Morris says she's concerned about student outcomes

Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2003

Julie Morris, a certified teacher who has been an activity therapist in the local schools, says she's running for the Juneau School Board because she wants to serve.

Morris is one of 12 candidates for five open positions on the board. She ran last year and placed third in the race for two open seats.

"I really care about what happens to students," Morris said. "I'm not one-sided. I care about what happens to the teachers and administrators. Teachers and students can feel that nobody cares.

"But I'm telling you, it's incredibly bureaucratic. You've got the federal regulations you have to abide by, and the state. You've got to figure out innovative ways to make it work."

Morris said her work with the state has prepared her to "look at issues and challenges and find solutions."

As a board member of the Glory Hole homeless shelter, she's dealt with budget gaps.

"The fact that I have worked in schools and worked as a welfare case manager, I've seen both sides of how institutions work," Morris said. "It sort of gives me the knowledge and the experience to make good decisions about budget-cutting."

The next school board is likely to have to approve a new teachers' contract. A nonbinding arbitration is scheduled for early October. In addition, the school district anticipates a budget shortfall of $3 million next school year. The next school board is likely going to have to make some hard choices.

"It's really tough, decision-making," Morris said. "You have to lay everything out and look at it."

The state does that on a large scale, she said.

"Always, you look at the effect" of budget cuts," she said. "It does have an effect on schools. What's the best service we can provide with what we've got? And that's really what you have to look at.

"People's jobs are on the line. It's not a light thing at all. But if you don't cut something, the whole thing can collapse."

The school district has five formal strategies that 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.

In the district's federally required reports on students annual progress, "we're not doing that bad," Morris said. "Juneau-Douglas High School obviously has some problems. The construction last year contributed to that. How can you be focused on achievement when you're focused on your classroom is all torn up?"

The district intervenes too late with some struggling students, she said.

"I would like to see better measurements as far as student achievement goes. I think we have some, but there's no follow-through," she said.

Poverty plays a role in student achievement, as well, she noted.

"If you're poor, you don't get all the support in education as somebody with better resources," Morris said. "They don't have a computer in their home. You're barely getting food on the table. You don't have a second car to go to the library, or the high school, or study groups."

Morris said that better communication with families is important.

"I don't think parents ever know enough of what's going on in the schools, especially the high school for some reason. Something happens when kids go to high school. The kids may have been told (information), but the word doesn't get back to the parents."

Morris suggested improving the district's Web site and putting parents on lists to automatically receive e-mails.

Morris said she supports the planned high school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley.

"However, I'm very concerned about the costs, and the costs seem to be escalating," as they did with the renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School, she said. "I think there should be better planning."

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