Q&A: School board candidates weigh in

  • Thursday, September 28, 2017 9:39pm
  • Opinion

Joe Arness and Jason Tauriainen are running for the District 3-Nikiski seat.

1. If elected, what issues do you feel require the board’s immediate attention?

Joe Arness, District 3: As always seems to be the case, funding is the primary concern for the Board at this moment. With a new Borough Mayor, a newly structured Assembly, and the State in fiscal disarray…it will be incumbent on the District to adapt and respond to what could very well be falling revenues. Changes in stable, adequate funding will require restructuring the services the District are able to offer to our students.

Jason Tauriainen, District 3: The Board will face many difficult questions in this current economic climate. One of the key issues this school year will be negotiations on the upcoming contract. The contract needs to be a fair one for the employees while remaining sustainable with our current budget. This will need both sides to work together while understanding each point of view and finding workable compromises. The relationships between staff and central office have often been contentious in the past and I believe that I can help bring a calm demeanor to the process. I have served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission and as the President of the North Road Community Club. These along with my work experience give me the ability to deal with the complex issues that require active communication and leadership.

2. The methods by which student and district progress are measured continue to evolve. How do you measure the district’s progress?

Arness: Our District consistently participates in generally accepted measures of student progress like graduation rates and standardized test scores. We always do very well in these measures. However, I feel that measuring our effectiveness has to go further…into authentic measures of how kids do once they leave our system. We are now doing regular surveys of graduates to gauge their progress once they have left our system. I would like to see that process pursued and expanded in order to allow the District to adapt and provide what students need.

Tauriainen: I measure progress by producing quality students that graduate and can succeed in their future endeavors. I believe that standardized testing is a waste of time and money and if I can help find a way to remove it from our culture I will. Students should be able to do all basic math with competency by the time they move on from primary school and be able to read and write with fluency and comprehension. When they reach secondary school, they should be challenged in multiple methods with group discussions, speeches, writing that uses a full draft process with editing and progressive math based on their education goals. The only way to truly track our success is to track students after they leave school. This is not always black and white and should be a tool to help us improve and not a political bully club.

3. Does the school district provide adequate options for school choice? Are there other options to be explored?

Arness: This District has been a statewide leader in the provision of options for students in the past, and I think should continue to be in the future. Our relatively small size precludes us having some forms of choice, however we do what we can. The one option we currently do not offer that may become appropriate in the future is magnet schools which are dedicated to Career and Technical Education (Vocational). However, the logistics and distances involved have precluded that availability in the past.

Tauriainen: The district has a variety of school choices available to parents and students primarily in the central peninsula. I think we can look at having options in some of the other communities as well as giving the opportunity for schools to have a particular flavor based on their local needs. Speaking to Nikiski we have a long tradition of excellence in Arts particularly in drama and music and we also have large portion of our student population that is planning on a career in the trades. I would like to find ways to save money in other places in the budget to be able to hire dynamic educators to help meet our schools individual needs.

4. Have you been in a school recently? Describe your experience.

Arness: Several. My visits to schools so far this year have been entirely satisfactory! The District has done a great job of establishing and making available a quality experience for students…and schools are operating quite smoothly as this school year gets underway. Actually, kind of an amazing thing when you think of the large number of facilities and employees involved in the provision of educational services in a District of this geographical size!

Tauriainen: I am in our schools on a regular basis. I have worked in the school in a variety of roles for well over a decade as a coach, SPED paraprofessional, instructional tutor, and support staff. I have also volunteered in the classroom and at various activities. I think we have great schools with caring staff members, and great kids. I have seen great instruction and life coaching over the years and I have seen some students do amazing things. I have also seen the challenges that educators must deal with and I would like to offer my experience to help the Board of Education and District Office simplify processes and offer the support staff members need to offer excellent educational opportunities for our students. I pledge to continue to spend time in the classroom as I believe that you can only effectively lead people when you are with them.

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