Longtime Juneau resident Thomas Buzard hopes to give back to the community he has called home for the last 21 years.
He’d like to do that by serving on the Juneau School District Board of Education and is currently running for one of three open seats. In October, he will face off against five other candidates for a spot on the board.
In a recent interview with the Empire, he said he’s running because “he’s found things lacking through the school system.”
Buzard, who said he is “technically retired” from the pest control business, is a father of five and a grandfather of five. He said that his experience as a parent with Juneau schools has been “mediocre to poor” and that he’d like to drive changes to make the experience better for others.
“When I would go in to see the principal, I felt like one of the students. They talked down to me,” he said.
Buzard said that he has ideas to make school more interesting for students and to improve test scores. He’s also a proponent of lifting the current student and staff mask mandate.
During an early August Zoom meeting, Buzard called on school board members to drop the student mask mandate in favor of letting parents decide what to do about student masking — a perspective he shares with fellow candidate Aaron Spratt.
“Sadly, some will get sick and die but there is no other way to beat this. Be reasonable and unmask the kids and let it move through,” he said, adding that he supports some mitigation measures, such as handwashing. “Being on the school board does not include tyranny.”
All students and staff are currently required to wear masks inside the school but can remove them when outside. In addition, the district requires all unvaccinated students involved in sports or activities to have a weekly COVID-19 test, a process that started last spring —and a practice encouraged by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The school district’s guidelines are consistent with the mitigation strategies in place for the City and Borough of Juneau and reflect the advice of the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Currently, Juneau is experiencing a spike in infections, and many schools in the district have reported cases despite the precautions in place.
During his Empire interview, Buzard said that he thinks curriculum changes — including a more significant emphasis on vocational education — would drive test score improvement and engage more students in their education.
“On the one hand, we see our schools preparing some students very well,” he said. “But the majority are not being prepared for the rigors of the world today.”
He said that a lack of driver’s education classes and inadequate vocational training leaves many students behind. He said that local mines are desperate for workers and that the mines have to look outside Juneau to find employees who must travel here from the Lower 48. He said Juneau’s school could better prepare students to fill those jobs and others in the trades.
“They are lacking vocations. No welding. No auto shop. We aren’t preparing them for trades. All that’s available to them out of high school is service industry jobs,” he said. “Not everyone is college-bound. You’ll never get the entire population through college. Some of the subject matter that people see as germaine is up for debate. I believe if we had a more well-rounded curriculum, more kids would do better,” he said.
According to online course catalogs, Juneau’s high schools offer a wide range of vocational education classes, including woods, construction, metals, home building, auto mechanics, small engine repair, engineering, computer-based drafting and culinary arts. Based on class descriptions, welding is covered explicitly in two of the three metals classes available. Diploma endorsements are available for vocational training.
According to Ted Wilson, director, teacher and learning support for the Juneau School District, driver’s education is not offered.
“Driver’s ed has not been a JSD offering in the 26 years I have been with the district. It would be a substantial cost to the district,” Wilson said in an email to the Empire.
Additionally, Buzard called for more local control of curriculum decisions. He also supports moving away from national standards and looking for ways to increase student knowledge about the U.S. Constitution and other civic matters.
“Our students need to know what Alaskans went through,” he said.
At the younger grades, Buzard said he is a “big fan” of teaching cursive.
“I’m shocked by the people who can’t write in cursive,” he said.
According to Wilson, Juneau students do learn cursive, but it’s not a focus area.
“Keyboarding has supplanted it as the key skill to obtain,” Wilson said in an email. “Primary grades do still work on the development of printing skills.”
Buzard arrived in Alaska 47 years ago and moved to Juneau in the late 1990s. Buzzard cited “40 years of successful parenting, a lifetime of working and unique problem-solving skills” among the qualifications he brings to the board.
He said he is self-taught on several subjects and is particularly interested in human behavior and what motivates people to do things. He’s a U.S. Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam era but did not see service in Vietnam.
He’s a self-described news buff and said he likes to stay current with movies. He said he watches “lots of YouTube” and gets his news from “all the letters,” across different networks ranging from Fox News to MSNBC. Online, he turns to NewsMax and Breitbart News.
He said he is “a sucker for Mexican food” and thinks El Zarape offers the best local fare. He’s also a fan of Twisted Fish.
He enjoys camping, Oktoberfest celebrations and riding the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tram at night when all the lights of Juneau are visible.
About the election
Buzard is running against four newcomers and one incumbent for one of three open seats.
The election will take place on Oct. 5 and will be conducted primarily by mail.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at email@example.com or 907-308-4891.