School Board candidate: Bell-Graves promotes vocational education

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2007

JoAnne Bell-Graves said her commitment to her young son kept her from running for the Juneau School Board when people asked her to in the past. But after she got a few calls urging her to run this time, her son, now in high school, told her, "go for it mom."

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Pushing her decision was the fact that only one person had filed at the time. She said the community concern was the second open seat would go unfilled.

By the end of the city's filing period, Destiny Sargeant and Gregory Brown both decided to run, but last week Brown dropped out of the race. His name will remain on the ballot because of the lateness of his withdrawal.

JoAnne Bell-Graves

Age: 53

Occupation: Parent and owner of Advanced Skin Care.

Education: High school.

Time in Juneau: 27 years.

Boards and committees: business seat, state Board of Nursing; business seat, Juneau-Douglas High School site council; member, Juneau Tennis Association; member of the Navy League; past member, state Unemployment and Security Board; past member, state Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Board; past member, Harborview Elementary Parent Teacher Association; past president, Harborview Site Council; past member Floyd Dryden Parent Teacher Association; and past member, Floyd Dryden Site Council.

Family: Son, Nathan Graves.

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If elected, Bell-Graves said she will bring optimism, negotiation skills and a financial background to the School Board.

Bell-Graves said her understanding of and experience in education stems from mentoring new business people in Juneau and teaching her son.

"I taught my son math with clam shells," Bell-Graves said. "If you are a parent, you teach."

As the School Board faces the major task of implementing a new curriculum at its existing downtown high school and the one under construction in the Mendenhall Valley, Bell-Graves said the most important part of that curriculum is the small learning community.

"Smaller learning communities will have less students in each class," said Bell-Graves. "When they choose, they will choose something they are interested in."

Bell-Graves wants to promote more vocational and technical education for students.

"I'd like to see aviation, mining and fisheries," Bell-Graves said. She thinks vocational training for Alaskan jobs would keep kids in Alaska.

To smooth over problems in the transition with the new high school and curriculum, Bell-Graves said she might seek to mirror the business model of the "soft opening." When businesses and restaurants open, they often do a practice run, she said.

For instance, she said, use the summer school program as a chance to work out the kinks of educational transition.

Nancy Sanders, executive director of the Alaska Board of Nursing, said Bell-Graves is active in her role on that board. Though she could not remember a specific contribution, Sanders said Bell-Graves seems to contribute to the board.

"She's respectful of other board members," Sanders said.

Juneau Assembly member Bob Doll has experience with Bell-Graves at the Navy League. He said she was not especially active, but she asked good questions and he would expect her to advance ideas on the School Board.

In effort to better the education offered to Alaska Native students, Bell-Graves said she would thoroughly monitor the new anti-bullying policy. She said the poor test scores and Alaska Native dropout rate is tied to harassment and the lack of enforcement.

"I want to see expulsions and termination," Bell-Graves said. "Or why do we even have this thing put together? ... Expulsion and termination sound pretty good to me."

Randy Hurte served on the Floyd Dryden Middle School Site Council with Bell-Graves. He said she had a concern for kids' safety and a strong interest in the discipline problems at the school. Hurte said she looked into what other schools were doing about similar problems. Beyond that, he cannot recall if she was an active member of the council.

Additionally Bell Graves said she might seek funding for Native Alaska councilors to keep ninth-graders from dropping out. Funding for the councilors could come from the Mount Roberts Tramway, Sealaska Corp. or the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida, she said.

A JoAnne Graves is listed in court documents as defaulting on a student loan, but Mark Choate, a Juneau attorney who worked on the case, said this is not the JoAnne Bell-Graves running for the School Board. Bell-Graves did not attend college and the Graves who did default on the student loan is from Tennessee, said Choate, who is also a School Board member.

According to Bell-Graves, the school district's "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" free-speech case, heard before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, was built upon an "inappropriate banner and the whole situation got blown out of proportion."

Bell-Graves agrees with the School District that the banner held up by student Joseph Frederick at a school event, was inappropriate.

"The banner was a derogatory thing against Jesus," she said.

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