School Board elections: Becker calls board 'research group' that works to figure out best school policy

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2001

After teaching for 30 years, Mary Becker wasn't shocked at anything she's seen in her first term on the Juneau School Board. But she didn't fully appreciate how hard the board works, how important its committees are, or anticipate the volume of calls from parents.

Now Becker, the president of the School Board, is running for her second term.

Becker and Stan Ridgeway, another incumbent, are the only announced candidates in the Oct. 2 city election for the two open seats on the seven-member School Board. All seats are three-year terms.

The School Board sets policy and approves the budget, two roles that intertwine.

Mary Becker

Age: Not available.

How long lived in Juneau: 35 years.

Family in Juneau: Husband, Jim; son Rob; daughter Kristy.

Education: Education degree from Albertson College in Idaho.

Public offices held: Member, president and vice president of the Juneau School Board.

Occupation: Retired teacher and community coordinator for health promotion.

Interests: Reading and walking. She is a member of women's service groups, educational organizations, the Juneau Olympic Torch Committee, the Juneau Tobacco Prevention Network, Pioneers of Alaska, NEA-Alaska and is on the Board of Directors of the Association of Alaska School Boards.

"We really are somewhat of a research group. Through our committees we do try to find out what's going on in our schools so we can make good policy," Becker said.

The board's Program Evaluation Committee, on which Becker serves, has looked into what it calls school climate - whether schools have an atmosphere of bullying and name-calling. It will hold a public forum on the topic on Nov. 15.

"We want kids to be safe in our schools," she said. "We want them to have all the opportunities for learning."

The committee also spent more than a year collecting information and opinions and devising a new elementary school report card, she said.

The report card is intended to help students, parents and teachers know how well students are meeting state and school district academic standards, with the ultimate goal of making sure students pass the high school exit exam, which takes effect with the Class of 2004.

Becker said the School Board also has helped students by providing new textbooks that are suited to the standards, and by improving the summer school with courses that are based on the standards.

"I think we are putting money into this effort, and we are making strides in meeting it," she said.

Results on standardized tests statewide and in Juneau show that a smaller percentage of Native students than non-Natives score in the proficient range. Improving Native and other minority student success is one of the stated goals of the school district.

Children who are struggling, whatever their race, should be encouraged to attend after-school tutoring programs, she said.

"I think we need to be teaching all children," Becker said.

As accomplishments of the school district, she cited new contracts with employees, the development of curriculum, training of teachers in the curriculum and standards, new textbooks in several subjects, and the repair of school roofs and other maintenance projects.

Becker said she is running again because she wants to continue to work on standards and on the renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School.

"I'm running again because education has been pretty much my life," she said. "It's important to me, the work in the education field. I like to hear from parents. I like to be in the schools. I like to work with kids. And three years went pretty fast.

"I'm interested in continuing because I think we're doing good things," Becker said.

Eric Fry can be reached at

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