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Fairbanks school district Superintendent Karen Gaborik addresses concerns from labor unions

Published: Jan. 6, 2021 at 4:11 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A joint letter of concern representing the Fairbanks Education Association (FEA), the Education Support Staff Association (ESSA), and the Fairbanks Principals Association (FPA) was sent to the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District (FNSBSD) School Board on December 18th, in response to the board’s decision to reopen schools while the district is still in the Operational Red Zone.

Collectively these three groups represent over 1,500 FNSBSD employees. The letter called for the board to take a more measured, cautious, and planned approach to safety protocols after the board decided not to employ local Smart Start safety plans jointly developed with the FNSBSD, ESSA, FEA and FPA.

Dr. Karen Gaborik, Superintendent of Schools for the district was asked for her comment regarding this letter.

“I have had great relationships as superintendent. My team, you know, having really strong relationships with all of our associations, our teachers, our certified association, our support staff association, our principals association, that has been a particular part of my leadership that’s been very important to me, and again it just speaks to the whole culture of the district. When you have really strong good partnerships with your association.

“I take their concerns seriously, I absolutely understand them. We’ve worked with all the associations from March 6th when we also got the news that this was happening. Until now we’ve worked very closely with the associations. I do understand that they disagree fairly strenuously with the school board’s decision.

“Right now we sort of have this chasm opening up between the school board and our workforce especially, you know, regarding this particular issue. My job is to try and bridge that gap, and in the end, you know, to make it work for everybody, right?”

“So you know, we have a split board, we had a pretty split vote. We’ve got board members who think and feel pretty strenuously on both sides of the issue. So my job is to, you know, comply with the board’s directive to open schools - and to not just comply with that, but to do it to the best of our ability. But my job is also to work closely with our entire workforce and try to help them get to a place where we can engage all the learning models that we now have available to us as effectively as possible - because in the end it’s about the students,” said Gaborik.

Dr. Gaborik was asked what her response would be to teachers concerned for the safety of themselves and others upon returning to school.

“So we have teachers, we have support staff all working really closely with principals, and of course they’re tracking the numbers of how many families plan to have kids come back in person, and then just being really tuned into those mitigation plans. We’ve done a lot of this work on paper, we’ve had small groups in schools up till now, we’ve done lots of work on paper about when we do have more kids in school, what that looks like. So I think just being really tuned in to that,” said Gaborik.

The superintendent added, “And then as vaccines become available just urging all of our staff who are eligible to get the vaccine when it becomes available to them.”

When asked if any remnants of the CDC recommended Smart Start Program guidelines would remain implemented when schools reopen, Gaborik had this to say:

“Well one thing I think that becomes even more important as you have more and more kids in school is cleaning those high touch surfaces fairly frequently. So you’ll see teachers start working on plans for how to wipe off the desks between each class, right? Things like that. Just things you normally wouldn’t do till the end of the day. You wouldn’t clean your classroom, but now you need to be sure those surfaces are cleaned. So our custodial staff have been working on that already, and I think it’s just all of our staff and buildings, you know, teachers and support staff being part of that effort. And kids too, right? You know elementary teachers are great at getting kids into sort of the routines of the classroom, I think we’ll see that across the system. We’ll all have to take responsibility for our parts in terms of the different pieces of mitigating the spread.”

A school board special meeting to respond to the collective concerns voiced by the associations has been scheduled to take place at 6:00 p.m. on January 11th. For information on how to join the meeting via telephone or Zoom, visit k12northstar.org.

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