Juneau School Board: Befort brings teaching, special needs experience

Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Rhonda Befort says she would bring to the Juneau School Board experience as a teacher and as a professional who has worked with special-needs children.

Befort has taught in private schools and directed preschools and child-care centers in Kansas. She has coordinated care for special-needs children, and assesses people with developmental disabilities to see if they're qualified to receive certain Medicaid services.

"I'm able to take a population that's not very often heard from and provide a voice for them," Befort said.

Befort has volunteered in the schools and written behavior programs for schoolchildren with disabilities.

Her impressions of the Juneau schools?

"I think that the staff is great," she said. "I've been really pleased with the administration and staff. ... I definitely think we as a community need to support our schools more, in volunteer time.

"We're faced with the implementation of the (federal) No Child Left Behind Act. They are faced with all sorts of challenges and they are going to need community support in order to succeed."

Befort said the district needs to stop cutting its arts and humanities programs.

"I think it's important to give kids exposure to different activities," she said. "It keeps them out of trouble. It gives them exposure to things they might want to be interested in."

The school district has five formal strategies, which deal with student achievement, Native and other minority student success, healthy behaviors, ensuring a good staff, and communicating with families. The Empire asked candidates to comment on them.

"I think the board and the district need to be proactive in communities, in both providing information and gathering input from them," Befort said. "They should be accessible to the parents, teachers and any community member willing to offer opinions."

Befort, who said her children are part Native, said the district needs to treat all children in a more individualized way.

"I think that's what we lost because class sizes are way too large," she said. "We aren't able to focus on the different learning styles the children have."

She added: "We need to enhance the comfort level of our Native and minority families," because children learn that comfort from their parents.

Schools can be intimidating for low-income families in general, she said.

Befort said the district can ensure it has the best staff by supporting them and providing continuing education.

The next School Board is likely to have to approve a new teachers' contract. A nonbinding arbitration session is scheduled for early October. In addition, the school district anticipates a budget shortfall of $3 million next school year.

"I think it's important that we improve the efficiency with the existing programs instead of cutting the programs," she said. "It's important that we analyze and refine the educational system and the infrastructure instead of making the cuts that increase our class sizes and decrease our services."

The district can recoup some funds from the planned influx of Medicaid money to pay for services the district provides to special-needs children, she said.

The new School Board also must continue to shepherd the planned high school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley to completion.

"I definitely am pushing for it," Befort said. "I think it is essential that we stop overcrowding that high school downtown. ... We cannot effectively teach students in a building that's so overcrowded."

Befort said she's running for the School Board because she wants to provide the best education for children.

"Instead of sitting passively by and waiting for that to happen, I want to take an active role," she said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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