New NPS Superintendent Bill Schildbach arrives in Nome
Last week, Nome Public School’s new superintendent Bill Schildbach settled into his office at the Nome Public Schools administrative headquarters. The Nome Nugget sat down with him for an interview to learn about his background, as well as thoughts on his new role with Nome’s school district.
With a background in microbiology, one might think it strange that Schildbach is now a superintendent, and not a scientist. However, his science background eventually brought him back to school where he studied to be a high school math and science teacher. After graduating from Oregon State University, he started teaching in Oregon, and then taught in Iowa for two years.
After Iowa, he worked selling school products such as graduation caps, rings, and gowns for six years. Then, his school administration career began. He became principal of the Emmonak School in the Lower Yukon, where he worked for eight years. After that, he moved to Kotzebue with his family to become the Director of Assessment. His latest job was as Principal of Mt. Spurr Elementary School, located on Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage.
Schildbach’s wife will join him in Nome soon. Right now, she’s in New York City with their daughter, a proficient ballerina who is currently attending an intensive ballet program in the Big Apple. His son works for GCI in Petersburg, Alaska as one of the youngest plant technicians ever.
With his two kids both moving in their own directions, Schildbach said it was the right time to apply for a superintendent position. He’s had his superintendent certificate for about seven years, which he received from the University of Alaska Anchorage, but said there hasn’t really been a lot of openings around the state.
So, why come to Nome? Besides being good timing for his family, Schildbach said he thinks Nome will feel like “living large” after his time spent living in Kotzebue and Emmonak. He is looking forward to the miles and miles of roads to explore and the change of pace from being in Anchorage.
What will he bring to NPS?
According to Schildbach, Nome may be different from a lot of places in Alaska, but when you look closely, the issues across the state are similar, especially in rural Alaska. “I think part of the reason I’ll be successful here and was successful in the interview was just understanding the population of students we’re working with,” said Schildbach. “Nome’s different, but I think that when you start looking, we have similar issues.” For his plan of action, Schildbach said that after getting through meetings and paperwork and things like payroll, he is hoping to meet a lot of people in town and get together with outside entities the district has been working with. “It’s just about sitting down with people and finding out what is most important to the community and making sure we move forward,” said Schildbach.
Schildbach said he is most looking forward to continuing on with a lot of the good things that are going on at NPS.
“I think you have a lot of really good programs here in Nome and I’d like to take a look at some of those programs and add to them or improve them or expand certain things,” he said. Most notably, Schildbach wants to really take a look at work-study programs, internships and work experiences. At the last board meeting, board members approved Board Policy 6178.1, Work Placed Learning, which allows students to receive credit for participating in work-study experiences. Schildbach said these types of programs are important for this region and should be given more attention. “I think that we have to provide options,” said Schildbach. “It’s the understanding that not every kid is going to learn the exact same way, and I think it’s culturally relevant to learn by doing. I think that piece – being able to give kids credit for that – is a very important piece.”
A big task on the agenda for the remaining weeks of summer will be finding two elementary school teachers, the last two positions —out of 22 initial open positions— left to fill. Schildbach says he is confident they will find the right fit for those positions, and if not, he and Nome Elementary School Principal Liz Korenek-Johnson will work on a plan.
Besides just finding teachers to fill those open positions, finding teachers in general is becoming more of a challenge. Not just here, not just in Alaska, not just nationwide. The teacher shortage is global, and it’s not a quick fix.
“Unfortunately it’s not something where we can take that person and you throw them in a program and 12 months later you get a teacher. If they have a degree – yeah, we can pull that off. But it takes a long time and it’s a real big commitment. You’re putting a lot of faith in one person and it makes it a challenge.”
Schildbach said the district will be working on ways to help grow future teachers for the region, from the region, but that it’s not just about telling kids about teaching. “You need to get kids involved – the ones that are really interested in becoming teachers – to really show them what it is they need to do to succeed,” said Schildbach.
Besides encouraging future teachers, Schildbach wants to make sure kids are getting funneled into the programs that they are most interested in, be it health, engineering, vocational education.
As far as the school budget is concerned, Schildbach said things are not looking as bad as they were in May or April. “We need to sit on it, watch it really carefully,” he said. “I’m concerned next year, with the election, may be a totally different ball game.” With elections on the horizon, funding for education could change drastically by next school year. But with oil prices coming up, Schildbach said it might help shore up some things.
“It would be nice to have a fully funded school system,” said Schildbach. “Or like in 2005, when I came in the state, at least have funding at that level.”
When asked about school safety, a topic brought up at the latest school board meeting, Schildbach said the main problem for NPS is its various entrances at each building. “We need to take a look at egress and make sure that those are all shored up, then we can look at minimizing entrance to the buildings and make sure that we have things in place to start drilling for lockdowns.” While drilling for lockdowns is routine like a fire drill, anything beyond that gets a bit more complicated. According to Schildbach, training teachers to respond in emergency situations is always a challenge, and he is opposed to arming them.
“Arming teachers – I don’t see that as a viable option,” he said. “Part of it, is that teachers are nice people.” Schildbach said the hardest part of ALICE training for teachers was a scenario in which they needed to leave one student behind in order to save 25 others – because leaving kids behind is not what teachers do.
As for everything else involved with being the superintendent, Schildbach says his greatest challenge of all will be working in the district office and not in the school. “Not working with kids every day – I think that’s going to be the biggest program,” he said.
Then he shrugged, smiled, and said, “I’ll figure it out.”