September 27, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 39

Three candidates vie for 4 seats on school board

Three candidates are running unopposed for the Haines Borough school board. A fourth seat open on the board that has attracted no candidates will be filled by board appointment after Tuesday’s election.

Brenda Jones, 47, is a financial controller. She said her top priorities include continued development of career and technical curriculum. “Seventy percent of jobs in Alaska are skilled labor… We’re trying to give our students the skills they need to be successful.”

She sees expansion of distance-learning classes as a way to address needs of high-achieving students, including offering more foreign languages and adding more flexibility to scheduling.

Jones said she wants to maintain a focus on literacy, improve math achievement and keep high-achieving students in school after meeting graduation requirements. “The more we can prepare them, the more successful they’re going to be.”

Her top concern is school funding. She notes the Haines Borough was planning to cut the district last year, and enrollment has dropped. “That’s a serious reality check. Our expenses are going up and we have to continue to focus and maintain programs that have been successful.” Maintaining reserves for unexpected shortfalls is critical, she said.

Sara Chapell, 38, is a columnist and president of Chilkat Valley Preschool. She said the school’s doing “really well” but there’s room for improvement in outreach to parents and community members. She also wants to continue encouraging academic achievement.

“I think those go hand-in-hand. Having more people involved should translate into improved achievement in the school district,” she said.

Chapell said she would continue a new program aimed at early literacy. The school’s revived interest in training students for trades shouldn’t be limited to creating workers, but extend to developing the next generation of business owners, she said. “For that, they need the academic piece.”

Her top concern is making sure the district is serving every student. “If there’s an achievement gap, I want to figure it out and deal with it.” Chapell said she’s not sure the district is serving all students and is concerned the needs of high achievers are met. “Every student should feel like a worthy part of the school community.

Royal Henderson, 18, is a senior at Haines High School and previously served two years as student body representative to the school board, an advisory seat.

His top priority is increasing the student voice on the board. “(As student body representative), I couldn’t see why a student wasn’t allowed to vote. I see a disconnect between the board and staff and the students and the people in the school. (Board members) don’t spend as much time in the school as the rest of us do.”

A concern of Henderson’s is equity in district financial support for different activities. The school board debates spending $500 to send middle school students to National History Day, but much more is spent to send the middle school basketball team to Juneau. “To win a tough academic competition and have to fight for that funding is weird,” he said.

Henderson said he had no “blaring” concerns. “Mostly the school runs smoothly. If we can shorten the disconnect between the board and school and address some of those inequities, we’ll be going in the right direction.”