Candidates vie for seat on School Board

Incumbent Phyllis Carlson speaks out on court case

Posted: Monday, September 25, 2006

Juneau School Board President Phyllis Carlson said she supports appealing the controversial "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case to the U.S. Supreme Court because the district needs additional clarity when it comes to enforcing school policies.

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"That case has created uncertainty for our administrators who need to make decisions on the spot regarding implementation of our policies," Carlson said.

She is running for re-election to the School Board in the Oct. 3 municipal election. Carlson, a program manager for the Supplemental Native Education Program at the Vocational Training and Resource Center, was elected to the School Board in 2003. Four candidates are running for three open seats in next month's election.

The controversial court case - which derives from a student being suspended for displaying a sign, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," at the 2002 Winter Olympic Torch Relay - has led some people to believe the Juneau School District is trying to suppress student speech, she said.

"I don't see it that way," Carlson said.

The School Board is not trying to save face by appealing the case but is searching for greater clarity regarding the drug and alcohol message policy, she said.

"We have a district, we have a community, that has a high rate of substance use or abuse," Carlson said. "And as educators of students, as caretakers of young children, our responsibility is to keep them safe and hopefully give them positive messages to keep them safe."

The School Board also has the responsibility of providing students with the tools and resources they need to succeed in the district, she said.

"I really want to see some significant increase in our student graduation rate," Carlson said.

The district should build on the programs doing well while, at the same time, identifying and enhancing the educational shortfalls to improve the student success rate, she said.

"One could always feel impatient about the dropout rate, but I really think there is as many reasons for the students who make that choice as there are students."

Archie Cavanaugh, director of the Vocational Training and Resource Center, said Carlson has an excellent work ethic and is dedicated to student success.

"She also has a lot of wisdom in her thought processes - being able to offer very common sense advice," he said. "All these attributes of hers that I've known are a tremendous asset to the School Board she has served on."

Carlson said she wants to continue serving on the board to continue to move the school district forward. She said she is proud of what the School Board has accomplished in the last three years, including lowering the pupil-to-teacher ratio and switching the district office with Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School to provide a more adequate learning environment.

"We now have contracts with all our unions, three-year contracts, which allows us to focus on programming," Carlson said. "We also have more counselors that can work with students, who can work with potential dropouts."

After working with her for nearly 15 years on expanding vocational opportunities in the community, Cavanaugh said Carlson knows how to stand her ground and stand up for what she believes in.

"In my mind, she is the most top-quality person for the position that she is campaigning for - without a doubt," he said.

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