Schorr aims to raise school standards
How long in Juneau: 22 years.
Family in Juneau: Wife Debra; son Zeb.
Education: B.A., City University of New York; M.A., Syracuse University; M.S. the University of Texas at Austin; courses toward a Ph.D. at the University of Iowa.
Occupation: Book publisher.
Public offices held: Nine years on the Juneau School Board.
Interests: Reading, skiing.
About campaign coverage
Today's profiles of Juneau School Board candidates are part of a week-long look at people on the ballot in the Oct. 3 city election.
Friday's paper will feature the other two candidates running for the Juneau School Board: Daniel Peterson and John Greeley. Peterson, Greeley, Alan Schorr and Chuck Cohen are all running for three open seats on the board.
Academic rigor and state funding for a new high school are the two main priorities for Alan Schorr, who is seeking a fourth term on the Juneau School Board.
Schorr is one of four people running for three school board seats. The others are Chuck Cohen, Daniel Peterson and John Greeley. The top three vote-getters will win seats.
Many students statewide and in Juneau didn't pass one or more sections of the new high school exit exam, first given to sophomores last spring. Students must pass a three-part test in English and math to get a high school diploma.
Similarly, about a third of students statewide in grades three, six and eight were judged not proficient in new benchmark English and math tests.
The test results should be a wake-up call, Schorr said.
"I was hoping the test scores would be higher than they actually were," he said. "I think this is a clear message to all that we need a more rigorous academic program that is keyed to the core content."
Schorr wants the school board to revisit the credit requirements at Juneau-Douglas High School. Students now must have 21 credits to graduate, including two years of math and science. Many seniors don't have a full course load.
"We need to increase the graduation requirements ...," he said. "We have to make sure the fourth year in high school is a real year ... or we're not preparing students to go out there and work, or go on to a good college."
Schorr also believes the benchmark test scores should help determine whether to promote a child. The school district has tended to move students through the system, rather than holding them back, he said.
"It makes no sense to just automatically promote children through grades if they can't do the work," he said. At the same time, schools must offer help for struggling students, he said.
Last school year, the school board heard from advocates for gifted students and for students who struggle with English. Both groups wanted more programs outside the regular classroom.
Schorr said including advanced students in regular classrooms doesn't work very well: Those students may be given more assignments, but not necessarily more challenging work. He said middle schools should consider following the high school practice of grouping students in classes by ability.
Schorr said more students who don't know English are entering the district. More resources are needed, but it's hard to come up with the money, he said.
"You need to put more money into some of the specialized programs or the students will have zero or little chance of being mainstreamed into the general school environment," Schorr said.
The school board turned down two applicants for charter schools - a Montessori program and a Native-oriented school.
Board members later cited, as a partial reason, lower state funding for charter students than for other students. A new charter school would cost the district up to $37,000 in state funds, district administrators estimated.
Schorr said he strongly supports the current charter school, which has about 60 elementary students, and he favors the concept of charter schools. But he's reluctant to approve more charter schools because of the funding.
"I'm in favor of charter schools. I'm not in favor of charter schools that deplete the resources of the school district," he said.
Some Natives who supported a charter school said the school district doesn't serve Native students well.
Schorr said the school district "has made incredible efforts" in the past five years to increase Native success in school. Schorr cited the alternative high school, and at JDHS the Early Scholars college prep program and CHOICE, a program for students at risk of dropping out. He supports a new Tlingit language kindergarten program.
"The district needs to continue making efforts that will guarantee every Native student is successful,' he said.
Schorr also said the high school needs more vocational classes in the building trades for students who aren't going on to college.
He supports local ballot propositions that will fund some school renovations.
Cohen a strong supporter of voc ed
How long in Juneau: 14 years.
Family in Juneau: Wife Kathryn Koutsky Cohen; daughters Julia and Rachel.
Education: B.A., Temple; M.R.P. Penn State; J.D. Antioch College.
Occupation: Adjunct professor, commercial fisherman, property manager, retired attorney.
Public offices held: One year on the Juneau School Board.
Interests: Hunting, fishing, hiking.
Chuck Cohen, in his first year on the Juneau School Board, was an advocate for vocational education and active in planning the proposed new high school.
One of his reasons for running again, after completing the term of a board member who resigned, is to continue on the high school planning team, Cohen said. High schools are the center of a community, he said.
Cohen cited the school board's adding a vocational teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School, which he had urged, as an example of problem-solving. The school had an equipped and unused metalwork room, a high demand for classes and no teacher, he said.
"That's policy-level decision-making. That's what the school board is supposed to be thinking about how to improve problems," Cohen said.
Cohen supports vocational classes as one more way to keep students in school, along with after-school activities, Yaakoosge Daakahidi alternative high school and the CHOICE program.
One reason Cohen favors local ballot propositions to fund school renovations is to make JDHS more inviting for after-school use.
Cohen said state performance standards for students, benchmark tests of third-, sixth- and eighth-graders and a high school exit exam are having a positive impact on education.
"I think we need to do a lot" to help students who do poorly on the tests, he said. In the short term he suggested supplemental classes in English and math during the regular school day, and summer school and after-school classes.
In the long term, the school district and community must advocate for Head Start and educational preschools, Cohen said. Children with mentors and supportive families tend to do better in school, he said.
Students need to master the core skills of English and math in elementary school, Cohen said. The district is gathering more test data about each student to get a feel for what a child isn't learning and to intervene quickly, he said.
Cohen applauded the district's new elementary school report cards, which require teachers to say whether students have met the core academic standards. The report cards force teachers to grade to a standard instead of an arbitrary moving target, he said.
The school board felt pressure last school year from parents and advocates for gifted students and students who struggle with English who wanted more break-out classes. Schools have to balance the social benefits of mainstreaming all students with the loss in teacher efficiency in teaching multiple assignments, Cohen said.
Cohen said it's good to include some instruction separate from the regular classroom based on students' performance levels. He said gifted students in the middle schools particularly need break-out classes to get emotional and personal support.
The board does the best it can in allotting money, Cohen said. But if it spends everything on students at both ends, "what happens to the people in the middle? The child in the middle is just as needy as the child on the different ends."
The school board last year turned down two applications for charter schools without a vote or discussion. Cohen, who had moved to consider the applications, said the applicants deserved a discussion.
Charter schools can be small-scale testing grounds for new ideas, Cohen said. But the state creates a disincentive to approve charter schools because it gives less money for those students. A new charter school would have to offer "a tremendously unique constellation of ideas" to make him willing to take away funds from the rest of the district, he said.
During the charter school presentations, the school board heard from Natives who said the district wasn't serving Native students well.
The resentments of Natives "are real and they're there and they seem to cause a detachment from the system," Cohen said. The school district has tried to hire more Native teachers, but the pool of applicants is small, he said.
Tlingit culture traditionally has been an oral culture and doesn't have a long history with written English. Efforts to apply teaching techniques from the English as a Second Language program to Natives, which advocates urged last year, are worth trying, he said.