School Board: Van Slyke advocates a measured approach

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2002

After a few years of retirement, long-time educator and school administrator Bob Van Slyke, 72, has had his fill of golf. After some consultation with his wife, he's returned from the sunny, relaxing days spent in warmer climates, and decided to run for the Juneau School Board.

Bob Van Slyke

• Age: 72

• Lived in Juneau: 21 years

• Immediate family in Juneau: wife Jan; daughters Rene Pisel-Walker and Dawn Pisel-Davis, and son Robert Van Slyke Jr.; grandchildren, Maya Pisel, 11; Dawson Walker, 10; Eliza Walker, 7.

• Education: Bachelor's of Education, Master's of Education in administration, University of Puget Sound; Master's of Education in counseling, Oregon State University; Doctorate of Education with a focus on guidance and personnel, Washington State University; post-doctoral work, University of South Dakota, University of Montana, University of Alaska Southeast.

• Public offices held: none

• Occupation: Retired educational consultant, administrator, educator, professor.

• Interests/hobbies: Travel, reading, golf, community involvement with the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau and Southeast Alaska Food Bank.

"I have had a long-standing interest in the district, I got some encouragement, and decided to do it," Van Slyke said.

For a man with over 40 years of experience sitting through school board meetings, that move is not unlike seasoned player Michael Jordan returning from retirement to join the Washington Wizards.

Van Slyke, a father and grandfather, has lived in Juneau for 21 years, since he moved here in 1981 to be the deputy commissioner of education under Gov. Jay Hammond. Before moving to Juneau he was a school administrator in Dillingham, Barrow and Anchorage. Before that he was a high school teacher and counselor for a decade.

Van Slyke has two master's degrees and a doctorate in education. He has been a professor of education at three universities, and has run an educational consulting business. In the 1990s he was Juneau's superintendent or acting superintendent for three years.

Perhaps as a function of his years of classroom experience, Van Slyke also tends to speak in outlines. When asked to state his philosophy for education he said: "One: all students can learn; two: parental involvement contributes to success; three: positive school climate is essential to learning; and four: students respond to high teacher expectations."

Asked how those values could be put into action, Van Slyke acknowledged that his familiarity with the inner-workings of the Juneau schools has waned with his lack of involvement after retirement.

"I haven't been in the trenches recently and don't want to criticize (the way things are being done now), but (if elected) I will be alert to what is going on and supportive of efforts to promote (his values)."

For more Juneau Empire coverage of the October 1 municipal elections, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.

Since he decided to run, Van Slyke has been attending school board meetings, and is often one of the few members of the public present.

Van Slyke said he feels one of the most important projects the board is involved in is the construction of a new high school in the Mendenhall Valley.

"The new high school would be beneficial: Smaller schools are easier to manage, and twice as many students could take part in activities."

Van Slyke added that participation in activities gives students an important sense of belonging, as well as an opportunity to relate to important adults. Having adult mentors is a key part of student success, he said.

In terms of the high school construction budget, Van Slyke said, there may have been tendency to budget too conservatively in the beginning of the project. Accurate budgeting is very important, but sometimes difficult to achieve, he said. Everyone feels pressure to keep cost estimates low, he said. This occasionally backfires when the actual cost is much higher.

Having been an administrator for many years, he is familiar with the tension that can develop between a school board, which oversees the design process for a project, and the assembly, which approves the funds, he said.

The Juneau School Board and the Juneau Assembly have been in such a situation since May, when the Assembly approved funds to renovate the old high school, against the recommendation of the School Board, which preferred the renovation take place after a second high school was built.

"I think that (with the upcoming election) different players will change the dynamics somewhat," Van Slyke said. "Basically, (the two bodies) need to respect each other's roles and work together. I know it can be done."

Julia O'Malley can be reached at

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