Candidates for Ketchikan’s School Board squared off in a forum hosted by the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce earlier this month. Here are some highlights. Audio of the entire one-hour forum is posted at the end.
Five candidates are vying for three 3-year terms on the school board. The candidates are incumbent Nicole Anderson, former school board members Stephen Bradford and Tom Heutte, Ali Ginter and Keenan Sanderson.
Each candidate was asked what critical issues need to be addressed in the academic program and changes they’d recommend.
Anderson says students should read fluently by the third grade. She says that’s critical for their future success.
“Because that is the building blocks. If they’re struggling to read in 3rd grade, moving forwards it’s going to continue to be a struggle for them and create a disconnect in education.”
Bradford says he’d like to see the district offer more options to students whose chosen careers don’t require a college degree.
“We’ve got to be able to provide opportunities for those who don’t want to go down that traditional college path, who want to pursue the trades, and make a good living and a good life, hopefully right here in Ketchikan.”
Ginter says she would like to see more foreign language classes. She also says classes in Alaska Native culture should be added.
“That’s all I can think of at the moment. But I’m always open to listening to other people’s opinions on what can be improved and what can change.”
Heutte also says that Native culture should be added to the curriculum. But he says he believes the board shouldn’t micro-manage and details should be left up to educators.
“Academics I think are really important whether you’re going to be a philosopher or a mechanic. I think we all need these things to balance us to make good decisions and be good citizens.”
Sanderson says he’d like to see more financial support for extracurricular activities like academic decathlon and drama club, especially at the high school level. He says he would also like to see cultural education woven seamlessly into other subjects, like science and reading. He says that would be a step towards fostering what he calls “a love of place for our own community.”
“…knowing the physical geography or knowing the resources that are available to us on the animal or plant level. I feel like introducing more programs such as those will enhance our students experience while they’re going through school.”
Candidates also were asked what the district should do to support the social, behavioral and emotional health of students, staff and teachers during the pandemic.
Bradford shared a personal story. When one of his daughters was in grade school, her teacher was going through a difficult divorce. He says that made for a challenging school year.
“I think one of the most important things we can do to help teachers and staff deal with those issues is…they need to feel like they’re listened to. When they can bring concerns forward, they need to know that we’re concerned about those same concerns and that we’re looking for solutions for them.”
Heutte says he feels the district is already doing a lot to provide programs for kids, a safe place, meals and counseling. He says it’s also important to provide that for staff.
“It’s really important to have a non-toxic environment where people are heard, where people have input, where people don’t feel afraid to speak up if there’s a problem.”
Sanderson says the district needs to better inform students of services available to them. He says that in his experience, many high school students are unaware that mental health counseling is available at school.
“I have a lot of siblings, a lot of cousins, a lot of family and friends who have children in high school. And I work with the Ocean Sciences team all the time and none of the people that I have talked to know that this person exists. Which is a problem. We’re talking upwards of 30 to 40 students have no idea that this behavioral health counselor exists.”
Anderson says she feels the district should provide access to counseling for students at all grade levels.
“We’re not just educating our students. We’re teaching them how to function and how to cope with things that are going to happen in their life. And I think that having some of those counseling services available would be helpful at all levels.”
Ginter says she thinks the district is doing a pretty good job, but she says the community should be polled about what they feel is best for their families.
“I know as the parent I appreciate when I see that survey roll through my email asking what I feel my children would benefit from. What my family needs help with. And I know that they’ve extended the free food program and I know that’s got to be helping a lot of our families and helping to alleviate some of those stresses.”
Candidates also answered questions regarding their own priorities, how to address differences of opinions between board members, balancing finances with the need for quality education and why they feel they are most qualified for the position.
Municipal elections are Tuesday, October 5. The top three vote-getters will serve a three-year term.
You can listen to the entire, one-hour forum, moderated by chamber executive director Michelle O’Brien, here:
The Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce has two more forums coming up – one with candidates for Borough Assembly on September 22nd and another on September 29th with Ketchikan City Council candidates. Both are at noon at the Cape Fox Lodge.
KRBD has upcoming call-in shows. A forum with candidates for Ketchikan City Council is Monday, September 20th at 7 p.m. A School Board forum is Thursday, September 23rd at 7 p.m. Tune in to KRBD or watch the event via Facebook Live.