Sterling resident LaDawn Druce grew up knowing she wanted to be a teacher but never imagined she would get into politics.
As a career educator with 21 years of experience in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Druce said she is running for the vacant district 5 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly seat to ensure great schools continue to meet the needs of a growing community.
Druce is currently a school counselor at Ninilchik School, Soldotna High School and River City Academy. For the majority of her career, she taught language arts at Soldotna High School. Her husband Michael Druce retired last year after 41 years as a public school teacher.
The Druce family came to Alaska from Southern California in 1993. Two years ago they bought 15-acres on Robinson Loop Road and started a family farm, Alaska Summer Peonies. She said the farm is a retirement endeavor and legacy to leave for their three sons. They planted their first field last fall and recently planted a second field.
This summer she was encouraged to run for the Sterling and Funny River district seat left vacant by Charlie Pierce, who is term-limited out.
“While I’m busy, it felt like the right time,” she said. “I’m passionate about community education and other issues that affect all of us. I’m enthusiastic and dedicated to help others.”
She said she hopes to change the standoff reputation some politicians have by being more approachable and personable. While working in the school district has allowed her to meet many people in the community, through the campaign process, she has met more new people and has come to realize not everyone knows her.
“It’s an opportunity to connect with people, something that comes natural to me,” Druce said. “I love to talk and listen to people. I think counselors are wired that way. We are problem solvers and try to come to agreements on things.”
For five years until July 2013, Druce served as the president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, an elected position that allowed her the opportunity to visit schools throughout the district. The district size is unlike any other in the Lower 48 with 44 schools across 25,000 square miles, roughly the size of the state of West Virginia, she said.
The diversity of all the schools is one of the distinct characteristics of the district with larger schools in Kenai and smaller K-12 village schools across Kachemak Bay in Port Graham, she said.
Traveling to all the schools gave her a good perspective to better understand certain school and teacher needs, she said.
“I gained a better appreciation for what teachers are doing and how hard they work,” she said. “I felt I was representing the hardest working most dedicated people I have ever known. Teaching is an art and a passion.”
Druce said with all the discussions she’s had with people about education, she realizes a lot of people haven’t visited Kenai Peninsula schools. She said she encourages every local official at every level to visit the schools in the area and see the change that has occurred since they attended school.
With school enrollment numbers declining and two consolidations in the last few years, she said some people may be tempted to cut staff and funding. The problem is the data doesn’t show how the staffing formula would affect teachers from different buildings.
“If you can see what teachers are doing, then those dialogues about numbers, I hope they would make sense,” she said. “Maybe student enrollment went down last year, but that doesn’t mean they all left from one school. It’s easy to look at a graph and make those assumptions not understanding how spread out we are.”
Druce said she believes education has been adequately funded, but she would like to see the borough fund to the local limit cap, something they haven’t done that last couple years.
As an assembly member she said she would be the person to ask, “Why aren’t we funding to the cap?”
With the prospect of more oil and gas activity in Nikiski, which would spur growth across the Central Kenai Peninsula, planning for growth and expand the infrastructure is critical, she said. If more families move in it would help to have three scenarios – low, middle and high – projection to plan for how much housing and schools would be needed to accommodate the influx, she said.
Druce said she is also committed to ensuring a healthy and vibrant community.
On the Central Peninsula Hospital operating policy, she said for a borough of the Kenai Peninsula’s size the quality of care from the facility is amazing.
She is not in favor of the hospital entering into a transfer agreement with the Surgery Center of Kenai.
On the issue of borough funding on non-departmentals, Druce said the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District and Central Area Rural Transit System provide a valuable service to the community and funding to these programs should continue with accountability.
As a school counselor, Druce understands if a student takes the time to come into her office for whatever reason, it’s important to them. If elected to the assembly, she said she would approach her role as a representative of her district the same way.
“I’ve always respected people who have taken time to stand up for their opinion,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you are going to vote the way they want you to. You are always obligated by the position to honor the fact they came to be part of the process.”
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