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’llfind 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.
Martin Stepetin Sr. was born in Anchorage and raised on St. Paul Island in the Pribilof Islands, more than 1,200 miles from here.
He’s a transplant to the capital city, like many Juneauites, and moved here in 2011.
Working for Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and with four children in various grades of the Juneau School District, he very much has stake in the strength of Juneau schools.
“I want to bring my ideas and my thoughts to the board,” Stepetin said. “I want to continue what’s happening right now. I don’t want to change anything, I just want to be in place to help make decisions.”
Stepetin said he’s very pleased with how the board is operating right now and wants to help keep it running smoothly.
“This board is a really good board that listens and is responsive to its community and tries to represent the community,” Stepetin said.
Stepetin, whose children are Tlingit, would like to see expansion of the school district’s Tlingit Culture and Language Literacy Program to a second location.
Both of his children in first grade are currently taking part in the program, Stepetin said, learning about their heritage. The program is not limited only to Alaska Natives, Stepetin said, but to anyone who applies.
“The Alaska education system was not a friend to Alaskan languages. That’s where a lot of language and culture was lost,” Stepetin said. “I think it’s only fitting that the school takes a part in maintaining what’s left of our Tlingit cultures and Tlingit language and Alaskan Native heritage.”
Stepetin is also an advocate of expanding pre-K learning programs, including the Head Start program. Stepetin also emphasized an increased focus on working with all students to ensure a functional knowledge of reading at an early age.
“Alaska has the worst reading rates in the country,” Stepetin said. “There needs to be more awareness made to teachers, to parents, to students. There needs to be more time and energy put into that. Something’s got to get fixed.”
Stepetin also emphasized the need to find solutions for Juneau’s worsening educational infrastructure, citing schools with leaky roofs and at least two schools that needed a complete overhaul, Marie Drake and Mendenhall River Elementary.
“I want to help guide us through the tough times,” Stepetin said. “If there’s ever been a time when we need strong leadership, it’s right now. On all boards, on all councils.”
Stepetin’s agenda, he says, is to strengthen Juneau’s schools across the board, and ensure that even as the state and city face hard decisions, all students in Juneau will get the best possible chance to succeed.
“I don’t know everything. I’m young. I’m learning and I’m willing to do the work,” Stepetin said. “And I really do care about everybody in the school district. I’m an advocate for everyone.”
In his personal life, Stepetin says, his favorite restaurant in Juneau is The Island Pub in Douglas. When asked what flavor of ice cream he identified as, he responded with a clear and unambiguous “Chunky Monkey,” a blend of banana flavored ice cream with walnuts and fudge chunks.
Candidate Bio (In their own words)
Martin Stepetin Sr. was born in Anchorage and grew up on St. Paul Island. He currently works for Tlingit and Haida’s Business and Economic Department and in the past has worked extensively as a commercial fisherman. He and his wife Ann have four children.
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.
Increased reading scores and expand the Tlingit Culture Language, and Literacy Program (TCLL). Reading readiness and literacy by 3rd grade is in the current strategic plan. In 2017, only River Bend accomplished this goal. We are missing a very simple but important element in teaching our students to read – that is love and passion of reading! Seeing yourself in material you read. Teaching phonics and the mechanics of reading is important but it doesn’t make a student love reading.
For Tlingit Languages, TCLL. We have one location with about 160 students. Every year people get turned away because there is not enough space for more students. Ideally I’d like to see a second TCLL location open in the Valley.
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?
You can’t start too soon.
The reason we have the goal set at being ready in 3rd grade is only because we want to improve our statewide national scores.
I believe we need to begin broad, focused, reading instructions for our students starting in kindergarten. Raise parent, student and teacher awareness of individual students’ reading ability.
What does a proficient reading student sound like, look like compared to a non-proficient reading student. We should have a short video of that exact comparison in all classes. I believe a little awareness can go a long way in helping our community focus on this problem.
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?
The good news is we have retained our student body in greater numbers than most other districts in Southeast. We have lost about 800 students. If current research is correct, then we should hopefully not lose many more students and that is why I would not support shutting down any schools any time soon.
Mitigating budget cuts will be extremely tough at least in the near future. As a school district, I hope we are doing everything we can to get the state to raise the Base Student Allocation. This alone would solve most of our budget problems.
The city of Juneau is extremely supportive and picks up many of our budget items. We need to maintain this support level.
Question 4: What should be the role of the district in regard to pre-K education?
Our school district can legally spend money on pre-K education but with dollars spread so thin already, where would we take from to support pre-K?
I don’t have that answer. But, all I know is, we win and we lose most of our students in pre-K. As a goal I think we should set for our district, let’s support pre-K at least enough so that every student that wants to be in pre-K has that opportunity.
Question 5: What role can or should the district play in helping to revitalize the Tlingit language?
The best time to teach a person is when they are young. For Tlingit Languages, TCLL does this very well already.
The bottom line is if we really want to take Tlingit Languages seriously we need to expand the TCLL program to a second location. Preferably in the valley. This would double the spots available to parents wanting their kids in TCLL.
Question 6: How can civics education be strengthened in Juneau schools?
I believe civics education can best be taught by teaching and showing actual history of how daily life, culture, politics and race relations were here in Juneau throughout the ages and showing how those aspects have changed over time.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or email@example.com.