Josh Keaton

Josh Keaton

Candidate profile: Josh Keaton, school board

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 have consistently testified on the importance of class size in K-2, however, a larger issue needs to be addressed. Parents and community members are frustrated and feel the school board is a rubber stamp for the administration and makes decisions without considering public comment. Public participation has fallen because transparency is lacking and perceptions that comments are ignored. Public involvement is necessary for the board to make informed decisions and they need to address these perceptions. If elected, I would focus on increasing transparency, enhancing public discussion and intensifying participation. Other issues include prioritizing a vibrant education for all kids and learning levels, increasing college preparation opportunities, enhancing cultural education and providing needed support to our greatest asset — teachers.

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?

Bullying exists in playgrounds, hallways, after school and online. The school district has implemented bullying prevention education starting in kindergarten and reinforced it every year. This is a great start. My oldest child (age 8) has mentioned these lessons, so I believe the message is getting across. We need to expand these programs and involve kids and parents so they have a sense of empowerment. Further, the school district needs to encourage reporting of all bullying, whether it occurs during school hours or not, and track and investigate these reports. Analyzing these reports may allow the administration to identify hot spots and develop more precise solutions.

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?

Young people think they are more informed through their use of social media. However, youth need to be engaged and learn how to evaluate the information that they are bombarded with. A government class is important for learning about democracy but it is also important to get students involved in ways that make them think critically. I am a strong supporter of interactive education and I encourage partnering with community leaders to develop a curriculum that allows students to be engaged. This could include having mock votes on issues, evaluating and debating information about a community concerns, participating in the process by using social media effectively and responsibly, and writing letters to the editor, Assembly members and legislators.

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?

I read once that school is not about fixing all social evils but rather is about eliminating the social evil of ignorance. Schools do not have the power to stop smoking, drinking and drug abuse, but they do have the power to improve a student’s knowledge, encourage good social values and smart decision making. The school district should focus on improving this education and partner with the police department, medical professionals and other community services to expand students’ knowledge of the dangers and consequences of alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

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?

Respecting other people was strongly emphasized in my childhood. To address the epidemic of abuse and domestic violence we need to instill the principle of respect in all children. The schools are a good environment to teach respect and wise decision making. Education about reproductive health, respect of other’s choices and responsible sexuality is necessary to reduce rates of teenage pregnancy, sexual assault and STDs. As a parent, I will ensure my children have a comprehensive sex education; unfortunately some kids will not have that opportunity. Therefore, I support a health curriculum that includes a non-biased and comprehensive education on reproductive health and responsible sexuality. I also support a parent’s choice to remove their child from class during these lessons.

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?

Decades of research consistently show the lifelong benefits of pre-K programs. They improve academic proficiency in the short term and in the long term, they increase graduation rates among other effects. Economic analyses consistently show that investments in pre-K education have among the highest payoffs of any government policy. The school board and district need to promote a strong statement of support for pre-K programs and to document need with a cost/benefit analysis that the public can easily understand. The community can then use this document in conversations with the Assembly and the Alaska Legislature to seek additional resources to provide this important education for all students.

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?

I am committed to learning about the budget and presenting new ideas to manage budget challenges. I believe it would be irresponsible to suggest reductions without first understanding the impacts a reduction will have. However, my priority is providing the best education with available resources. This includes keeping class size in the K-2 grades at the lowest possible levels. Most states have either mandated or incentivized a maximum K-2 class size of between 17 and 22 students. Juneau has K-2 classes with more than 26 students. Studies have shown that smaller class sizes in K-2 result in better performance in later grades and higher graduation rates.

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