The Juneau School District Board of Education interviewed six applicants to fill a former member’s unexpired term Monday, with board President Sally Saddler pronouncing all of them to be qualified and strong candidates.
Kim Poole resigned her seat on the school board last month after moving to Oklahoma, leaving a spot on the seven-member body unfilled.
The board will appoint an interim successor to Poole at Tuesday night’s regular meeting. That appointee will serve until voters elect someone to the seat in next October’s municipal elections.
Saddler said the board conducted open interviews during a public board worksession out of a desire for transparency.
“We have decided that we want to do this in the most open, transparent method possible, and the fairest method possible for considering all people in the community who would have an interest in filling Kim Poole’s seat,” said Saddler.
Jennifer LaRoe, executive director of the nonprofit organization Housing First and a Harborview Elementary School site council member who was active in advocating for the hiring of an additional teacher at the school — a request that was ultimately granted last month — was the first applicant to be interviewed.
LaRoe described the issue of class size as one of equity.
“I do think that providing enough teachers for the enrollment is the most important thing,” LaRoe said. “If you lower class sizes, then it will also speak … (to) making things more equitable for all kids falling in the achievement gap, potentially. When teachers have more time to focus on less students, they are able to recognize the needs of each individual student more appropriately. So that is what I think the board should prioritize.”
LaRoe was followed by Myrna Gardner, former president and chief executive officer of Anchorage-based Kakavik Asset Management, LLC.
Gardner emphasized her upbringing in Southeast Alaska, her Alaska Native heritage and her work on other boards. She said she reviewed the school board’s meeting minutes and bylaws prior to the interview.
“As a candidate, I believe that it’s my responsibility to the community and to you as fellow board members that if I say I’m going to do this, then I have to take that responsibility and be sure that I’ve read the material, that I’ve highlighted any questions I may have and that I come prepared to do the best job that I can do,” said Gardner.
Janice Hotch, who works as a manager at Sealaska Corp. and is a member of the Tlingit and Haida Indians of the City and Borough of Juneau community council, was the next to be interviewed.
Responding to a question from board member Andi Story on the “achievement gap” among Juneau student populations, Hotch said she wants to emphasize early development as an educational priority.
“I think what I would like to recommend is focus on early childhood development. I think the child who learns how to read well in those formative years, that’s the child that’s going to be successful, even with all the challenges that they may be presented with,” Hotch said. “I do believe that it really does take a village to raise a child, and it takes everybody’s efforts.”
The two unsuccessful school board candidates from October’s municipal elections, Michelle Johnston and Will Muldoon also applied to fill the vacancy.
Johnston, a state employee and former president of the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences’ Academic Policy Committee in Ketchikan, said that although she has “only lived in Juneau for two years,” she would bring “broad-based experience from living in other areas” to the board, having spent most of her life in the Lower 48.
“I don’t have specific recommendations for Juneau yet, until I’ve completely looked at the demographics for each individual school, as well as the school district as a whole, but I can tell you some of the strategies that we used as an APC board,” said Johnston.
Twenty-eight-year-old Will Muldoon, who has ran unsuccessfully twice for the school board — in 2002, while he was still in high school, and again this year, when he placed fourth in a five-person race — said his youth and relatively recent experience as a student in the school district give him a unique perspective.
Describing his experience serving on various boards, including KTOO’s board of directors, Muldoon said, “I find a lot, especially in the public media realm, I’m a 28-year-old bachelor and that’s not necessarily the demographic makeup of those boards. And so just with that in mind, my opinions are going to be different, because where I come from is different.”
The final interviewee was Lisa Worl, a former school district employee who has served on the Auke Bay Elementary School and Floyd Dryden Middle School site councils.
“I believe I have strong interpersonal skills. I have … a pretty good working relationship with three school principals now,” said Worl, who also noted that she is “representing two minority populations,” being part Tlingit and part Filipino. She added, “I’m willing to work hard. I put myself through college.”
Saddler thanked the applicants for their time and interest. She said the board will vote Tuesday night on the appointment, adding, “It’s clear to me we can make no wrong decision.”
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.