Elizabeth Siddon, president of Juneau’s Board of Education, is running for a second term on the board. She is the only incumbent on the ballot, which has attracted six candidates for three positions.
“It’s an honor to serve on the board, and I don’t take that lightly,” Siddon said in a recent phone interview with the Empire.
After an initial term rocked by a pandemic that disrupted the lives of students, families and staff, she said that she’s learned many things and is ready to tackle another three years.
“The biggest thing I learned is that your job is so much bigger than your kid or any issue that you really care about. You are one of seven people who have to advocate for all students in Juneau,” she said. “It is a big commitment. It’s hard work, and it includes lots of learning about what students need, what families need. I would be honored to continue to serve.”
Siddon, who is originally from New Hampshire but has lived in Juneau since 2002, is the mother of a rising second-grader who attends Juneau schools. She has been involved in educational outreach for several years, particularly with science, technology, education and math education.
As a school board member, Siddon has experience with the monthly school board meetings, the budget cycle and various committee positions that board members fill. As part of her role, she’s a liaison to local site councils, which she said provides an additional window into the concerns of families and students.
But, Siddon said that a trio of characteristics makes her suited for the job more than specific qualifications.
She said the first characteristic that equips her for the job is her strong belief in education. Siddon said she attended public schools from kindergarten through graduate school and is a firm believer in their power.
“I believe in education. With education comes opportunity. Our students graduate and then go on to a variety of life and career paths. Education provides the springboard,” she said.
Siddon said the second key characteristic she possesses is a commitment to education and outreach. She mentioned her service with SouthEast Exchange, where she uses her expertise to bring science, technology, education and math STEM experiences into the classroom.
According to the group’s website, SouthEast Exchange consists of “a group of teachers and community members working to create real life connections in our classrooms.” Siddon is listed as one of the group’s founders.
Finally, she said her experience as a parent is important. She is the parent representative on two statewide panels, including the Alaska Early Childhood Coordinating Council, which oversees state agencies that provide services to kids from birth from to age 12. On the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education, she represents parents who have a child younger than 8 years old.
Siddon said that she sees recovering from the academic losses that students have suffered as a result of the pandemic as a critical issue facing the school.
“Recovery from the academic losses and supporting the social and emotional needs of the students and rebuilding after COVID is a high priority,” she said.
Siddon said that a desire to get students back into school five days a week is the one piece of feedback she “hears almost unanimously.”
“We are all coming from a place to get kids back into school,” she said. She cited suggestions from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, urging the return to in-person school.
“We are all coming from a place to get kids back into school,” she said.
Siddon said that one of the most significant areas of need is reading instruction.
“One of the biggest areas of need is reading. The test scores have shown it as an area of need for some time,” she said. “One of the things we can do is put money into the areas where we want to see change.”
To that end, Siddon said the district had funded new positions for reading specialists at the elementary level and formed a task force to focus on reading.
She said that these efforts had made her “cautiously optimistic.”
In school, Siddon enjoyed science classes.
“I have some pretty clear memories of high school chemistry class,” she said.
She is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in marine and freshwater biology.
She’s served as an aquanaut living and working underwater in the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory — an experience she has shared with local students as part of her commitment to outreach.
Conducting underwater research at the Shoals Marine Laboratory in Maine proved to be a pivotal moment for her.
“That changed my life,” she said, adding that the experience ultimately led her to Alaska, where she enrolled at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and earned a master’s and a doctorate in fisheries. She completed her degrees at the Lena Point facility and has done extensive diving around Juneau.
She works in the fisheries division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as a research fisheries biologist. She studies the Bering Sea ecosystem.
Siddon is married and is a committed runner.
“I’ve logged a lot of miles of Perseverance Trail and on Pioneer Road,” she said. She was a figure skater as a child and still enjoys playing hockey. Her family enjoys dining at the Island Pub, Saffron and Coppa.
About the election
Siddon is running against five newcomers for one of three open seats. Other candidates include Wiljordon V. Sangster, Aaron Spratt, Thomas Buzärd, Amber Frommherz and Ibn Bailey.
The election will take place on Oct. 5 and will be conducted primarily by mail.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at email@example.com or 907-308-4891.