With the first three-and-a-half hours of the Ketchikan School Board's Wednesday meeting spent considering the Ketchikan School District's Start Strong COVID-19 mitigation plan, the board sped through the balance of the items on its agenda.

Keeping an eye on the clock, Interim Superintendent Melissa Johnson truncated her report to the board. With the board's consent, she postponed discussion of two financial matters to the board's next regular meeting to consider the matters unencumbered by time constraints.

On the topic of the board's next regular meeting, at Johnson's request, the board rescheduled its only regular meeting in December from Dec. 8 to Dec. 15 to allow Johnson to attend the New and Incoming Superintendent Academy hosted by the Alaska Superintendents Association in Anchorage.

Next, the board unanimously approved the Ketchikan High School softball team's proposed trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in April for a spring training tournament, and amended the board's policy on its agenda-setting meetings to narrow the scope of those meeting discussions.

Board members Nicole Anderson and Diane Gubatayao both voted against the revision on Wednesday night as they had done at the previous meeting.

 Next, the board moved on to the four discussion items on its agenda, starting with the district's search for a permanent superintendent.

The board suspended its search to fill that position in early July after deciding it wanted a larger pool of applicants to make the search competitive.

Board Clerk-Treasurer Bridget Mattson told the board Wednesday that she had reached out to Lon Garrison, the executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, about when that search might resume. Mattson was one of the board's three liaisons with AASB during the search earlier this year, along with Gubatayao and Board Member Paul Robbins Jr.

"His recommendation is to 'begin planning to restart the search but not yet kick it off,'" she quoted him as saying. "'It's still too early in the season to effectively recruit well-qualified candidates. We are currently working with another district, and the pool of applicants has been extremely small. I believe that opening the search again in mid-December and closing recruitment in late January puts you at the head of the line. We typically see a greater number of applicants available in January. Planning to have the search completed sometime in February would be my recommendation.'"

To meet the proposed mid-December goal, Board President Stephen Bradford suggested that the board pick a board member or team "to further those conversations with AASB about kicking (the search) off," rather than waiting until the board's regular meeting in December to choose a liaison.

Gubatayao clarified that the conversations with AASB "(are) not just starting the actual search, but it's reviewing our timelines and a few other factors that we need to start working on as soon as possible, really, so that when we do begin the search, all those pieces are in place."

Robbins proposed resuming the search with Bradford as the board's contact with AASB, but Bradford asked to Mattson to make the initial contact, given her prior experience as a liaison.

The board also scheduled a work session for Saturday, Dec. 1, to discuss the board's self-evaluation process, its strategic plan and goals, when to schedule training for board members, and when and how to evaluate the interim superintendent.

Finally, on the topic of drug abuse, Board Member Jordan Tabb said he had intended to talk to the interim superintendent about potentially forming a substance abuse task force, but those discussions were delayed when he got sick last week.

"Our hope is perhaps to have a survey for staff, if they're willing to participate, where they can identify what their, what they see what they see needs are, in the classroom, in the school, administrative level, as far as support or advocacy or outreach or coordination (on drug abuse) that a board committee could provide," Tabb told the board. "So look for that in a couple weeks.”

Bradford signaled that he wants the board to have regular discourse on the topic of substance abuse.

"I do intend to keep drug and addiction issues, or substance abuse and the like, as a discussion topic on just about every agenda," he explained, "because it is ravaging this community, and it certainly is impacting children.”