District 7: Debbie Cary

Election 2020: Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education member Debbie Cary

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education member Debbie Cary

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 Debbie Cary is running unopposed for reelection to the District 7 Seat, which represents the central peninsula. Cary 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 to the school board?

Cary: Because there’s a lot of things that have been started that are not finished, and I would like to be a part of moving the district forward. We have negotiations coming up again this year. We have superintendent search this year, and I feel like I’m a part of it and want to see it continue.

What be your biggest priority as a school board member for 2021?

Cary: I would say that hiring a new superintendent is extremely important. And with negotiations, our goal is to not go through what we went through last time around. It was very contentious, and I’d like to see that move in a smoother direction this time. And, of course, educating children and meeting the new way of delivering education to every student where they are and where they’re comfortable.

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

Cary: I feel that it’s both temporary and the new normal. There are parents out there that are going to do an excellent job and are in a place in their life where they want to home-school their children, because it gives them the luxury of doing things as a family, especially in this state where a lot of parents work two weeks on, two weeks off.

Then there’s the parents who are totally overwhelmed and want their students in the classroom. And I personally would like to see us meet students where their needs are. Moving forward we need to develop a program for remote learning that’s accessible to all students, but also that we develop support for the teachers that are delivering the instruction.

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?

Cary: That is a million-dollar question. All we can do is work through what we’re going through right now. The state of Alaska has always been really strong on growing our own, and helping people down that course.

To really build on the collaborative aspects of teaching and be able to share resources, I think we hit on it at the last school board meeting we had at Kenai Central High School. There’s a lot of teachers out there that do an amazing job and have amazing resources. How are we able as a district to share that information with teachers, not only across the district but across the state, so they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel and they don’t feel overwhelmed and expected to do much?

I’ve talked to a lot of teachers and I hear the same things over and over again: How am I supposed to deliver virtual learning to a kid on Zoom when I’ve got a classroom full of students? We do have the resources and we do have the ability, we just have to explore those and open it up. That’s going to take a lot education and collaboration and professional development, so I think we really need to focus on that aspect to help teachers become better.

How do you feel the district has handled the start of the school year, and is there anything you feel should be changed or addressed going forward?

Cary: I think that the district has done an amazing job with the limited time we had. Just the fact that we have the ability to have teachers and students in the classroom, and students and teachers are feeling more comfortable every day.

On the other hand, this is fluid. It’s moving, it’s changing and it’s plotting its own course.

Sometimes I feel like we’re in the wave and we’re being pulled along, and sometimes I feel like we’re ahead of it and we’re getting done what we need to do. But the main thing we need to do is work together and hear from both sides.

If there’s a situation that parents are feeling frustrated about, they need to voice it. If there’s a situation that teachers are feeling frustrated about, they need to voice it. But we need to do it in a respectful way, so that we can come to a consensus. Those teachers in the classrooms, they’re the ones that know what’s going on. They’re the ones that know how it’s working, so I’d really like to hear from them.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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