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Unalaska elementary school to house fifth grade class starting next year

Maggie Nelson
Elementary Principal Cheri Tremarco said it’ll be a fairly straightforward transition for the elementary school. Ultimately, they’re only expecting about 15 more kids in the building.

The Unalaska City School District will send fifth graders down to the elementary building starting next school year.

Administrators recently announced they will put the fifth grade class in the Eagle’s View Elementary Achigaalux̂ building for the first time since it was constructed.

Superintendent Kim Hanisch said they’ve wanted fifth grade in the younger school for a while, but there wasn’t enough room for them before.

“Our student enrollment has decreased enough that right now we have truly three empty classrooms here [at the elementary]”, Hanisch said. “So there's plenty of space now for the fifth grade to come to the age-level-appropriate building, so to speak.”

She said the elementary originally only housed kindergarten through fourth grade because there wasn’t enough room for the fifth and sixth graders.

Unalaska’s enrollment has been steadily dropping since about 2019, when the district saw record high numbers. Hanisch said enrollment is stabilizing somewhat now, and the elementary school should have the space to house the extra students, for at least another five years.

“I can look at how many students are in the kindergarten class and keep moving them up,” she explained. “So when we look at those numbers and the trend that we're having, we're stabilizing it seems, at about 350 students, k-12. Nobody within the city anticipates a big influx of population, so I think we're as safe as we could be to estimate numbers into the future.”

Elementary Principal Cheri Tremarco said it’ll be a fairly straightforward transition for the elementary school. Ultimately, they’re only expecting about 15 more kids in the building.

“We'll have to bring curriculum materials and some other things that they use from the other building down here, but they'll be matched up now with what we're doing in math and [English, Language Arts] and be able to participate better,” Tremarco said.

She said there are currently no problems with the education fifth graders are getting at the junior high school, which is housed in the same building as the high school, but it’s a better fit for them to be with the younger students.

There’s still a lot to figure out, logistically, Tremarco said. They’re working with staff, including the junior and high school principal Ryan Humphrey, to iron out some of the details.

“[Looking] at how many teachers we can hire, how do we make it work? How do we best meet the needs of our kids? Who needs what classes? And so that's, I think, something that needs a little more elbow grease,” Tremarco said.

There are still seven vacant teaching positions at the district, according to Alaska Teachers and Personnel, the state’s official job bank for k-12 teaching and school administration jobs. Superintendent Hanisch said some of the details, including how sixth graders will be integrated into the k-6 system, will depend on the certification of new hires. She said some teachers, for example, have general elementary certifications, whereas others are qualified for specific subjects.

Hanisch said she thinks the fifth graders will benefit emotionally and socially by staying at the elementary school.

“We do a mini school climate and connectedness survey, which is looking at students’ perceptions, and [it’s] pretty consistent that questions that relate — let's just say to confidence overall — for fifth graders, tend to score the lowest from fifth through twelfth grade,” Hanisch said. “It's a fifth through twelfth grade survey, and it just shows you, they're not quite ready yet for the big school yet. So we really think their confidence here is going to help their growing academically, and they’ll jump into sixth grade more prepared for everything.”

Tremarco and Hanisch said they are happy to field any questions about the transition and appreciate feedback from the community.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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