My Turn: The current system allows false innuendo

Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2007

Recently there was a series of articles in the Juneau Empire commenting on concerns that parents had in Angoon with the Chatham School Board and superintendent.

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At the time of the articles presented by the paper, I was unavailable for extensive comment due to a family emergency in the Lower 48. Since that time, the crisis has cleared, and I now have time to respond to the very unfortunate remarks printed.

The concerns of the teachers and some parents were due to personnel issues at the second year of a level-five school in Angoon. Since their concerns could not be expressed satisfactorily due to the school's adherence to the Department of Education's Governance Plan for the Title 1 School, the approach became different.

One of their first concerns expressed was the board was allowing the superintendent to hire administrative staff that was not qualified. This was not true. The professional educators who were hired were highly qualified for their position. The debate developed over whether these individuals should pay union dues. This was a labor and not a parent issue.

Another concern of the parents was the school board allowing the superintendent to rent teacher housing in one of the district's small villages to an outside individual family and not to a half-time teacher at the site. This also is misrepresented and untrue. The half-time teacher was never offered the housing due to it not meeting Alaska's rental code, and personnel paperwork is clear on this point.

The district did get an opportunity (later) to rent the housing to an individual with a large family. This individual offered, at his own expense and labor, to replace and repair all of the needed concerns. This was reviewed by the school board and approved. The individual was not charged rent while renovations were proceeding. The district received much-needed repair to the site, plus several children were added to the village school. It was a win-win for both sides.

A concern was shared with the newspaper that the superintendent would not allow parents to communicate with the regional board. This also was an unfortunate misrepresentation of the truth. The superintendent asked that parents follow the policy and procedures established by the school board in the event they wish to communicate.

A concern was shared with the paper about the school board using the federal HELP test for all of its paraprofessionals, which included custodians and maintenance personnel. It was the school board's desire to require some form of qualification to be hired by Chatham School District.

A concern that the school did not implement an evaluation process in 2006-07 for the superintendent or administrative staff is untrue. More than 120 surveys with self-addressed return envelopes were sent out to parents, teachers and community members. Of that amount 26 were returned, which were duplicated and given to the school board to review. There are also other avenues of communication such as e-mail and the Tandberg system (audio-video), which gives each community access to the school board every month. The board agenda requests comments from community and others at each meeting.

The claim of a violation of the open-meetings act also is untrue and misleading. All executive board meetings are legal.

It is sad when personal issues in our small communities flow over and affect our students. It is further frustrating when the present political system allows false statements and innuendo to not only be printed but accepted by the state on face value. This created a "guilty until proven innocent" process, which is very unfortunate. Angoon has a second-year, level-five site with high dropout rates and low test scores. We need to remain focused on the student needs even when the action to be taken is uncomfortable. Our students come first. The present school board members should be commended for their bravery in the face of past inaction by others.

• Vance Cortez-Rucker is a resident of Angoon and superintendent of the Chatham School District.

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