The Marie Drake Building houses the Yaakoosgé Daakahidi High School, Montessori Borealis and the HomeBridge program. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The Marie Drake Building houses the Yaakoosgé Daakahidi High School, Montessori Borealis and the HomeBridge program. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

School board requests construction money, heartily approves Native language program

Six-year capital improvement projects and language policy both approved

The Juneau Board of Education is requesting $31 million to repair an old 1960s-era school building, plus half a million to fix the roof of Floyd Dryden Middle School.

“The building really needs a full renovation like we’ve done with several of the elementary schools over the years,” said the district’s director of administrative services Sarah Jahn about the Marie Drake building during the board’s Tuesday night meeting at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.

The school board updates its Capital Improvement Plan every year to reflect the needs of the school district and its structures. This year, the biggest priorities are the needs of the Marie Drake building and the roof at Floyd Dryden.

The Marie Drake building had a boiler fail in April, flooding the room to waist depth. It was built in 1965, Jahn said, and massive internal overhaul will be required to keep it functional as a school district structure. Jahn said that the only thing that was completely fine with the structure is the concrete shell of the building. More than three feet thick in places, it would be simpler to gut the interior and rebuild than to level the structure and start over.

“If I wanted to blow up that building, I couldn’t,” Jahn said.

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The request now goes to the city for consideration. The Assembly will decide whether to approve it and secure funding for the projects.

Dr. Bridget Weiss, superintendent of the Juneau School District, speaks to members of the Juneau Board of Education during a meeting Tuesday, August 13. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Dr. Bridget Weiss, superintendent of the Juneau School District, speaks to members of the Juneau Board of Education during a meeting Tuesday, August 13. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

On Tuesday, the board also approved a motion to enact the Indigenous Language Policy, and they discussed refinements to the metrics with which they measured the effectiveness of the district’s programs and policies.

A proposal to adopt the Indigenous Language Policy, supporting certified learning and teaching of Alaska Native language and culture, went through its final reading and was adopted unanimously.

“We want those values of the culture to present in our system,” Juneau School District Superintendent Dr. Bridget Weiss said.

The policy is a statement of support and a determination to partner with Alaska Native organizations and community leaders to make the education as inclusive and supportive for all students, Weiss said. The plan, two years in the making, is an affirmation of Alaska Native values and culture, making steady its place in the education of children in the Juneau school district.

“I wanted to commemorate this administration and the school board for supporting indigenous languages,” said Martin Stepetin Sr., an Alaska Native and candidate for a seat on the school board in the upcoming elections.

“This administration and school board have been overwhelming in their support for Native languages and culture,” Stepetin said.

Candidate withdraws from school board race

Stepetin went on to talk about how his children know more about the Tlingit language and culture than he does because of the Juneau School District’s certified Tlingit teachers.

“It’s been one of the highlights of my three years on the board,” said board member Steve Whitney, speaking about the program.

The board also discussed the methodologies of the questions they were using to gauge the effectiveness of their policies in programs. Modifications include getting data from colleges like University of Alaska Southeast to see how students were performing in post-secondary education.

Other refinements include tweaking language to generate more useful answers. Questions such as “What do you expect the Juneau School District to provide for your child?” generate a better and more insightful variety of data than simple yes or no questions.

Juneau School District maintenance staff pose with the Juneau Board of Education for a photo as they’re honored for their hard work keeping the schools clean and maintained. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Juneau School District maintenance staff pose with the Juneau Board of Education for a photo as they’re honored for their hard work keeping the schools clean and maintained. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

“When we make a new plan we should get as many perspectives as possible so we create a plan that reflects what the community wants,” said Brian Holst, president of the school board.

This data will be used to help formulate the school’s strategic plan for the next five years, a process that won’t fully begin until the two new members of the school board are elected in October. Plans to bring all the prospective members of the board in and start onboarding them before the election so whoever does get voted for will be able to hit the ground running.

The school year starts for grades 1-12 on Aug. 19.

Elections for the two open seats on the school board occur on Oct. 1.


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


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