The Juneau Board of Education met Tuesday night, Aug. 13, at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. At the meeting, they voted unanimously to adopt their 2020 Capital Improvement Plan, asking for $31 million to overhaul the Marie Drake building. They also amended the proposed budget to include $500,000 for the roof of Floyd Dryden Middle School.
A proposal to adopt the Indigenous Language Policy, supporting certified learning and teaching of Alaska Native language and culture, was unanimously adopted to applause of the board and citizens attended the meeting.
In the board’s working sessions, members talked about modifying language and question methodology to get better data for tweaking programs and policies.
The school year for grades 1-12 begins on Monday, Aug. 19.
“We submit this list in the hopes that they’ll score our projects highly, meaning that they’re in greatest need,” Jahn said, speaking about the 6-Year Capital Improvement Project Plan. These are physical projects that the school district evaluates as necessary with assistance from CBJ engineers.
High on this list is the Marie Drake building, built in 1965. “The building really needs a full renovation like we’ve done with several of the elementary schools over the years,” Jahn said.
The estimated cost of a full overhaul is estimated at $31 million. Other projects include roof repairs for Floyd Dryden Middle School, estimated at $500,000.
“We live in a rain forest, and we have wet, leaky roofs,” Jahn said.
Board members talked about retiring Marie Drake, knocking it over and restarting. But Jahn said that the building’s thick concrete means that it’s a very sturdy building- it would be cheaper and more efficient to gut the building and rebuild the interior to modern standards.
“If I wanted to blow up that building, I couldn’t,” Jahn said.
The school board adopted the modified Capital Improvement Plan unanimously.
Kristin Bartlett, Juneau School District office chief of staff, addressed the board about the district’s Indigenous Language Policy. “I’d like to thank everyone on the board for being so supportive of this policy,” Short said. He went on to laud the policy’s cultural sensitivity and support. “It’s been on of the highlights of my three years on the board,” said board member Steve Whitney.
Martin Stepetin Sr., Alaska Native and candidate for the school board, came to speak his support for the policy. “I wanted to commemorate this administration and the school board for supporting indigenous languages. This administration and school board have been overwhelming in their support for native languages and culture,” Stepetin said.
Stepetin went on to talk about how his children know more about the Tlingit language and culture because of the Juneau School District’s certified Tlingit teachers.
“I just want to say, I love it. Thank you so much for doing it,” Stepetin said, thanking the board for their deep support for Alaska Native culture and language.
The policy was adopted by unanimous vote.
“One thing I forgot to mention, we have the start of school around the corner!” laughed Weiss. The next two days will involve training and in-service work for all the teachers working for the school this year with over 100 sessions planned.
First grade through twelfth grade will begin their school year on Monday, Aug. 19.
“We want to make sure we have the safety features in place so that if we have a leak in that room it won’t be substantial,” said Weiss, talking about a leaky fitting that allowed a water heater to have a major leak. Jahn talked about the repair process, including updating and repairing fittings and pumps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“When we look at safety, we work so closely with the police department,” said Weiss, talking about safety and security issues of the school. The school is looking at beginning a formal relationship with the JPD, Weiss said.
Enrollment numbers are also looking positive before the school year begins.
“We’re a little above our projected enrollment,” Weiss said. “That’s really good news for us.”
With the conclusion of the working session, the public meeting begins. Member of the Juneau School District maintenance team were honored for their hard work keeping the lights on the facilities running.
“They do work very well coordinated together,” said Sarah Jahn, director of administrative services for the school district. “Thank you for taking on the challenges you have. It makes a huge difference.”
“We’re not asking them to define success,” Weiss said. “We’re asking them, for whatever their specific definition for success for their child or their neighbor’s child is, how can we help them accomplish that.”
“What do you expect the Juneau School District to provide for your child?” Holst said, phrasing a question that will go out to parents as they debated the language.
“The value of the responses is the freedom of thought,” Weiss said. Questions framed too narrowly may not generate useful information beyond a yes or a no; more broadly framed questions may shake loose more useful answers or ideas, Weiss side. “This mechanism drives it based on the interactivity of it and the openness of it,” Weiss said.
Other questions are things like “what is your greatest expectation for your child from the Juneau School District,” and “What is the most important thing that your child should learn before leaving the Juneau School District.”
“Kindergarten is where it starts, and high school is where it ends,” said board member Jeff Short. “But I’m not thinking about just those years. It’s an integrated process,” Short said, talking about looking at the students after they’d graduated to better understand how effective the integrated education had been and find ways to improve to overall educational process.
Board members also discussed the phrasing of questions asked in order to solicit improvements. Some ways of asking questions are more effective than others, especially when trying to generate useful, actionable responses for streamlining and improving programs and policies. “If I have to think, ‘what are they really asking,’ I’m less likely to jump in and answer it,” Weiss said.
Weiss also talked about standardization of terms through entire programs and policies. This allows teachers to clearly, quickly, and efficiently interpret what desired outcomes and best practices are without any confusion from changing terminology.
“When we make a new plan we should get as many perspectives as possible so we create a plan that reflects what the community wants,” said Holst. The new plan will not be adopted until new members of the school board are elected for the two vacant seats, allowing them to shape the new strategic plan. Weiss said that the five school board candidates will be invited to participate before the election so that the two new members in October can hit the ground running, making sure that the new strategic plan is ready by January.
“I’m really worried about the Assembly funding a Pre-K program that doesn’t have the same emphasis on quality as we do,” said Holst. Weiss talked about the methodologies and making sure the process of monitoring indicators with scientific rigor so that the school board had accurate, comprehensive data with which to make accurate decisions. “In a relatively short period of time, there’s a lot of input that can happen,” Weiss said.
“We’re looking for an action plan,” Weiss said. “We don’t want something to look pretty on a poster on the wall. It needs to drive steps.”
Ted Wilson, director of teaching and learning support for the Juneau School District., said it’s important to find teachers from the same cultural background as the students where possible, but that the commitment of every member of the school district must be to support the students, no matter what cultural and economic background they’re from, to give them the best chance of succeeding.
Board members discussed a number of indicators that the school board monitors in order to react and modify its programming for maximum benefit to the students. Basic academic skills for children entering kindergarten and reading proficiency were two issues that were brought up. Algebra, problem solving skills, and college-preperatory schools such as comprehension and critical reading are also measured. More data, fed back to the school board from University of Alaska Southeast, allows the school board to see how students have internalized those skills and applied them effectively in college.
Holst brought up the last strategic plan, enacted five years ago. Tonight, board members will be going over what worked with the strategic plan and what could be done better.
“It needs to be designed by us for us from a variety of perspectives,” said superintendent Dr. Bridget Weiss. “We can’t accomplish anything in a strategic without this balanced team.”
Board of Education President Brian Holst opened the meeting. Board members introduced themselves, beginning the meeting. Many but not all of the school board members either graduated from Juneau schools or have children going through the system right now.
The Juneau Board of Education Meets tonight at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for a meeting. The school year begins next week.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.