Date and place of birth: New Orleans, Louisiana, 1966
Length of residency in Alaska and Juneau: Lived in Juneau since 1991
Education: Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics, Indiana University, 1986
Occupation(s): Actuary. Currently employed by Alaska Public Entity Insurance.
Family: Husband: John Thurston, Children: Stuart Thurston (JDHS 2013 grad), and Helen Thurston (currently a 10th grader at JDHS)
Juneau School Board Member (2010 - present)
School District Site Council Member (2000 - 2002 and 2009 - 2010)
Juneau Co-op Preschool board of directors (1999 - 2000 and 2001 - 2003)
Girl Scout troop leader/co-leader (2004 - 2012)
Treasurer, Juneau Soccer Club team (2006 - 2011)
Frequent volunteer in classrooms and school libraries (2000 – 2010)
Chaired the Juneau School Board’s budget committee in 2012 and 2013
Member of the Juneau School District’s Equity Committee in 2009 – 2010
Have testified before the legislature multiple times on school funding and other educational topics
1. What is your highest priority for the school district to accomplish during your term in office? Explain why this change is a priority and how you would facilitate this change.
The Alaska performance scholarship has created an opportunity for all students – not just our highest achieving students – to receive funding to attend college or trade school in Alaska. To qualify, students must take a full academic course load, and achieve at least a C+ average.
A priority of mine is to help the District make sure that every student who thinks they might possibly want to go to college or trade school is prepared for this work, and that we provide and make sure all students are encouraged to take the classes needed to be eligible for the scholarship. Achieving this requires strengthening the curriculum starting in elementary school, and providing the support and opportunities students need in high school.
2. What would your plan be to address bullying, discrimination, racism, and sexual harassment in our schools?
We need to make sure that Staff, Students, and others are able to recognize bullying and discrimination. Not all racism is blatant, and the subtler forms can be as harmful as more public displays.
We need to encourage victims of bullying, bystanders, friends, family, and others to report bullying or harassment when it occurs. School administrators can’t address these situations if they don’t know about them.
We need to increase the number of teachers of Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Pacific Island ancestry in our secondary schools so that our professional staff reflects the diversity of our students. Regular interaction with smart and engaging teachers of different ethnicities and backgrounds can benefit all students by helping to dispel stereotypes.
3. What do you see as the priority issues affecting Juneau’s pre-kindergarten and elementary students? Please explain.
Many of our youngest students enter kindergarten without the preparation they need to be successful in school. Students who are “behind” when they start school often have a very difficult time catching up with their better-prepared peers. I would like to see an expansion in the availability of preschool programs in Juneau, particularly ones that target students who are less likely to be well prepared for kindergarten.
I would also like to see the district strengthen ties with other organizations that work with families to help parents be aware of the value of not only reading with their child, but also the amount by which simply talking with their child can help develop language skills and prepare them for school.
4. What programs should be developed to assist high school students who have difficulty passing the High School Qualifying Exams?
Students who have difficulty passing the High School Qualifying exam generally have academic struggles well before high school. They need assistance starting at these early ages, so that they are not just able pass the exam but can be successful in their other classes as well.
We need to provide support to all students who are not able to work at their targeted grade level, recognizing that students with learning or other disabilities may need more support than students who are simply just a little behind.
5. What is your position on the value of arts and music programs for students? Please explain.
I believe that art and music are critical parts of a student’s education, and that study in the arts can help students develop skills, thought processes, and habits than will help them to be successful in their non-arts academic areas .
I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to expand the JAMM program that started at Glacier Valley to students at Auke Bay and Riverbend, and am looking forward to seeing the development of the partnership that the Juneau arts community is having with the Kennedy Center on the “Any Given Child” program to strengthen arts education for all Juneau students.
6. Given that the school district will most likely face further budget cuts, what approach would you suggest to live within available resources?
As the district’s budget tightens, we need to concentrate our attention closely on our core mission of educating students, and focus on investing our resources to best achieve that goal. We can’t afford to continue to do things simply because that’s what we’ve done in the past. Our emphasis needs to be on the classroom, and I expect that we will continue to allocate resources to professional development and instructional materials so teachers have the tools they need to best help students.
Unfortunately, the predicted budget cuts along with increasing our focus on instruction will likely result in cuts to programs or activities that have benefitted students in the past and are supported by families.