Deedie Sorensen has spent more than 30 years in Juneau, all of them as a teacher. Even after retiring in 2010, she still substitute teaches for the Juneau School District.
Sorensen’s seen the fortunes of educators in Alaska’s capital city ebb and flow since the early 1980s. She’s concerned that right now, we’re looking at an ebb tide, as the benefits and retirement prospects for teachers in Alaska dwindle.
“If Alaska wants to have qualified teachers come here and stay here, they’re moving in the wrong direction,” Sorensen said. “It’s not just teachers. It’s troopers and firemen and policemen.”
Sorensen said one of the reasons she’s running for the Juneau Board of Education is because she’s concerned about how students are evaluated and tested in the learning process. Some students respond better to some methods than others, Sorensen said, and teachers need to be supported and trusted to develop students in the face of an emphasis on student achievement and results. Meaningful staff development and making sure teachers have resources to teach diverse students is key, Sorensen said.
“It’s important that we have a system that is prepared to address multiple ways of teaching and learning because there is no one magic textbook or one magic methodology,” Sorensen said. “It is the school’s job to make sure we’re instructing children in a way they can learn.”
Sorensen believes the school district should support trauma-informed teaching, which is understanding that children coming from adverse circumstances might have difficulty learning or functioning at a level with other children.
“We need to understand that if more time in the classroom is being used coping with behavioral and emotional issues, that those are minutes you never get back for the content areas,” Sorensen said. “It’s a community issue. We need to be clear that we want our teachers to be subject matter experts, but that it’s unrealistic to expect them to be a therapist.”
Sorensen also expressed deep concerns about the ingress of testing into the curriculum employed by the schools.
“We are currently a nation obsessed with tests that are created and sold by the same companies that want to sell us the next textbook,” Sorensen said. “The long-term impact of our obsession with high stakes tests has been a narrowing of what we make time to teach in schools.”
Sorensen lives with her husband. Their son graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School, Sorensen said. When not acting as a long- or short-term sub for the Juneau School District, Sorensen said she enjoys reading, gardening, and the odd breakfast at the Valley Restaurant.
Every candidate’s final questions was: what kind of ice cream would you be? Sorensen’s answer: “Raspberry sorbet!”
Candidate Bio (In their own words)
Deedie Sorensen was born in Billings, Montana, and has lived in Juneau since 1981. She has two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Montana, one in Elementary Education and another in Sociology and Anthropology. She has a master’s in education from Eastern Montana College. She retired from elementary school teaching in 2018 after 45 years.
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.
I believe we need to maximize the effective use of the existing school day by addressing the following:
• School Safety: Safety/behavioral challenges and threats both external and internal are impacting learning time in our schools.
The number of students with serious behavioral and emotional issues continue to increase. The district needs a clear strategy to provide timely, knowledgeable support to individuals in crisis and provide a consistent safe and productive learning environment for all students.
• Meaningful District level assessment: There are mandated federal and state assessments. Other assessment that mandate learning time and District funds need to provide clear, specific information that directly and immediately informs content instruction i.e. the need for specific remediation or different instructional strategies.
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?
There is no one magic method to teach reading to all students.
Sixty percent of students will learn to read using any viable method of reading instruction. Of the rest, some will need specific differentiated instruction to achieve reading success or time for their brains to mature, while a very few may not read.
The district is locked into a single model of reading instruction and remediation. The district needs skilled staff in both regular and special education to diagnose student learning strengths and provide differentiated reading instruction, assess the instructional “fit” and change to a new strategy if the student is not making progress.
When young children struggle with reading, the responsibility for successful instruction rests with the school.
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?
Budgetary issues will definitely have a substantial impact in future board decisions.
While I don’t have an issue with the concept, there are many issues surrounding school consolidation beyond redrawing student boundaries or merging secondary programs that would need to be evaluated in order to make an educationally and fiscally sound decision.
After facilities, the school budget is composed of programs and personnel.
That list has been cut back several times. Again, it will take significant information to determine how to make reductions that will do the least immediate and lasting damage to our students and community.
Question 4: What should be the role of the district in regard to pre-K education?
The district needs to continue to press the case for the importance of pre-K education at the state funding level.
The district is currently communicating with pre-K providers throughout the community. I have a Master’s with the emphasis in early childhood education.
I know that early childhood education starts in infancy and proceeds from there. Language is an interactive learning process. Children don’t learn language from a screen, even with sound.
Perhaps the district can be a partner in a communitywide education program outlining the importance of talking with and listening to your child or grandchild, in addition to actively reading with them beginning at a very early age.
Question 5: What role can or should the district play in helping to revitalize the Tlingit language?
The school board has already moved to adopt this policy.
Historically, it was educational institutions that actively promoted the suppression of Native languages. The school district has engaged with Tlingit community members and leaders in a restorative language collaboration.
Learning a different language is good for brain development, so from that perspective it will be a benefit for all students.
I believe that our classroom teachers already have plates that are overflowing with countless additional things they are expected to address in a finite amount of time and constantly under the administrative and governmental microscope of test results.
If Tlingit language is to be added to the classroom teacher’s plate, the additional impact on teachers needs to be addressed.
Question 6: How can civics education be strengthened in Juneau schools?
Millennials seem to be more politically engaged then the previous generation, I would like to think that their education influenced their civic engagement.
However, decades of accountability focused testing effectively reduced the emphasis on social studies, including history and civics beginning at the elementary level.
I believe it is imperative that our students leave high school understanding not only the structural elements of our constitutional democracy but the responsibility of every citizen to actively participate by voting and communicating with elected officials.
To that end, our students need a critical understanding of American history. They need to be truth and fact seekers, so that they are empowered to move the vision of “…freedom and justice for all” forward.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or email@example.com.