Nine teachers in Petersburg are in new positions with the Petersburg School District this year to help create smaller class sizes for COVID requirements. In the first of a two-part series, we’ll look at the five new teachers at the Rae C. Stedman Elementary. Most of them are temporary one-year contracts. As KFSK’s Angela Denning reports, of the new teachers, three have moved from aide positions, one is new to the school, and one is new to town.
There are two new temporary third grade teachers at Stedman Elementary, Shelley Johnston and Amy Wilkes. Johnston was at the school as a student teacher in Becky Martin’s class last year while finishing her teaching degree. Before that, she was an intensive aide for three years. She says she likes to teach because she wants to encourage curiosity in her students.
“I want them to want them to be curious about things and want to know about them,” Johnston said. “Even if it’s random silliness like, you know, I think one of them asked me today how Blind Slough, got its name, and said, ‘you know what, we need to look that up and find out,’ so that kind of thing.”
This is actually Johnston’s second time in Petersburg. She was in town from 2002 to 2004 when her husband was stationed in the Coast Guard. He retired and they moved back to town in 2015.
Johnston says school has started off really well despite the unusual year.
“I’m not letting really anything upset me, I’m just rolling with it because that’s all we can do this year,” Johnston said. “To the best of my ability I’m going to take the lemons that I’ve been given, squeeze them, add sugar, and enjoy the lemonade.”
Amy Wilkes is new to Stedman Elementary and new to Petersburg altogether. She’s originally from Alabama although she’s lived in Ketchikan before. She moved to Petersburg this summer with her two children and her husband who is in the Coast Guard. In the past, she’s taught preschool and middle school but this is the first time teaching third grade.
She says she loves watching children learn.
“I’m big on bringing crafts, experiments, different activities into the classroom and seeing the lightbulbs go off,” Wilkes said. “It’s just really fun to have that type of relationship with the kids, and to see them actually grasp the the idea that I’m trying to convey to them.”
Even though it’s a different kind of school year, Wilkes says the first few weeks have been great.
“It’s gone amazing,” she said. “The students are doing a great job with any of the protocols that we have. We’re doing an amazing job with transitions. They’re just excited to be here and they’re just excited to be back with their classmates and it’s gone actually very well.”
Jaime Eddy is a new 4th grade teacher this year. He grew up in Petersburg and has raised three children here. He’s worked for the school district in varying capacities over the years—he did his student teaching in Petersburg and has worked as a paraprofessional and substitute as well.
He says he likes teaching because you can positively affect students’ lives.
“I like building the relationships with the kids and, you know, academics are really important but also just building character in these kids is, I think, equally as important,” Eddy said.
Eddy says he has substitute taught for pretty much all of the grades in all the schools. Now though he says he’s really enjoying focusing on the fourth grade.
“I love fourth grade, they’re a lot of fun,” Eddy said. “The curriculum is really cool. They do the Oregon trail stuff, salmon life cycle stuff, things like that are a lot of fun.”
Brittany Richardson Potrzuski is a new 5th grade teacher this year but she worked at Stedman Elementary as an aide for two years before that. She moved to Petersburg from Sitka with her husband, Mik Potruski, who teaches at the middle and high school.
“Mik and I love the Petersburg School District and feel super supported by everybody here,” Potrzuski said. “Everybody puts in 110 percent, you know, it’s really nice.”
Potruski is getting her Master’s Degree in Special Education. She says she loves teaching grade school-aged kids.
“I’ve worked mostly with third through fifth grade and I’ve really enjoyed doing that. There’s so much growth that happens in those years, too, it’s really neat to watch, especially like third grade,” Potrzuski said. “I love watching the kids get excited and watching them build their confidence as they grow. I think that’s really cool.”
Kaili Watkins-Swanson is new to the school altogether although she’s taught hundreds of children in Petersburg through the local dance studio over the last decade. She also has three children of her own. Watkins-Swanson was hired as a temporary kindergarten teacher this year. She has her Master’s Degree in Dance Movement Therapy and Counseling and says since in-person teaching at the dance studio is on-hold she wanted to help the community in other ways.
“And my mind just thought, I think I could teach there. I think I could teach elementary kids,” Watkins-Swanson said. “I mean, I know a lot of them. I feel like I’m good at teaching them dance, I’m good at recognizing when kids don’t understand something and I’m good at coming at teaching from different approaches. So, I thought, let’s go for it.”
Watkins-Swanson says she plans to teach at the dance studio after her one year contract is done at the grade school. But for now, she is thrilled to be working with kindergartners.
“I love them because they are creative, they’re imaginative, you can play games with them still but you also get to see them catch on,” she said. “You see that “Ah Ha” moment when you’re teaching them steps so it’s just a beautiful age, I think.”
Eliza Warmack has been a teacher at Stedman Elementary for some years now. Last year she was a reading teacher and this year she’s teaching a combined class of 1st and 2nd graders.
The Stedman Elementary has been open on a mid-risk, yellow level for the first few weeks of school. The district plans to open up to a green low-risk level September 28th if there are no COVID-19 cases in town. For the grade school, that would mean combining classes from the morning and afternoon sessions and have school Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.
This is the first of a two-part series on new teachers in Petersburg. KFSK in newscasts Tuesday will report about three new teachers at the Mitkof Middle school.