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UCSD Prepares For Class Of 2021 Graduation, Anticipates Incoming Superintendent's Arrival

Maggie Nelson

Unalaska City School District officials are planning for a limited in-person graduation ceremony for the Class of 2021 on May 15. 

There will likely be some restrictions on who is allowed to join the 25 seniors as they turn their tassels, according to Superintendent John Conwell.

"Due to the physical distancing requirements needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it is anticipated that only the graduates and their families will be able to attend the ceremony in person," Conwell said. 

Those restrictions are subject to change depending on how the pandemic progresses over the next few weeks, he said.

At their meeting Wednesday, several school board members spoke in favor of also having an outdoor parade, similar to last year's graduation ceremony

"I think it's important for the community to really make this a big deal even though we can't all come together and celebrate the graduating class," said student representative school board member Natalie Buttner. "Because it's definitely been a tough year to be a senior."

The district returned to full time in-person learning on Monday. Prior to that, the school district had reported nearly a third of high school students were failing at least one class and said some of those 25 seniors could be at risk of not graduating. 

But failure rates at Unalaska City School have drastically improved in the meantime, according to Principal Jim Wilson. That improvement, he said, is due to extra time and effort from staff, students and families over the past several weeks, as the district transitioned from partial in-person learning to full-time, at-school instruction.

"We had 32 high school students attend full-day hybrid learning at Unalaska City School and were able to significantly raise their grades prior to the end of the quarter," Wilson said. "Overall, UCS had 94 percent of our students pass all their classes, which is a tremendous improvement from the last report that I gave with the board." 

Because students may have experienced greater losses of learning due to the pandemic, the district is inviting all interested students to enroll in summer school this year, said Superintendent Conwell. 

The district's incoming superintendent, Dr. Robbie Swint Jr., also joined in the school board meeting remotely. Swint will take Conwell's spot next year.

Swint requested the district provide a superintendent mentor for support during his first year at UCSD through the Alaska Superintendents Association's mentor program.

Board members approved Swint's enrollment in the program for the 2021-22 school year at an estimated cost of $3,800. 

The program directors will likely decide who Dr. Swint's superintendent mentor will be later this summer, according to Conwell. But Swint is hoping to learn from his predecessor and has requested none other than Conwell to be his mentor. 

The board also approved a memorandum of agreement to pay Swint as he participates in the transitional processes and the hiring of school staff prior to his official start date.

According to Conwell, while the district will continue working on scheduling Swint's visit to the island, they are still unsure if that will be possible due to local vaccination and quarantine requirements. Swint is expected to officially begin his role as UCSD superintendent in July.


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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