Nome-Beltz Jr.-Sr. High School has a new principal
Jay Thomas takes over as the new principal at Nome-Beltz Jr/Sr High School this year. He is an experienced rural Alaska educator and knows the region well. With his wife, who is also a teacher, he spent eleven years in the Bering Strait School District. He was an elementary school principal in Barrow, spending three years there. He taught in Mountain Village and was the principal at Teller.
Thomas and his wife were the teachers in Akutan, an island in the Aleutian chain not far from Unalaska. The permanent population is around 100 and there’s a Trident Seafoods plant, which employs over a thousand people. Travel to and from the island was by Grumman Goose, an amphibious plane, which landed on the sea and crawled up the ramp onto the island. He hunted the island’s feral cattle and used the excellent beef to make jerky and teach the students life skills.
“I know the region, Bering Straits in and out,” he said in a recent interview with The Nome Nugget. He sees a lot of familiar faces in Nome, people he’s worked with, he said. There are four new teachers at Nome-Beltz and he, as principal, is the fifth new addition for this year. There are about 20 teachers at the school. “This year for the high school was pretty reasonable,” he said of the turnover.
Asked about the impacts of the governor’s budget he said it hasn’t hit. “Not yet, I think we’re a year away from that. Because of the forward funding nobody really took a hit this year. If we’re going to take it we’ll see it next year.”
“The budget is a huge concern,” he said. “I’m in a position where I worry about the budget because of how it will impact Nome-Beltz. But Superintendent Burgess has to worry about the biggest portion of lobbying and trying to make sure that public education’s voice is heard. I watch it, it impacts us, but I don’t have a direct role in how that’s going to play out.”
Superintendent Jamie Burgess said that NPS received a significant yet unexpected increase in migrant education funding. “But as far as state funding we’ve done a good job with everything that we’ve had. We ended up under spending our budget from last year so we’ve been able to put some money away for handling our capital improvement projects,” she said. “We don’t have any layoffs or anything at the school district so it should be a good school year. We’ve just got to buckle our seat belt and see what happens in the next legislative session in the spring.”
What about security at the school? Last year, the high school had two incidents of students making threats. “We have a lockdown plan,” Thomas said. A plan dealing with an active shooter is being discussed. Thomas explained the difference between lockdown and active shooter plans. In a lockdown scenario, staff and students stay put. “Active shooter means if they’re not in your area maybe you don’t want to stay put. We need more training. We need more of the active shooter sort of training and we want our law enforcement in our schools. We want them in here after hours so they know the buildings, so they know the entrance points. But as far as our plan and our training we’re not an active shooter trained facility, yet. And so our procedures are still what they have been in the past as far as lock down and security.”
Does Mr. Thomas have any new ideas to implement in his new role?
“I think the most important thing when a new administrator comes to a new school is to be a good listener,” he said. “Take the time to see what’s working well. I’ve been around Nome so I know some of the things the community is really proud of and should be. The athletic activities and things the kids are involved in are awesome for where they’re at, out on the edge of western Alaska. They’re competitive in athletics, they’re competitive in academic competitions. The fundraising that happens in the community is phenomenal.”
“The part I’m excited about is there’s a lot of young teachers. The assistant principal who’s returning is in his second year. There’s a really good energy this year as I come in the building. I think it’s just refining some things that we see as a challenge and being prepared in case we have a budget that really scares us to death as we go forward. But I’m not coming in with a change agenda. Those changes will be after watching and listening and seeing how things work,” he said.