Deedie Sorensen is running for one of two open seat on the Board of Education. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Deedie Sorensen is running for one of two open seat on the Board of Education. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Meet the Candidates: Retired teacher Sorensen brings ground-level experience

More than 30 years with Juneau school district give her plenty of background

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.

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.”

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

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.

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 7 a.m.-8 p.m.


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


More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

Juneau high school seniors Edward Hu of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé (left), Elizabeth Djajalie of Thunder Mountain High School (center) and Kenyon Jordan of Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School. (Photos of Hu and Jordan by Juneau Empire staff, photo of Djajalie by Victor Djajalie)
Senior Spotlight 2024: Three top students take very different paths to graduation stage

Ceremonies for Juneau’s three high schools take place Sunday.

The entrance road to Bartlett Regional Hospital. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Bartlett Regional Hospital looking at eliminating or trimming six ‘non-core’ programs to stabilize finances

Rainforest Recovery Center, autism therapy, crisis stabilization, hospice among programs targeted.

A king salmon. (Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Biden administration advances bid to list Gulf of Alaska king salmon as endangered or threatened

Experts say request could restrict activity affecting river habitats such as road, home construction

Mayor Beth Weldon (left), Deputy Mayor Michelle Bonnet Hale and Juneau Assembly member Paul Kelly discussion proposals for next year’s mill rate during an Assembly Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Assembly members support lower 10.04 mill rate ahead of final vote on next year’s CBJ budget

Initial proposal called for raising current rate of 10.16 mills to 10.32 mills.

Dave Scanlan, general manager of Eaglecrest Ski Area, speaks to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee on April 13, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Dave Scanlan forced out as Eaglecrest’s general manager, says decision ‘came as a complete shock to me’

Resort’s leader for past 7 years says board seeking a “more office-process, paper-oriented” manager.

The entrance to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.’s Anchorage office is seen on Aug. 11, 2023. The state-owned AGDC is pushing for a massive project that would ship natural gas south from the North Slope, liquefy it and send it on tankers from Cook Inlet to Asian markets. The AGDC proposal is among many that have been raised since the 1970s to try commercialize the North Slope’s stranded natural gas. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Eight young Alaskans sue to block proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline

Plaintiffs cite climate change that harms their access to fish, wildlife and natural resources.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, May 21, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read