If you are elected to the Juneau Board of Education, what major issue do you hope to address with the school district, students, parents, teachers and administration during your term?
I will continue to work on building trust through my experience, integrity, openness and hard work as our community and our board strive to provide the best learning environment possible. It is critical that children feel safe, that families can count on an excellent education in every school, and that staff feel supported. These imperatives certainly have become more challenging as we adjust to continuing budget reductions, higher standards, the rapid advancement of technology and some tough real-life situations facing today’s youth.
Bullying continues to be a problem in Juneau as well as nationwide. What steps would you suggest to address and decrease bullying (both cyber and traditional) in our schools?
The school district must have zero tolerance for mistreatment of any sort. Bullying is a learned behavior and a reflection of what occurs in a community. And it often is deliberately perpetrated when adults are not present. The Board of Education has asked staff and counselors to look at a more unified program to ensure that all kids are exposed to a common language related to identifying bullying and how to address those behaviors. A key to reducing any kind of bullying is to help youth know that bystanders are powerful helpers. Children and youth need to know how to safely and confidentially report such behavior and all adults working with children need to be trained on appropriate response and intervention.
Given the importance of an informed and engaged electorate to the democratic process, what more should the Juneau School District do to assure that students understand their roles as citizens in our democracy?
The world looks to the U.S as leaders in giving students critical thinking skills. This must continue in all aspects of the curriculum in discussing world and local issues. There are exceptional efforts by staff and students happening in the district. I think of teachers who help students register voters, assign articles to write for the paper on current issues, student councils who schedule forums to hear candidates for local and state offices and community service requirements. The social studies curriculum is currently under review. I will look for many hands-on experiences to be incorporated and expectations for all students to have similar experiences, not just dependent on the interest of the teacher that a child gets.
The use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, street drugs and now increased availability of marijuana among students is a critical and ongoing issue. What should the school district do, if anything, to address these issues?
The district should continue the drug testing program for students in activities. Anecdotal evidence from health providers indicate that it is helping kids stay off drugs. I believe the volunteer drug testing program is beneficial and should be happening. About 500 students were participating at one time. While prevention programs like DARE and information on hazards of drugs in health classes are being taught, our youth need to learn how to handle stresses and adverse childhood experiences without self-medicating. Mindfulness practices, yoga, stress reduction techniques and brain health should be taught in all of our schools. I am working to obtain resources to add more counselors to our district. Kids coming back from treatment need support to stay clean.
The state of Alaska has continually ranked number one in the U.S. for the highest rates of sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and chlamydia. Given these statistics, do you believe that reproductive health care and information about responsible sexuality should be a part of health education curriculum for students?
Yes. Our society is a very information rich, with easy access to “facts” that may not be accurate. Sexuality is a powerful force in our culture today. Unfortunately, research shows that many adults with whom children and youth feel safest with have caused more harm, as opposed to “the stranger.” Information on reproductive health and healthy relationships is offered in health classes, which is a graduation requirement. In middle school some information is also given and in fourth and fifth grade children learn about how their bodies are changing. AWARE gives information on good touch/bad touch in our elementary schools. The Juneau Health Center operates at all three high schools, although parents need to give permission to students under 18 to attend.
Research shows the value of Pre-K school programs. What can the school board do to strengthen such programs and assure adequate funding for this important educational effort so that all students can benefit?
It is well-established that early learning is fundamental to life-long success. Children not reading with peers by third grade have a one-in-eight chance of catching up, often drop out, and become a cost to society in terms of incarceration, welfare and public health. The board must continue a campaign to ensure understanding that reading and talking to the youngest children builds healthy brains ready for learning. The district provides limited pre-school programs in five elementary schools, including partnerships with Head Start. This year, a Montessori pre-school is opening as well. The state does not automatically fund education for children younger than 5. Thus, the public must be well-informed about the benefits of early learning — and then advocate for it.
The Juneau School District has experienced budget cuts year after year, and the cycle is likely to continue. What areas of the budget would you target for reductions, and how does the pupil-to-teacher ratio impact that decision?
About 90 percent of the budget pays for people. The district has cut more than 120 jobs in five years as state funding has failed to keep pace with costs. It would be ideal if additional administrative efficiencies can be identified, although that sector has taken the largest percentage of cuts to date. Special education is costly at $15 million. If we can continue to train staff to intervene with struggling students so that they do not need special services, savings may be achieved. Finally, health care premiums are significant. One-third of personnel costs go to health benefits. The board has worked hard to keep a cap on class sizes, but that has been increasingly difficult as basic costs outstrip revenues.