Emil Robert Mackey III is running for a seat on the Juneau School District’s Board of Education. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Emil Robert Mackey III is running for a seat on the Juneau School District’s Board of Education. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Meet the Candidates: Mackey runs for school board again

He’s the only candidate who has previously held the seat

Editor’s Note: Ahead of the Oct. 1 municipal election, the Empire is publishing articles on the candidates running for Assembly and Board of Education seats. The articles will be published Tuesday through Friday. The Empire is also partnering with the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse parties nor candidates. Below each article, you’ll find six questions that the League developed. Candidates had a 120-word limit per answer. In cooperation with the Empire and KTOO, the League will hold a candidate forum on Sept. 17 at KTOO from 7-9 p.m. with a meet the candidates’ reception from 6:30 to 7.

With a doctorate in higher education policy from University of Arkansas and previous tenancy on the Juneau Board of Education, Emil Mackey certainly has the experience for the job.

After declining to run for the school board several years ago with the birth of his son, and an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Assembly, Mackey will run once again for the Board of Education this election.

“The education of our children is critically important to the future of this city and the state of Alaska,” Mackey said. “I am a trained educator and I bring skills and qualifications that are very beneficial to this position.”

Mackey’s experience and background will leave him in good stead as a member of the Board of Education, he said. In this time of shrinking state education budgets, Mackey said, a steady hand at the helm is critical.

[Here’s who is running for this year’s Assembly, school board seats]

“We’re basically facing our lowest state funding since the mid-1990s,” Mackey said. “I think the greatest thing we can do is make the Legislature aware of the effects of flat funding.”

Along with attempting to deal with the state’s paltry financial support, Mackey also looked inward for things to work on, seeking to improve two particular areas of the curriculum. The first is keeping class sizes for grades 1-6 as small as possible, helping teachers to give the best possible service during those critical years. The second is to work on setting up students for better post-graduation outcomes, be it in the form of college or technical schools.

“I believe that career and technical education should terminate with a postsecondary occupational endorsement,” Mackey said, referring to a common practice in many other states.

Other improvements Mackey wants to make include quicker meetings, improvements to the district’s aging buildings and expanded language programs. Mackey also supports the expansion of trauma-informed teaching methods, as a way to help students who may have an adverse home life affecting their ability to learn.

“I would like to see us incorporate a Filipino language teacher, to respect their culture,” Mackey said.

Other concerns include dilapidated buildings that will need comprehensive overhaul to render functional, particularly the Marie Drake Building and Mendenhall River Elementary School.

The Marie Drake Building is the Juneau school in the most need of an update. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The Marie Drake Building is the Juneau school in the most need of an update. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

“I believe no meeting should go past 9 p.m.,” Mackey said. “People’s time is the greatest restriction for access to the board.”

Outside of work, Mackey enjoys working on home projects and spending time with his young son. Owner of dogs, cats and chickens, Mackey says he enjoys eating pho, or going to Tracy’s Crab shack.

All candidates were also required to say which flavor of ice cream they identify as. Mackey rated himself a dark chocolate raspberry: bland on the surface but always satisfying.

Candidate Bio (In their own words)

Emil “Robert” Mackey was born in Arkansas and has lived in Alaska since 2007 and Juneau since 2013. He previously served on the Juneau school board from 2015-18 and works in insurance. He has a Ph. D. in Public Policy from the University of Arkansas as well as a master’s degree in Curriculum Design and Instruction from University of Alaska Fairbanks. He currently serves on the Juneau Board of Equalization. Additional information can be found at emilmacky.com.

Question 1: The School Board is working on a new five-year strategic plan for the district. Please identify and explain the importance of two items you will advocate for inclusion in the plan.

College and Career Readiness. Every child should graduate fully prepared for college or to enter an apprenticeship or the workforce with a valued degree or certificate. I would like to see Career and Technical Education expanded.

Improved Facility Efficiency, Safety, and Educational Quality: Boring topic, but classrooms and buildings are critical to educating. Riverbend’s roof needs replacement and leaks. Other roofs are nearing the end of their lives. I want it stated that the district will not defer maintenance and a commitment to improving the safety and energy costs in all school properties.

Question 2: Reading at grade level by the third grade is a key indicator of future success in school. What more should the district do to support early literacy?

The best bang for the buck is to support quality preschool and Pre-K like the Juneau Best Starts initiative. Proven benefits include:

1. Increased achievement between preschool participation and children’s literacy and math outcomes.

2. Increased positive behavioral self-control and positive external behaviors toward others than children without quality Pre-K.

3. Significant achievement gains among minority and economically challenged populations. For me, continuing to work with CBJ and expand Pre-K is critical to addressing early literacy, but also improving other educational outcomes, closing the gaps for minority populations.

For more info on benefits, please Google: Preschool and children’s outcomes in elementary school: Have patterns changed nationwide between 1998 and 2010? Authors: Bassok, D., Gibbs, C. R., & Latham, S.

Question 3: With the sizable budget budget reductions the District has faced over the last several years and with more cuts anticipated, is it time to look at consolidation of some schools? Why or why not? What other actions should be considered to mitigate budget cuts?

I have nothing against school consolidations if it will save money. However, due to the funding formula and grants JSD receives like the free and reduced lunch program.

Consolidating schools would actually cost more since it would reduce eligibility for many schools to receive full funding for these grants.

However, the time is coming as our student population shrinks and I am willing to cross that bridge when we get there. It is unconstitutional for JSD to increase funding on its own.

The Molly Hooch settlement is clear that the state is responsible for adequately funding education. Until the State of Alaska stops flat-funding education, cuts will have to continue to make-up for inflationary costs.

Question 4: What should be the role of the District in regard to pre-K education?

Unlike K-12 education, pre-K is not constitutionally tied to the State of Alaska. Nor is our ability to fund pre-K limited by the Molly Hooch settlement.

Quality pre-K and quality preschool would close the achievement gap for many students. This, over the long-term, would likely reduce special education costs and allow the district to shift more money to general education for all students.

We should continue to partner with CBJ and community partners to fully fund quality pre-K and other quality preschool programs both within and external to the district.

Question 5: What role can or should the District play in helping to revitalize the Tlingit language?

We should continue to support programs like the TCL. I may also be persuaded to support a single Tlingit Language Charter or Magnet School if there is adequate interest and space available.

Such a program, if hosted on-site in an existing school, would also generate revenue for the district and offset budget reductions since Charter Schools receive extra funding to cover site costs.

Any program that would address the Tlingit language revitalization effort and also increase district funding seems like a win-win to me. This would have to pencil out, however, and the details mean everything.

Question 6: How can civics education be strengthened in Juneau schools?

I am a certified civics teacher. I would like to see every child take Civics, American Government, and an economics course before leaving high school.

However, I do not see how that can be achieved under the current funding levels and limited to a 6-credit day and 21-unit graduation requirement.

However, the Juneau School District approved and is implementing a new Social Studies curriculum of which I am very impressed. The district needs to fully fund this curriculum and materials and ensure all new teachers are well-qualified and trained to teach it. The curriculum is available on the JSD website if anyone wants to read it.

Schedule of candidate profiles

Tuesday: Carole Triem (Assembly Areawide) and Emil Robert Mackey III (School Board)

Wednesday: Wade Bryson (Assembly District 2) and Deedie Sorensen (School Board)

Thursday: Assembly candidate Alicia Hughes-Skandijs (District 1) and school board candidate Martin Stepetin Sr. (School Board)

Friday: Greg Smith (Assembly District 1) and Bonnie Jensen (School Board)

Important election dates

Sept. 16: Early and absentee voting begins

Sept. 24: Last day to receive applications for absentee by-mail ballots in Clerk’s office

Sept. 26: Last day to file “write in” candidacy letter of intent

Sept. 30: Last day to submit application for fax ballot, 5 p.m.

Oct. 1: Election day, polls open 7a.m.-8 p.m.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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