In the upcoming municipal elections, there are four seats open on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education. Cooper Landing resident Katie Hamilton is running against current school board member Virginia Morgan for election to the District 6 seat, which represents the Seward and the eastern peninsula. Hamilton spoke with the Clarion about her candidacy ahead of the election, and the interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to run for election to the school board?
Hamilton: I wanted to see some change, and I wanted to be involved in my community. I think it’s important to be able to do both.
What kind of change are you hoping to provide as a school board member?
Hamilton: Well, some of the things I’m concerned about is, right now, we have a $5 million budget shortfall. And that’s a big concern for me as a business owner. That’s not very sustainable. So I would like to be able to be a part of the decision-making process so we do have a better future. And creating an emergency fund — I’m not sure what type of resources there are but to my knowledge. I don’t think we really have an emergency fund. And again, that’s definitely not a good idea because you can’t predict what’s going to happen, so it’s necessary to have something to fall back on that will help you during those difficult times.
What skills or qualifications to bring to the table as a school board member?
Hamilton: Well, I am a teacher, so I’m familiar with the education system and what’s being put in the classroom, and how these different things that are implemented by the board ultimately impact the classroom and the child. Also a community member and a local business owner, being a business administrator for the last 10 years has helped me see just the ins and outs of both the hiring process and what graduates are bringing to our local community.
What would be your top priority as a school board member if you were to be elected?
Hamilton: Well, right now we have the COVID-19 virus, that’s obviously a big issue and a big concern. Just making sure our students are safe and that we aren’t neglecting our education in the process of dealing with it, that we’re putting things into perspective and making sure that we’re creating a solid future as well.
Teacher retention was an issue for the district before the pandemic, and now the demand for faculty and substitutes is higher than ever. How can the district ensure that it has the staff it needs?
Hamilton: A lot of that comes down to commitment. And when things get tough, those who aren’t necessarily passionate about it will tend to fall off. So as an employer, I’m always looking for those that have a vested interest, that are passionate about what they do. They’ll go way above and beyond any requirements that I can ask of them, because their hearts are in it.
The district is also struggling with enrollment numbers this year and there has been a shift to home-schooling and remote learning. How do you see the district adapting to those changes in the long-term?
Hamilton: Remote learning may have its place, but I don’t think it’s going to be a large part. From the parents and the community members that I’ve spoken with, they are very frustrated with the remote-learning process and are interested in having their child back in school and working with a teacher. You can’t see and understand what a child is experiencing and what they’re understanding without actually having them there in the classroom. With remote learning, you lose a lot of that ability to teach and interact with each student.
What about the issue of more and more students transitioning to home-schooling?
Hamilton: I think if you have a solid program, if you have what people are looking for, they’ll be there. So we need to reassess our learning environments. We need to reevaluate what we’re doing that maybe needs to be changed and needs to be improved.
How would you say the school district has handled the beginning of this school year, and are there any areas that you would like to see changed or addressed going forward?
Hamilton: I think it’s important to put the pandemic in perspective of the number of deaths and that sort of thing, and where it actually is falling in relation to the flu and other things that we face every day. There are things that we can do that certainly will help us going forward. You always will have those who are high risk, who you have to help in a different manner than you can the general population. But I think it’s very important for us to be able to get back to the most effective instruction that we can.
You are in the only contested school board race in the borough this year. Why should people in your district vote for you over your opponent?
Hamilton: First of all, I think people should be more involved. To have all of these other districts that aren’t contested is just a bit mind-boggling. We need to be a pat of our communities. We need to be giving of ourselves, our time, our energy, and learning and growing within our community. As far as why I would be a better candidate over my opponent, I think my experience as well as my lack of politics will bring a fresh perspective to the school board.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to voters?
Hamilton: One other thing that I think would be very important is just accountability. As community members, we need to hold those in these positions accountable for the decisions that are made, and we need to stop playing games with our children’s future. We need to be serious about this matter. We need to help make tomorrow a better one.”
Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org.