Election nears, candidates share positions

Juneau School District board candidates had a chance to respond to questions from the local business community at the Chamber of Commerce lunch lecture series, Thursday.


Candidate Michelle Johnston and incumbent candidates Phyllis Carlson and Andi Story answered a range of questions important to Juneau’s business leaders – school start times, availabilty of school nurses and annual yearly progress, among them.

Businesses find it difficult to hire high school students due to school start time of 9:15 a.m. In comparison, Juneau’s elementary schools start at 8 a.m. Should Juneau high schools start earlier?

Carlson: The decision to move the time to a later hour was based on recent understanding of adolescent brains.

Learning is our highest priority, so that is where our focus was. While there may be a 50-50 about academic outcomes, behavior and discipline factors are very much improved. Juneau is finding this in its own studies.

Johnston: I favor an 8 a.m. start time. A later start time is poor preparation for life. Employment concerns now are secondary to the realities students will face later.

When high school [students] move on to college and careers, the world doesn’t accommodate them. The world doesn’t move on their schedule. [An early start time] is more in line with what they are going to face in reality, when they move into the world.

Story: High school seniors have expanded options for their daily schedule, including off campus lunches and arrange to have a senior project or job. The board is trying to offer more classes at 8 a.m. and to extend class offerings to later in the day.

The decision to move the times wasn’t just for high school students. It isn’t just a high school choice. When the board made a decision, it was also an elementary choice, elementary principals really wanted their students to start at 8 o’clock. It is also a budget factor. If all of Juneau’s students started at same time more money would need to be budgeted.

What is your position on having a nurse in every school?

Story: I would like to have a nurse in every school. However, I did go along with board in recommending to cut down on two nurse positions. In response, school nurses train assistants to help when nurses are unavailable.

We’re trying to make the best of it , but would really like to have more money. I would like to have a health nurse funded through the public health department. Some of our schools are bigger than the villages around here.

Carlson: One of the most difficult things during the budget process was hearing from Juneau’s many families with children who have significant health needs.

It is very serious. I would personally love to have a nurse in every school.

Johnston: I love the idea of having a nurse in every school. However, I don’t know if the district can keep a full-time nurse in every school. The key is to increase community partnership and find creative solutions while addressing the budget.

With current budget constraints what impact can you make in the classroom?

Carlson: The most important influence in the classroom is the teachers, they are where the rubber meets the road. Professional development that improves effective instruction is a very high priority.

Johnston: My first priority it to keep the ratio of students to teachers at its current level,” Johnston said. Due to budget cuts, she said, JSD’s current pupil-teacher ratio is too large.

I will not support increasing [pupil-teacher ratio]. My second priority will be to make sure teachers have the tools they need to teach; and also to assure our students keep up with our technology based world.

Story: My top priority would be providing funds for effective instruction aimed at the teachers in classrooms and instructional material that elaborates on curriculum.

The biggest in school factor is the quality of instruction. It is not class size. I would like to see training for school principals to better recognize what is effective instruction when they see it and what are the questions they should ask teachers to get effective instruction.

Technology in the classroom would also be a big priority.

How will we maintain current teacher student ratios, while ensuring the financial stability of the District?

Carlson: I wish we could ensure that we can keep those ratios. However, pupil-teacher ratios are dependent on a negotiating process with Juneau’s teachers and also dependent on funding from the legislature.

So I can’t say that I can guarantee that we can keep what we have right now. We’re hoping that we can do that.

Johnston: We have to hold the line. To do so means unpopular budget cuts in other areas. We have to make sure that we cut equitably in areas that we recognize are not working.

Story: I have faith in the contract negotiation process. Juneau’s teachers did not take a raise in the last contract negotiation. Both sides will come together, the teachers and the district.

I’d like to think that we’re going to continue to bargain in good faith and work out an agreement. I believe that parents, community members teachers are going to work together, so that we can keep the things we desire in our schools, including PTR.

Scores for the Juneau schools Annual Yearly Progress?
Johnston: AYP is one measure among many. It is viewed as somewhat flawed.
We nee to analyze what growth we are making, but I don’t think we need to condemn the entire district based on the results of AYP.
Story: Though AYP scores offer national data and allow a comparison to national trends it is only one measure. One problem it has given many schools and public education [is] a negative attitude and a negative focus, as it feels like out schools are failing, but really there are a lot of good things happening.
AYP offers good information, because it very specific. We know what kids need help and support. That’s the good part, it is really targeted.
Carlson: AYP tests are nationally-normed tests. This allows a look at how Juneau students size up nationally with academics. Teachers, students and parents can see in real time where students are in terms of their level of understanding and competency in a subject. And teachers can target their instruction.
If a school has a 94 percent AYP rating it is still labeled as failing. We know that that is just not true. We have a lot of wonderful things going on in our district.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.


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