Candidates for Ketchikan’s school board logged on for the third and final of KRBD’s local election forums on Wednesday. Candidates tackled questions over how to better serve Ketchikan’s Alaska Native students.
Ketchikan students of Alaska Native descent graduate at a much lower rate than students as a whole. It’s a problem that’s dogged Ketchikan’s school district for years.
The six candidates seeking one of four seats on Ketchikan’s school board had some ideas to address that gap.
A popular theme among the candidates was simply getting more Alaska Native teachers, administrators, and aides in front of kids.
Here’s Ali Ginter — she’s seeking one of a pair of three-year terms on the board.
“I’d like to see more Native hires when that’s possible,” Ginter said. “I’ve noticed a lot of — on the agenda, we’ve had a lot of out of town, not even local hires.”
Ginter is a Ketchikan Indian Community tribal member, a Tlingit from the Kaachadi tribe. Ginter also suggested that the board should regularly engage with the district’s Native Education Parent Committee.
But, coming back to the question of getting more Alaska Natives on staff. How?
“It’s simple — you hire them. They’re out there. They’re available,” said Kim Hodne. He’s running for a one-year term on the board.
“They’re trained, they’re qualified, they apply for the jobs, you have to have the wherewithal to actually hire them and give them the opportunity. And by doing so, the natural inclusion of culture and a good step forward for where we need to be it has not happened for quite some time,” Hodne continued.
Hodne pointed to his prior record on the board. In 2018, he voted to establish the Native Education Committee.
But incumbent Tom Heutte said hiring more Native teachers wasn’t quite as simple as Hodne described. He’s also seeking a one-year term.
“Yeah, I’m not aware that there’s a huge pool of unemployed, certified Native teachers in our town, and it’d be just as simple to just hire them,” Heutte said. “We’re digging ourselves out of a deep hole of a 400 year old hole, as far as Native Americans are concerned, and we’ve got a long way to go.”
He emphasized the need to get more Alaska Native people into administration roles.
Heutte also echoed an idea brought forward by fellow incumbent Diane Gubatayao: to create a program that would create incentives for teachers’ aides to obtain a state teaching certificate.
Gubatayao is seeking a three-year seat. She applauded a Ketchikan Indian Community program that offers scholarships to tribal members studying to be teachers.
“Also, […] we could make an effort to do special recruiting. Another one is our selection committees at each school, and they need to have a diverse selection committee when they’re interviewing potential teachers,” Gubatayao said.
Nicole Anderson is another candidate for a one-year seat on the school board. She also endorsed Gubatayao’s proposal to help aides get certified as fully-fledged teachers.
“That is an amazing idea. I know a lot of businesses that do that. I mean, if you’re working in a business and you want to move up, get the education through the business,” Anderson said. “And I don’t see why that couldn’t also be implemented through the school district.”
Incumbent Paul Robbins, Jr. was one of a few candidates to point out the board’s recent government-to-government meeting with KIC’s Tribal Council. He emphasized the importance of consulting with Alaska Native organizations.
“I think the most important thing that was accomplished at that meeting was a recognition that the school board is not the ones who are going to come up with the solutions that are needed to bring Alaska Native culture into the schools, and to make sure that the students are adapting well, adapting better, and graduating better, the solutions are going to come from our Alaska Native entities,” Robbins said.
Robbins is seeking a three-year seat on the school board.
The candidates touched on quite a few subjects during the two-hour forum — including the pandemic. Each of the six candidates pledged to follow recommendations from Ketchikan’s emergency operations center — meaning that if the pandemic significantly worsens in Ketchikan, they wouldn’t oppose a move to a hybrid or distance learning model.
Election Day is October 6.
The full two-hour forum is available below. It’s also on KRBD’s Facebook page and on the KRBD Evening Report podcast feed.