be a great way for students to develop an array of skills that can benefit their personal and professional lives for years to come.



JULY 2021

How to support students interested in the arts


chools are diverse communities in which people from all walks of life gather to teach, learn and pursue an assortment of interests and passions. Students are perhaps the best reflection of that diversity, as even small schools are home to young people who excel in sports, music, theater, and, of course, academics. Many young people harbor a strong interest in the arts, which can provide some surprising benefits. For example, the National Endowment for the Arts reports that students with high arts participation and low socioeconomic status have a 4 percent dropout rate. That’s five times lower than their low socioeconomic status peers. In addition, a report from the Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research found that arts education experiences reduce the proportion of students in school receiving disciplinary infractions by 3.6 percent. Despite the myriad benefits of participation in arts education, which can include improved performance in the classroom, Americans for the Arts notes that not all students have access to art-based educational experiences. Parents of students who are interested in the arts can try various approaches to nurture those interests. • Support school-based arts education programs. Funding for arts programs is perpetually in jeopardy. Each state and school district is different, but a 2013 report from the National Association of State Boards of Education found that federal funding for arts and humanities programs totaled roughly $250 mil-

Former Palmer High School student Emily Mack shows her art journal which chronicles her creative process during an art show. play music or pursue other artsperforming arts schools require lion a year, while the National Scibased interests is a great way to prospective students to audition or ence Foundation received around incorporate the arts into home life apply. Arts high schools still offer in$5 billion annually. Arts and sciencstruction in core academic subjects, while showing kids how fun the arts es are both important, and parents but parents should explore each can be. can support legislation that directs school’s curriculum before deciding more federal funding for the arts • Research local performing arts if a given school is right for their chilwhile urging local legislators to dischools. Children who exhibit an dren. rect more money to arts education. especially strong interest in the Arts education can have a profound arts may benefit from enrolling in a • Make art a part of life at home. school that specializes in performing impact on the life of a young person. Americans for the Arts recommends arts. Such schools may be open to There are many ways for parents to that parents make the arts part of kids as young as five and extend all nurture and encourage their children’s life at home. Participating alongside the way through high school. Some interest in the arts. children as they sing, dance, draw,

5 great reasons to participate in scholastic sports


any kids are introduced to sports at an early age. Though young children may enjoy the recreational aspect of playing sports, a serious passion for a particular sport may develop as children reach high school. Such passions can be encouraged, as participating in sports can be highly beneficial for young people. 1. LEARN RESILIENCE: Compared to generations past, when children may have had jobs during the school year, today’s children do not have many demands placed on them beyond schoolwork and maybe some light chores around the house. The average student may use sports as

a way to learn about and overcome challenges. Participating in sports can teach kids how to recover from setbacks (being the losing team) or dealing with adverse situations (sports-related injuries). 2. IMPROVE FITNESS: School sports require ongoing physical activity, which is advantageous to children in an age when lifestyles are increasingly sedentary. A report from the National Federation of State High School Associations found that when female students are given more opportunity to engage in athletics in high school, their weight and body mass improve. School

udents! Welcome Home SchoYoourl St Activities dule Parents, Teachers, Sche All Age Groups Now! r fo lum cu rri Cu and Fitness

• MTA Indoor Turf Field: (Flag football, volleyball, soccer, badminton, dodgeball, to name a few!) • Ice Arena: (Hockey skills & drills, stick time, public skate, broomball, Learn to Skate, freestyle skate) • Track: 830 feet

• Batting Cage: with pitching machines • Meeting/Class Rooms: 1-3 rooms, up to 150 capacity • Commercial Kitchen: for baking/cooking class • Dryland Training Center

Group rates available. State of Alaska Home School Vendor Call for more info and to take a tour 1001 Clapp St., Wasilla • 357-9100 •

Palmer’s Cal Tipton throws the shot put during the Palmer Invitational track and field meet. sports can help students overcome the negatives of sedentary lifestyles. 3. RELIEVE STRESS: Exercise in any shape or form can help relieve stress. The camaraderie that develops within a team setting also can boost self-esteem and help some students overcome any feelings of isolation they may confront during adolescence. 4. BOOST BRAINPOWER: School sports may work the body but they also benefit the brain. A report from the Institute of Medicine indicates

children who are physically active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on academic tests than those who are sedentary. 5. DEVELOP CONFIDENCE AND LEADERSHIP SKILLS: A study from Cornell University says teens who played sports developed stronger leadership skills and developed better confidence. That can work in a team or solitary setting, and translate into skills that serve a person well throughout life.



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JULY 2021



JULY 2021

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