Candidate Profile: Steve Whitney (School Board)

Steve Whitney

Length of Residency: Moved to Alaska in 1992


Education: Graduated college in Olympia, WA; attended UAS, UAF

Occupation: Biologist

Family: Wife Sarah, sons James and Adrian

Community Service: Lego Robotics coach, soccer coach

Other Experience: Attendee at school board meetings; board experience through the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council; adept at developing public policy through statutes and regulations.

If further cuts are needed in our high school extracurricular activities, where should those cuts be made and what should be done to protect Title IX-mandated equal treatment of girls’ activities?

If cuts are made, they shouldn’t affect one gender’s activities more than the other. The hard part is what to cut. Expensive activities will be more attractive to cut in a financial crisis, which puts activities involving a lot of travel at risk. I believe that if the money isn’t there, reductions in travel may be necessary — however, I oppose blanket travel bans. For some kids, activities are what keep them in school and motivate them to graduate. If the Legislature cuts further, there will be costs in graduation rates and student performance, and everyone should be aware of these unavoidable consequences.

Describe the role of parental involvement in the public schools. What might that involvement look like? How can that involvement be increased?

Public schools serve students, and parents are the legal guardians of students — so in a very real sense, parents have ownership of the schools. There’s a huge range in involvement, from checking homework to running for school board, and it’s all important. Over the past decade, I’ve heard from many parents who feel disenfranchised by an insular board and administration. I feel this is finally changing with our current board, and I want to be part of the continuing change. For example, I’d like to repeal the policy that board members cannot ask questions of testifiers who provide public comment. This is contrary to the whole purpose of a school board.

Would you support a comprehensive statewide sex education curriculum? If so, how would this best be implemented and taught? If you do not support such a curriculum, explain why.

Given our political climate, I don’t believe a statewide curriculum is possible. A comprehensive program can only be established at the district level. In my high school, we had a licensed marriage counselor/sex therapist on staff who taught a semester-long class on human sexuality. This was ideal. A curriculum should cover a full range of issues such as disease, pregnancy, infertility, domestic violence, divorce, and infidelity. Some of these are hard issues that many of us have to face. Our children should be prepared. For most of us, our sexuality will be centered in marriage or long-term partnerships. We should have the tools to be understanding and to make these relationships healthy and strong.

What value do you see in an adequately funded fine arts program in the school curriculum?

One of the great tragedies of No Child Left Behind was the devaluation of everything that doesn’t show up on a standardized test. Some of the value of the arts is pure joy. Walking up to an outcropping on Mount Roberts and finding a friend playing Amazing Grace on his bagpipe is part of what makes life worthwhile. Art is also important for us to understand and process our place in life. This matters. Arts can also lead to healthy careers. When our kids were little, my wife worked from home running an editing and graphics design business. Her middle school drawing classes in Ketchikan from Ray Troll significantly aided our family’s ability to make ends meet.

If you had to rank the educational skills most needed by our students, what would be the #1 and #2 skills on your list? Explain why.

There is no way to rank the first and second most important skills, as we require many equal skills in life to succeed. Also, our children will go in many different directions and require vastly different skill sets. Furthermore, kids come to school with different needs. Our schools must support this diversity. Some kids will have special needs, and focusing on day-to-day functionality will require all of their ability. Some will go to college, and some will go into trades. Within each of these subcategories, there are still more diverse paths with different requirements. Designing a diverse program will require the attention of skilled people from varied backgrounds. Also, it cannot be adequately evaluated with standardized tests.

What alternate funding resources can you suggest and/or help secure if state education funding continues to decrease?

The city already funds to the maximum cap allowed by law. The district already actively pursues grants. Parent groups have proposed external funding mechanisms for middle school activity travel. There are probably a few more opportunities of this nature that will help, but the community already donates heavily for youth sports and activities. In the case of further cuts to state funding, there would be no realistic funding mechanism to make up for the entire loss. The inevitable cost of further cuts would be higher dropout rates, less vocational training, and less college preparation.

Describe your view of the value of Pre-K public school programs.

According to the Association for the Education of Young People’s latest report, Juneau has 2,460 children under age six and child care spots for just 476. An estimated 82 percent of these children’s parents need to work. The average annual cost of child care in Juneau is more than $10,000. Many families with young children need help, and if they can’t make ends meet because they can’t find child care in Juneau, they will leave. Pre-K child care is also an excellent way to close the achievement gap for disadvantaged kids. On the current school board, Brian Holst is leading the charge to bring Pre-K education to Juneau. I intend to support this effort in any way I can.


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