School Board Election: O'Brien sees seat as next step in 'natural evolution'

Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sean O'Brien says running for a seat on the Juneau School Board is the next step for him in the process of volunteering for the school district.

O'Brien has spent the past 10 years volunteering at three schools in a variety of capacities. He is the Riverbend Site Council chairman and a former Floyd Dryden Site Council chairman and Glacier Valley Site Council member.

"It's a natural evolution of the whole process of being involved, and that's really my motivation," he said. "I can see what an active parent can do within the system in terms of really influencing some positive change."

O'Brien has a bachelor's degree and is pursuing a master's degree in vocational rehabilitative counseling by distance from the University of Arkansas. He works for the State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation overseeing education and training programs.

A lifelong resident of Juneau, O'Brien, 45, said he has an understanding of the school district and the community because of his rise through the school system and his five children receiving their educations in the district. Two of his children have graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School.

O'Brien said volunteering on his children's behalf has helped him understand the issues better.

"The site (council) issues are really just a microcosm of the same issues that really proliferate throughout the whole system and that is really what I've been doing for the past 10 years," he said. "The difference is how it's represented at a site council level and a School Board level, but there's an awful lot of overlap."

If elected, O'Brien said he would work to see smaller class sizes in the district, particularly in the lower grade levels, and would like to see the dropout rate adequately addressed. He said he would like to see more emphasis on vocational education opportunities to help those students who might not go to college.

"Employers have more vocational related demands and we're having a hard time meeting those demands," he said. "We have this whole group of kids that are falling off because they're not seeing the relevance of their education and any kind of good job opportunities that they're going to get out of it."

O'Brien said he would like to have a crack at seeing how to make the bus system in the district more efficient and would like to get some bus relief for families.

"I think the busing issue is not adequate at this point. I think we have some cases where more bussing is needed and some cases where some buses are totally underutilized," he said.

Funding programs and providing competitive salaries for teachers are also issues that deserve attention, O'Brien said.

"We have an avalanche I'm afraid that is starting to build right now and it has to do with quality recruitment and being able to access quality teachers and it really requires some good financial support," he said.

O'Brien said he would like to be involved with developing diverse curriculum that students can find an attachment to.

"Being able to sort through the diversity of programs and supporting those programs fairly is to me one of the solutions, or part of the solution, for the dropout issue. I think those two things go together," he said.

O'Brien said if elected he would approach issues in "sizable bites" to ensure that the School Board doesn't bite off more than it can chew.

"If you take too much on you'll probably get nothing done. If you take things on and you prioritize them and you say, 'We really are going to do this,' we have fantastic resources in this community to get things done," he said.

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