District 6: Virginia Morgan

Election 2020: Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education board member Virginia Morgan (courtesy photo)

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education board member Virginia Morgan (courtesy photo)

In the upcoming municipal elections, there are four seats open on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education. Current school board member Virginia Morgan is running against Katie Hamilton for reelection to the District 6 seat, which represents Seward and the eastern peninsula. Morgan spoke with the Clarion about her candidacy ahead of the election. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you decide to run for reelection?

Morgan: Well, I have really enjoyed the opportunity. This past year I was appointed through a public interview process, and it’s been a wonderful experience for me. Education is a passion for me. I’ve spent my whole life in one form of education or another. I believe strongly in making learning accessible for everyone. I’ve done that through my work for schools and libraries and community schools and home-school programs, so education is a passion of mine.

What would be your top priority as a school board member going into 2021?

Morgan: With all the uncertainty that has come with COVID-19, there’s a really large concern for school districts across the state as far as funding for the remainder of this year. So one thing that I am advocating for is a legislative change that will provide ‘hold harmless’ funding at 100% based on the fiscal year 2020 enrollment counts.

This will allow the school districts to honor employment contracts and commitments that were made for fiscal year 2020.

We know that a lot of difficult decisions are being made by families and there are many families that don’t yet feel safe enough to have their children in school, but we also know that is not going to continue. And if our budget is decreased because of the count that takes place in October right now, and then these families return to schools within the next semester as they become more comfortable and as things improve hopefully, we don’t want to be in a position of not having staffing and funding to provide that education for those increasing numbers of students that we know will be coming back to the brick-and-mortar buildings.

The district has seen a shift to home-schooling and implemented more remote learning into the curriculum. How do you see those changes impacting the district in the long term?

Morgan: I live in Cooper Landing and I have children that are in high school right now. Cooper Landing did not used to be a K-12 school, but I think in about 2012 the families out here requested that, because the district for years had stopped providing a bus to the high school.

So high school is now an option at this small school, same as Hope, but with those very small schools who only have one or two teachers, it’s really difficult for them to provide the in-depth education for topics at the high school level.

So the district has already been working on for quite a few years a video-conferencing option for small schools to call in to some of the bigger high schools for classes. I’ve had the privilege of my children being on the receiving end of that for years now, and it’s already been working very successfully.

I see that as something that we can continue in the future, not as a replacement for teaching staff anywhere but as an enhancement for those areas that just don’t have enough staff in the small schools to provide the variety of opportunities that those students need. That’s something that I’m very big on, providing as many opportunities as we can for these students, so I see video-conferencing classes as a perfect way to do that.

Teacher retention was also an issue for the school district even before the pandemic, and now the demand for substitutes and faculty is higher than ever. How can the district ensure that it can hire and retain the staff that it needs?

Morgan: That is definitely a concern. One of the big goals of the Board of Education right now is a settlement of the bargaining agreements with employee work groups. This is another bargaining year, and the decision between the school district and the unions was to move forward through an “interest-based” bargaining system where both parties collaborate to find a win-win solution, and I think that’s a really good step in the right direction.

It’s very important to me to find ways to increase employee morale. It’s a tough time right now, and everyone is being asked to do so much more than usual. That sense of teamwork between the staff, the board and the administration is very important to me. We have exceptional teachers and support staff in the district who need to know their value. They’re the foundation, and working through this pandemic will continue to be a unique challenge, but the children’s future depends on how much we respect and support the staff providing this education.

The need for substitutes is huge in all areas across the district right now. Custodians, secretaries, teachers, principals, every position is in need of subs, so that’s another thing that I see as very important: getting that information out into the community. Because we know that staff is still going to need the day off to go to the doctor or take care of different things that arise, and we need to be able to provide that for them.

How do you feel the school district has handled the beginning of this school year, and are there any areas you feel need to be addressed or changed as we go forward?

Morgan: The desires of the families across the district are very different. They are at every extreme and everywhere in between. So it is extremely hard — impossible, even — to make everyone happy. The Smart Start plan that the district created really is the best way to provide the most options for everyone in the safest way possible.

It’s not set in stone though; it’s constantly changing. So one thing we’ll be doing at the next meeting is looking at new information that’s coming in from the Department of Health and Social Services and CDC.

As the epidemiology and the data changes, there are new directions given and so that will need to be addressed. One thing that has been talked about too is if we were to get another situation like the central peninsula had recently, where the numbers were high enough according to the charts to shut the schools. We’re looking at possibilities like half schedules for students, not to keep students out of school, but to provide as many options for students to be in school for shorter periods of time if necessary.

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?

Morgan: I was born in Homer, spent a few of my early childhood years in Anchorage and then I was raised in Cooper Landing. I went to the University of Alaska in Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula College to earn my degrees, and I have lived on the peninsula my entire adult life.

I am heavily invested in this place that I live. I have a very strong sense of duty and obligation to this place that I live, in making it the very best that I can for future generations.

I have had the opportunity this past year of working with the board and I’m really looking forward to an opportunity to continue. I’ve been on the superintendent oversight search committee because we’ll be having to hire a new superintendent for next school year as Mr. O’Brien retires, and I look forward to hopefully being able to continue that process. I have truly loved being involved in doing what I can to provide the very best education possible for the students on the Kenai today, but it’s not an easy time, and there’s some very difficult decisions to make.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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