Martin Stepetin Sr. is running for the Juneau Board of Education. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Martin Stepetin Sr. is running for the Juneau Board of Education. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Meet the candidates: Stepetin raises his hand again

This isn’t his first time running for public office

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.

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

“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

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 June 15

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 13, 2024

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

Bill Thomas, a former Republican state representative from Haines, announced Friday he is dropping out of the race for the District 3 House seat this fall. (U.S. Sustainability Alliance photo)
Bill Thomas drops out of District 3 House race, says there isn’t time for fishing and campaigning

Haines Republican cites rough start to commercial season; incumbent Andi Story now unopposed.

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, speaks at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention on May 18 at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Peltola among few Democrats to vote for annual defense bill loaded with GOP ‘culture war’ amendments

Alaska congresswoman expresses confidence “poison pills” will be removed from final legislation.

A celebratory sign stands outside Goldbelt Inc.’s new building during the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Jan. 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Medical company sues Goldbelt for at least $30M in contract dispute involving COVID-19 vaccine needles

Company says it was stuck with massive stock of useless needles due to improper specs from Goldbelt.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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

A yearling black bear waits for its mother to return. Most likely she won’t. This time of year juvenile bears are separated, sometimes forcibly, by their mothers as families break up during mating season. (Photo courtesy K. McGuire)
Bearing witness: Young bears get the boot from mom

With mating season for adults underway, juveniles seek out easy food sources in neighborhoods.

A chart shows COVID-19 pathogen levels at the Mendenhall wastewater treatment plant during the past three months. (Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Wastewater Surveillance System)
Juneau seeing another increase in COVID-19 cases, but a scarcity of self-test kits

SEARHC, Juneau Drug have limited kits; other locations expect more by Saturday.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters during a news conference Feb. 7. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Gov. Dunleavy picks second ex-talk radio host for lucrative fish job after first rejected

Rick Green will serve at least through Legislature’s next confirmation votes in the spring of 2025.

Most Read